Free Friday, June 18th 2021: Rumblings of Messi Discontent & The Terrific Trident

Free Friday, June 18th 2021: Rumblings of Messi Discontent & The Terrific Trident
June 18, 2021 Daniel Rhodes
In Free, Free Friday


Best posts of the week, as chosen by Chris Rowland and Daniel Rhodes.

1 – Taskin/Tash reacting to Christian Eriksen’s collapse and the lack of responsibility of football authorities:

I’m likely saying what’s already been said somewhere on TTT, but can’t help thinking that the footballing authorities need to be answerable to some sort of independent medical authority.

What happened to Christian Eriksen may we be unrelated, but it equally may well not. It’s a hell of a coincidence.

If the FA and UEFA aren’t literally risking the lives of players by insisting on going ahead with the Euros on the back of such an intense season (which itself followed an intense close to the previous season, a truncated pre-season and refusal to allow 5 subs in the Premier), then they are probably affecting the players’ long term careers. And of course, that’s before we consider that we are in the middle of a global pandemic which is rightly curtailing travel in order to try to control it.

It’s a common example to use, but would they flog a thoroughbred racehorse in the same way? Or, if they did, would the outcry not be much louder?

These players may well get paid millions to play, but that’s a whole separate argument. Salary is not an excuse to put them at risk. They have lives outside of football.

And of course across the other side of the world we have the Copa America going ahead with the same concerns, but that same pandemic being rampant. It can only be described as being completely out of control. And with the initial hosts standing down for precisely that reason, they decide to have it hosted by a country which is perhaps worse affected – but which conveniently has a President who simply ignores science, so is happy to let the pandemic takes its course and is happy to host a tournament during. And once again, the players are pretty much forced to acquiesce and play.

In most cases (at least in the case of the Brazil team) it’s clearly against their better judgement as they tried to make a stand, but felt obliged to bow to the pressure. And you can pretty much guarantee that they did so because most of the arguments will again boil down to “well, they get paid enough” and “they should be proud to represent their country”.

The footballing authorities – all of them – should feel ashamed. But they won’t. Someone needs to take the decision-making from them as they clearly have no regard for anyone (players or fans) and are driven solely by money. I won’t hold my breath.

2 – Airick responding to a question by Paul Tomkins about causes for loss of pace:

I have read that it’s natural to lose fast-twitch muscle fibres as you go past your late twenties and early thirties. You can retain total muscle mass through training but the amount of fast-twitch muscle and the neuromuscular system will naturally decline. This means aside from the explosive power you lose in the legs, the signals from your brain to your muscles also depletes. This explains why you can still maintain endurance and strength as you age past your 30s but not that quick change of pace.

3 –  Jeff making an interesting observation about Jürgen Klopp after the Germany-France game:

I assume many here watched the German team yesterday and also saw the German team play in the World Cup in 2018. To me every manager I can think of off the top of my head has a sell by date. Now, some such as Bob Paisley simply retire but others such as Joachim Low or Jose Mourinho keep on going with diminishing results. To me there is a real possibility maybe ever direct evidenced to support the notion that Jürgen Klopp may well be the exception to this rule. While men such as Low and Mourinho seem wedded to one style of play, we know that Klopp tends to want to make the best use out of the players he has and not wedded to any system. I think the ability of Klopp is change and grow is something that is missed about him as a manager and one of the reasons why he is still winning matches and still being a successful manager.

4 – Beez commenting on the need for a bigger sample to truly judge a player’s finishing skill:

I think the most interesting thing is that as the sample gets bigger and bigger all players head towards the average (or slightly better). I’ve been getting increasingly into baseball recently, in which each team plays 162 games in the regular season. In a recent game I watched, the commentator said something along the lines of “you can’t write a guy off after 40 games of the season” and I thought “that is a whole season in football”! Narratives and careers are formed on samples of 38 games, probably under 100 shots unless they’re one of the most frequent shooters around… and your work here shows that players can be more-or-less the same if you get them enough good chances.

5 – Tony Mckenna on the front three, and what the future might hold:

I have never really worried – not just yet anyhow – about our front three. My main concern is about eventually managing the transition, when they do eventually become ripe for the exit. By this, I mean rebuilding and replacing in terms of a smooth baton switch. Ha. I laugh at my own hopefulness. But this is always one thing I give Ferguson credit for. And, quite frankly, I resented him for it.

However, right up until the point of his retirement, he seemed to acquire and recruit so effectively. As players aged or departed, his sides never seemed to be gaping for too long; and maybe not at all. One caveat: he clearly left Moyes a squad that was nowhere near the standard. Had he have stayed, I don’t think that even he would have done much better, in terms of challenging City. Or the other Premier League big guns, for that matter.

One crucial point about our star troika. None out of Salah, Mane and Firmino has ever had excessive prolonged absenteeism through injury. Maybe Mane in 16/17, being the worse example? But neither player has really missed copious amounts of games, through not being available for selection. (Not sure about before they all came to Liverpool). Even Covid did not keep Mane and Salah out for too many games.

The other thing in their favour is that they must all be in the elite bracket as far as decision making goes. Although, I admit that that is a difficult thing to measure, they are all blessed with that ability to be in the right place, at the right time. They can all read a game well: adjusting and adapting to the flow of play. As Paul says, even when Mane seemed off form last season, his underlying numbers were deceptively good. I don’t see too many alarm bells ringing there. Players, even the great ones, do have disappointing seasons by their own usual standards, anyway. And perhaps this is all that has ensued with Mane.

Generally, I do think that an exceptional talent for decision making, and the ability to execute what one was thinking with the ball, can compensate for things like lack of pace. Especially if you had never relied on pace to begin with. (Thinking of Sheringham, in particular.)

