Sports Opinion

Is it a one-man show?

September 18 - 24, 2019

Gulf Weekly Is it a one-man show?

There’s no ‘I’ in team! I remember a whole wall completely dedicated to that phrase in the primary school I attended. I’m not sure it had the exact intended effect. It was supposed to go alongside the house point system; a weekly, monthly and yearly competition between everyone in the school and the number of points were calculated by a captain and vice-captain of each team.

I was the red team captain in my final year and every week I would go in to each classroom, work out which team had the most points and simply award my team five points more than that.I took no credit. There was never an ‘I’ in team but there was an ‘M’ and an ‘E’, I thought, and that was important.

The 10-year-old me had channeled 1986 Diego Maradona and given my team a helping hand on the way to victory. My father has a picture of me beaming whilst holding the coveted house point trophy. The cheating clearly didn’t phase me and whilst I would never want to celebrate winning in that manner now, it is true to say that I was quite important to the team that year.

It is difficult to really accurately work out the actual dependence a team has on any one player. It wouldn’t take many more than two or three players for amateurs to beat a solo Tom Brady in an American Football game, LeBron James would struggle outnumbered and there is a strong body of opinion who believes Lionel Messi has only reached the heights he has due to the team he has around him.

In any case, you can’t simply remove players’ contributions and look at it like that. Barcelona, in a universe without Messi, wouldn’t have started each game with 10 men. In literal terms, there’s no such thing as a one man team, so what is really meant by the term?

At Carrow Road last Saturday, Norwich City pulled off one of the biggest shocks in Premier League history as they turned over the current champions, Manchester City, 3-2. Their performance was brilliant and it was energetic. They worked for each other in what many described as a complete team performance and all despite the fact they had eight first team players out injured.

Manchester City’s failings, on the other hand, were almost completely put down to their one notable absentee, Aymeric Laporte. Manchester City’s squad is the first in history to have cost more than $1bn yet the consensus of opinion is that they could not cope without one player. Is Laporte a one man team? Are the other $900m worth of talent incapable of winning a game against opposition who last year were in the division below? It seems like an awfully fragile position for a team who, in the last two seasons, have been arguably the best English football has ever seen.  

There’s the flip side to that game too. Every single Norwich player deserved the plaudits that they received following their incredible victory but without the exploits of their talisman Teemu Pukki, would the result have been the same? I don’t know if Norwich has another player capable of playing in the way he did, let alone the form he is in.

It’s not strictly football either. The Ashes has now come to an end with Australia retaining the urn. For those who watched, it would be easy to draw the conclusion that Steve Smith had single handedly batted Australia to such a success, he was immense throughout the series and upon reflection, Jofra Archer giving Smith concussion was about as close as England ever got to having a chance to overturn the Aussies. Nathan Lyon didn’t stop being a world class spin bowler without Smith, Australia didn’t stop being a top international side or stop being capable of beating England but there was definitely something missing.

Perhaps the best example I could find of a potential one man team was LeBron James. The Cleveland Cavaliers had James in the 2009/10 season but not in the 2010/11 season, here are their statistics for that period:

• 2009-10 Cleveland Cavaliers: 61-21

• 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers: 19-63

That is quite an astonishing turn around for just a year. Aymeric Laporte is not LeBron James though, he’s not really Steve Smith either. Most Manchester City fans might not even rank him in the top five players at the club currently. So why last Saturday was he the one man that would’ve made the difference?

In my opinion, the concept of the one man team is more to do with psychology of the team rather than the ability of one player. If you line up alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, you simply believe you are going to win that much more. If you are at the crease with Steve Smith you believe that you can form a partnership. Laporte doesn’t need to be the best player at City if the effect he has is there is more belief they will win with him in the team and that can be different on any given match day. This week it is Laporte, next week it may be the goalkeeper, Ederson, who turns out to be the difference maker and maybe therefore the strength of any squad is the number of “one man teams” they possess. Maybe we need multiple ‘I’s’ in a team.

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