Humour: Euro 2016: Average is the new ordinary
About football's oft forgotten squad players. Like John Obi Mikel, but some have talent.
Why utility needs to be utilized
Every football squad needs one or two like them. They come on in the dying stages of a match to close out a 1-0 win or when there is no established right back to replace the one that just got injured. They make the team based on versatility and are usually the first ones to be singled out after a bad performance. They ‘do a job’ or ‘paper over cracks’ rather setting the world/club stage on fire. They are to football what the band Nickelback is (was?) to music - desperately and consistently average. Yet one is required in every team.
I am talking about, of course, the ‘Utility Man’ or the ‘Squad Player’. A player who has been picked because he can play in goal, up front, out on the left or on a really good day (for the team, not him) doesn’t play at all. Whilst most of you are already grinning and muttering ‘James b****y Milner’ to yourself right now, know that in these heady EPL football for the world times we live in, he is but a really famous example of the norm.
To begin with, I must elaborate on the role of the utility man. Close your eyes. Imagine John O’Shea playing in goal or as a midfielder. That is all the explanation you need. It’s like when you include the word ‘versatile’ as a strength on your CV because you just couldn’t think of anything else. It’s like taking that obnoxious friend of a friend along camping because you heard from someone that he can pitch a mean tent and start a bonfire. Then at camp, you find out that he really can’t do any of those things but is really good at digging holes so you keep him around anyway.
So who are the utility players at UEFA Euro 2016? Are there any famous ones? More importantly, are there any good ones? Even more importantly, is any team playing them in the first XI?
The men who make up the numbers
Italy has one. His played their first game in the group stage. His name is Matteo Darmian. Quit sharpening your pitchforks Red Devil worshippers or whatever you lot are called. I don’t bleed. And he is a utility player. He played that first game as defensive cover on the left-hand side, slotted into the middle when required, got into wide positions when they attacked, switched the ball to the foot he can actually use and sent in atrociously deep balls into the box. It’s not his fault. He’s used to hitting them long so that they bypass Rooney and fall to Martial instead. Here’s the kicker. When the team looked like they were going nowhere fast, he was taken off, job done, free to warm the bench till the next time Italy decide to use the gameplan, ‘attack through Candreva and long balls’. Till then he waits, all snug and warm, safe in the knowledge that he is the world’s best ‘False 11’.
The French have one as well. But he’s so bad that they don’t want to play him. In defense of this French team, they have been pretty good through the first half of this tournament and haven’t needed the services of one Moussa Sissoko. Yes Moussa Sissoko, a player so generic that no Manager at Newcastle could figure out where to play him. He isn’t a wide midfielder and he sure isn’t an attacking one. Is he box-to-box? Which box does he prefer? Anyhow, he’s made the squad and he’s made the bench his home away from home. When he does get on the pitch, it’s pretty obvious Kondogbia, Ben Arfa, Fekir and Rabiot wince a bit and wonder in what way they wronged the football gods.
Even the millennial hipster’s favourite team Belgium, have a squad player fetish. They brought Marouane ‘How-the-hell-does-he-make-any-squad’ Fellaini to the tournament. He started the first game as well and tried to hide and take the match ball home in his afro. Also made several ‘key’ 5 yard passes. Truly a revolutionary at his position, Fellaini can lay claim to have invented the ‘Muckabout’ – a 65 minute virtuoso performance of the extraordinarily unexceptional, post which the player gets substituted.
What about Spain and Germany? Widely considered to be the current powerhouses in Europe, do these teams have that player who can ‘play’ (and I use the term loosely) at different positions? To be very honest, this author is deeply uninterested in anything La Liga or Bundesliga. However, I shall make a go of it. I nominate Cesar Azplicueta and Emre Can as the current utility warriors of their respective squads. I told you I was uninterested in football that doesn't take place in London or Manchester. Anyhow, I know you’re thinking this is a bit unfair. Cesar was decent this season and ‘kept that blue flag flying at half mast’ at least. Emre Can is tipped (rightfully so) to be the future of Liverpool FC. To all the people cussing at me right now, I ask these questions. Where does Azpilicueta actually play? Nay, where does Azpilicueta play well? As for Can, if the managerial miracle that is Brendan Rodgers could not figure out where to play him, I’m afraid he has no future. Sadly, for Cesar and Emre, this is where the buck stops at International level for now.
See, there is a pattern developing here. Every squad has one or two of them and to be honest every squad needs one or two of them. They make the world class players feel great at practice. They give the fans something to grumble about. They have amazing names. Razvan Rat for Romania anyone? When they score, they make for the best feel-good stories on the interweb ala anyone who scores for the Republic of Ireland. The utility man is necessary. The squad player is here and will be forever. His is a name forever etched on the backs of team sheets along with the day’s grocery list. Rumour has it that Valon Behrami makes a mean Fondue. How very Swiss. How very useful. How it gets him into a 23-man Swiss team, only God, Watford executives and Stephan Lichsteiner know.
Giroud does not qualify and Russia brought along Alex DeLarge and friends
To conclude, I believe I must address the handsome elephant in the room. Olivier Giroud is not a utility man. He is a plan B striker who fools every manager into believing he can be a star. He is in the French team because other French strikers decided to be crap or naughty at the wrong time. So he takes that magnificent beard from stadium to stadium, linking up play, looking decent with his back to goal and missing chances David Nugent would put away on a bad day. Also, he likes drifting to left so that he can add to his Youtube compilation called ‘EPIC FAIL CROSSES LOL’.
Actually, the point that would give some real closure to this feature is related to Russia, who seem to have the best travelling fans. They really are the 12th man of this team. If you can compare being the 12th man to being a Mohun Bagan-Estudiantes-Celtic supporting hybrid pyromaniac who loves the TV show Narcos because, ‘Isn’t violence just so aesthetically pleasing and justifiable?’
Too soon say you. To which, ‘who cares?’ say I.
A line about Glenn Whelan
Can you believe I wrote this entire piece without mentioning Glenn Whelan even once? Give me my Pulitzer or whatever the football equivalent of the Pulitzer is, now.
Disclaimer: This is a humour piece which is not intended to be taken seriously.