One last thing relates to lifestyle. Alcohol, specifically. Not sure if there are any studies on teetotal footballers, and how long their respective careers were, but Milner is one example. Beardsley also springs to mind. And didn’t Giggs revise his own intake as he got older, as well as taking up yoga?

6 – Tash with his second entry, this time relating a social media conversation on the back of Paul’s article:

I got into a very long chat on WhatsApp yesterday evening on the back of this article.

There have been rumblings of discontent about Messi brewing for the last two seasons, but this last one they were noticably louder. His bungled attempt at leaving the club in the previous summer obviously didn’t help.

There are around 20 of us on the chat, with the vast majority being Barça fans. Those who aren’t are primarily Espanyol fans, but they hold no real grudge to Barça and will often support them in finals – and always against Real Madrid. To a man, they all consider Messi to now be more of a burden than an asset. Undoubtedly still the most technically gifted player around, but simply not contributing enough to the team anymore.

Paul raises the question above and whilst I’m only stating their opinion, it’s fair to say that while his goal contribution remains excellent (for any age) the general consensus is that he detracts so much more. The biggest issue is his now almost complete lack of work ethic, which affects the team on the pitch and of course the overall attitude and team ethos off it. In a sense he’s the antithesis of a Henderson or Milner, teaching the younger players that it’s okay to coast and play for yourself.

I think the situation is exacerbated by the waning output of people like Piquet, Busquets and Alba (who has always been questioned to a degree) and then the number of players – like Griezmann and even Coutinho – who have failed to shine alongside Messi. In simple terms, the feeling is that Barça are still set up to play through and for him. But his impact in the game suggests he doesn’t warrant that kind of treatment anymore.

Then there’s the feeling that he is too involved in the wider football decisions. Moving Suarez on was meant to curtail that. A power play aimed more (or at least equally) at Messi than Suarez himself. But the return of Joan Laporta (whose entire election strategy seemed to be about getting Messi back onside) makes it look like like one erroneous step forward (as Suarez went on to prove the doubters wrong), followed by one step back.

Articles published since last Friday, with excerpts:

Monday June 14th:

How Long Can Salah, Mané, Firmino and Others Go On For?, by Paul Tomkins.

My hunch has always been that you start to worry about players aged 29, and this summer Mo Salah turns 29, with Sadio Mané having just turned 29 in the spring; and Roberto Firmino turns 30 in October. The three ageing together has also been a worry. Yet, there’s no doubt that these can also be the peak years. The worry is more about how long it will last.

A quick scan of the goalscoring charts around Europe’s major leagues suggests that there might be an extension to the life of the goalscorer.

Incredibly, five of the top 10 goalscorers in La Liga this season were aged 33 or 34: Luis Suárez, Lionel Messi, Karim Benzema, José Luis Morales and some guy called Iago Aspas (who, incredibly, was also the league’s top-assister). A sixth, Antoine Griezmann, was aged 30, and of the four players to score the most goals, the average age was 32.2, with the youngster in the quartet, Gerard Moreno, sneaking in at the age of “just” 29.

(All ages calculated as of the time of writing.)

Is that a damning indictment of the declining standards of that league, or a sign of anti-melting from older players? The average age was a shade under 30.

Wednesday 16th:

A Decade of Big Chances: Clinical or Careless?, by Daniel Rhodes.

It was only a brief three and bit season flirtation with us, but my words was it fun to watch. This data doesn’t include his first few months under Dalglish, but as you can see, he produced a performance that ranks nearly as low as Firmino’s worst, across a similar sample. And then he cranks into beast mode, with two consecutive seasons of thirty or more (not done by any other Liverpool player) and finishing the chances at better than one in two! To add to the fun, he also created eight big chances and 60 ‘normal’ chances in his first full season; 16 big chances and 90 chances in his second, and to finish it off, he created nearly double more than anyone else in his final season (22), alongside 87 chances. Woof! I often daydream for hours about what peak Suarez and Klopp could do together.

Friday 18th:

Who Could Be the New Gini? Looking at the Potential Midfield Options by Mizgan Masani

With the summer transfer window now officially open in England, and clubs jockeying for position to get their deals done, scouting some of the players in action in the Euros and/or Copa America before making their moves. Liverpool acted swiftly and quickly in the market by signing Ibrahima Konate from RB Leipzig to bolster their centre-back position.

However, with long-serving midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum leaving the club on a free transfer to Paris, it has left them with the possibility of needing to sign a replacement in that position. On the face of it, the Reds have enough bodies to cover for the loss of the current Dutch captain, but the question of availability and consistently delivering on the highest stage is a lingering doubt affecting some of them.

Wijnaldum rarely missed games due to injuries in his time at Anfield. In fact, as per the Transfermarkt injury history stat, the Dutchman has missed only five games due to injuries since the start of 2018/19 season. The 30-year-old has made 110 out of the possible 114 league appearances in that time. He also played a major part in Liverpool’s Champions League and Premier League winning campaigns.

Those are some insane numbers produced by a box-to-box midfielder playing the role of a quarter-back and covering wide areas at the same time. Hence, despite having the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Naby Keita and Curtis Jones, it can be assumed that Jürgen Klopp wouldn’t mind signing another central midfielder.

The above-mentioned trio made a combined 47 league appearances last season, amounting up to 1948 minutes. Meanwhile, Wijnaldum himself appeared in every league game, racking up 2947 minutes of football with incredible fitness levels. So, it is clear that Klopp has lost one of his most trusted lieutenants, and setting up the team without him would not be straightforward.