A highly flawed opinion gaining currency within football’s cognoscenti is that with the exception of a dozen or so truly world class players, all footballers operate at a similar level.
They must therefore deliver about the same output. This very school of thought subscribes to the theory that if players are in one salary bracket, performance demands on them must be identical.
Purveyors of such obscurantism are wont to say Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are the game’s only exceptional talent.
They have a point, if you view the game only through the lenses of their five Ballon D’Ors apiece and staggering statistics.
Dare I say, if soccer was a purely numbers game, the pair would rank above all else, bar Edson Arantes Dos Nascimento aka Pele.
If the question of who the other ten players constituent of the truly world class dozen was put to me, my list would include Paris Saint Germain pair Neymar Junior and Kylian Mbappe, Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski and Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane. Others are Mohammed Salah (Liverpool), Luis Suarez (Barcelona), Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid), Gareth Bale (Real Madrid) and Sergio Aguero (Manchester City).
But to implicitly suggest that this small band of ‘truly world class’ stars are the only difference between perennial strugglers and routine success, is to completely miss the point.
We all know tremendous organisation, hard nosed determination, relentless hard word and indefatigable spirit can nullify exceptional talent at any given time.
Manchester United’s immediate former manager Jose Mourinho twice fell on his own sword by subscribing to this theory. For years, the triple English Premier League champion attributed rival Pep Guardiola’s runaway success with Barcelona to one man – Lionel Messi.
The Portuguese gaffer simply refused to recognise that Messi’s talent can flounder under the wrong tutelage. (Just like it has done with Argentina).
And yet in his final months as Red Devils boss, the principal allegation levelled against Mourinho is that he couldn’t manage big talent like Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial and Alexis Sanchez.
The multiple Premier League winner also suffered the agony of not being able to sign the players he wanted in order to build United in his own image because Ed Woodward and the board told him the players at Carrington were as good as those he was targeting. He was instead asked to get the best out of them.
This is why the practice of putting someone other than the club coach in charge of transfers is a fundamentally flawed strategy.
An identical pitfall to Jose’s befell former Chelsea boss Antonio Conte. Nemanja Matic was sold without his knowledge because then technical director Michael Emenalo believed Tiemoue Bakayoko possessed similar attributes. Of course the Frenchman not only turned out to be a very different player from Matic, he wasn’t complimentary to Ngolo Kante in the team’s preferred 3-4-3 formation.
Unsurprisingly, the departures of Matic and Diego Costa eventually proved to be Conte’s Stamford Bridge undoing.
To round up, to avoid taking flight from reality, implausible theorization and dogmatic punditry, we must recognise that there is no such thing as footballers being the same.
A club president who, for example, tells his manager to sell Ngolo Kante and replace him with Idriss Gana Gueye because they are of similar stature, cover identical distance, or possess similar stats, is way off the mark.
No player is a clone for another. Nicky Butt was hailed as a Roy Keane clone, but he failed to fill the Irishman’s big shoes.
The theory that all players are the same is ludicrous foolery.