Armchair Tactician By Simon Gallagher
By Simon Gallagher
Sunday 30 Oct 2011 10:16:00
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Whenever anyone talks about the attacking brilliance of former Toon players like David Ginola or Laurent Robert, or even Craig Bellamy and Patrick Kluivert, there's always an element of commenters who'll say “aye, but he never defended”, or “aye, but he could be a right lazy get”. But while industry and proper forehead-soaking graft are things to be valued of most footballers, when it comes to luxury acquisitions, like the names above, and arguably like Ben Arfa and newcomer Sylvain Marveaux (jury is out as of yet), the same rules cannot and should not apply.


Flair, or “luxury” players, as they are sometimes unfairly called, are the real key to excellence. A strong foundation is necessary of course, but if you concentrate to much on building a team to that end only, you end up creating a Frankenstein's monster closer to an industrious team like Allardyce's Bolton, or Stoke. Yes they're capable, but they're unlikely to trouble the top eight (apart from in a particularly poor league or one full of similar teams, and they lack that intangible magic touch that turns a solid team into a good one, or a good team into a great one.


That's why it is important that this coming season, particularly in our home games, Newcastle aren't afraid of utilising their flair players. Even if they ghost through 90% of the game (who remembers what Ben Arfa did for the majority of the game against Everton?), their tactical importance lies in their ability to inject a moment of quality that won't come from elsewhere. Our attacking players – the ones from the more skillful end of the stable anyway – need to be allowed the freedom to express themselves (or one of them does at least) to not only break down the anti-footballing teams who look to stifle and contain, but also to make sure we don't inevitably just become one of them.


For proof of the danger of valuing hard-work over on-field magic, we need only look at the “enthusiastic” players from our recent past who have got into our team on the strength of their willingness to run and run all day for the shirt. Look at Alan Smith, the embodiment of the unspectacular player, brought in as a misplaced solution to a perceived lack of steel and industry in the middle of the park. But Smith had been robbed of any footballing intellect he might have once had thanks to Sir Alex Ferguson's decision to “teach” him a new position, making him an even less effectual striker, playing in a midfield position he had no idea how to play cleverly, resorting to running hard, breathing out of his arse and lunging into challenges. The lad spends more time on his back than Jordan. And yet, we are supposed to congratulate him on the work he put in on the pitch.


But hang on, if I worked in a factory, and was the most dedicated bloke on the books, but I was churning out shite that fell apart, and that fundamentally didn't match the requirements of my job description I'd be out on my arse faster than I could pack my gear up.


What we want is flair, and if the players – like Asprilla as well – require the rest of the team to occasionally pick up the slack, then so be it. Which is why it frustrates me when I hear people complaining about us bringing in foreign players, because they won't bleed for the club, or give everything for the cause. Commitment is one thing, genius is another entirely – and if that magic spark comes from France, or Argentina, or the Ivory Coast, I couldn't care, as long as we are bringing in that type of player.


And as long as we do, in my mind at least, there will always be a place in our team for the flair players and the footballing wizards.

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