Leading The Pack

3 Oct

In little over a month, a player has quickly emerged who threatens to become one of the best signings ever to be made in Premier League history. His name is Rafael van der Vaart. And whether you are a Spurs fan or not, you cannot deny the positivity and refreshing style of gung-ho play that his introduction to the English game has made. Tottenham were good but now, with such a cultured and forward-thinking driving force within the ranks, they are building on a platform which was so hard fought for last season. It’s no accident that Tottenham’s debut season in the Champions League is increasingly being hailed across the continent because for once, we are witnessing a team who is playing without fear, is committed to attack and because of that has produced the standout matches from the two matchdays so far.

Contrast this with the stalwarts of Champions League campaigns. I watched Chelsea’s match with Marseille on Tuesday night with a Chelsea fan and we both realised that the game was all but over in the first half hour when Chelsea took a two goal lead. The remainder of the game was an exercise in trying to keep awake after a long working day coupled with a desire to watch the previous night’s episode of The Inbetweeners on Sky Plus. So much for the hyperbole proclaiming the greatness of Europe’s elite competition.

Van der Vaart follows in a long tradition at White Hart Lane of players who capture the imaginations of the faithful with a bold adherence to their own innate ability which at times strays from any kind of team plan but nevertheless produces results which ultimately serves the greater good. Harry Redknapp was honest enough to suggest he is struggling to find a definitive role for van der Vaart because his new signing is prone to taking matters into his own hands. So far this proven successful but when the Dutchman hits a barren spell, as he inevitably will do, it is important that his manager holds firm in the belief that special players should be handled differently, when the critics begin denouncing Van der Vaart as a luxury. This has happened so many times to players who have played the game to their own tune (Le Tissier, Ginola, Hoddle, Best), that it’s easy to forget that when the legends of the game are told, it’s very rarely the workmanlike players we celebrate and reminisce over. Within the hustle and bustle of the day-to-day, when the pursuit of results is more revered than the manner in which they have been achieved, it is sadly the case that the role of the iconoclastic individual is more and more showing signs of of a person not only cutting an isolated figure but also of someone who is to be stifled or mistrusted in some way.

At a training session at work this week, the entire staff was introduced to a form of character profiling and team structuring called Packtypes. This involved having to choose twelve adjectives from a deck of cards which you felt best described you as a person in the workplace. Once these had been filtered, the other side of the card revealed a picture of a dog breed and you were able to ascertain what kind of worker you were according to the predominance of the particular dog you were. While I would never proclaim that this method is in any way a precise science, the results tended to veer towards a staff which was heavily balanced towards being empathetic (Coachdogs), workmanlike (Terriers) and driven by getting the job done (Guard Dogs). These are of course essential qualities if a team is ever expected to succeed. The worrying element though, was that there was a paucity of people who might be perceived to be creators/forward thinkers, what the leaders of the session labelled, Hounds. I say worrying, but in hindsight, I realised that in actuality a team cannot function if everybody was prone to going off on a whim. What is worrying however, is when these ‘Hounds’ are viewed with an element of distrust rather than being encouraged and given the freedom to experiment and express their individuality which in turn benefits everybody involved.

Of course history is littered with individuals challenging received wisdom and suffering vilification and humiliation as a result. But if the likes of Galileo, Harvey Milk or even Elvis Presley had believed everything they had been told and not had the courage of their own convictions, the world we live in today would not be quite as enriched. Nobody remembers the naysayers. And sadly, nor do they remember the workhorses. Boxer was shipped off to the glue factory at the end of Orwell’s Animal Farm and Salieri was left to stew on his own capable but mediocre arrangements when compared alongside Mozart.

The great innovators of the game are still held in high regard. The Hungarians of the 1950s are still venerated because of how they changed the way football was played; with fluidity and interchangeability. We salute Barcelona’s stance of resistance during the dictatorship of the Franco era. Jose Mourinho is magnetic, not because of his teams’ footballing styles, but by the very fact that he dares to say something different. Who truly waxes lyrical about the professionalism of the likes of Dennis Irwin or Nigel Winterburn? Football is about the entertainers. Winning is of course, preferable but when measured up against the bigger narrative of history, it’s about how you held yourself when you were at your very best. Van der Vaart is already on the path to White Hart Lane immortality.

And if you were wondering as to the breed of dog I came out as: well, The King ain’t got nothing on me.

Further Reading: Packtypes Homepage

One Response to “Leading The Pack”

  1. kevinmcdougall October 4, 2010 at 14:38 #

    Nice post Greg
    As a football fan I’m really enjoying VDV current renaissance at Spurs. That type of play with your heart reminds me of a younger Rooney before everything caught up with him. He plays the sort of football we used to love at school wining the ball, running with the ball and scoring some fantastic goals. He’s a throwback and the antithesis of the modern systems and collaboration over individual flair approach.

    That unfortunately is his downfall and probably why he hasn’t made the impact his talent should allow. Manager’s now want players they can trust to fit into the system to play a certain way the most obvious and current example of this Carlo Ancelotti trading Joe Cole with Yossi Benyanoun simply because Yossi plays with more intelligence and can play in different tactical formations. Joe Cole couldn’t and his constant ‘I want to play in the hole’ nonsense would have been derogatory to the team as he would have occupied the space Frank Lampard runs into. Intelligence see.

    I get the feeling that when things are going well with VDV and he is getting his own way in terms of the team set up he will be the heartbeat. However I fear when Spurs meet stronger opponents in Europe and Harry has to change tactics or formations and things aren’t revolving around VDV then we will start to see the side of VDV which has hastened his departure from Hamburg and Real where he was labelled difficult and disruptive.

    I sincerely hope not as footballers like that are a joy to watch even if they are in a Spurs shirts.

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