Henry Clarson’s thought provoking blog yesterday and Graeme Macpherson’s article in The Herald today have prompted me to throw my own tuppence worth into the debate.
But I need to come at my thoughts indirectly –
Our perception of a football player’s skills and abilities, and therefore his value on the transfer market, is inextricably linked to the context in which he performs.
It is not too difficult to work out why the so called better players in Scotland automatically attract lower transfer market valuations than their counterparts in England. It is often more about context than ability.
There is an interesting irony here which is worth considering. The players in Scotland most likely to attract decent bids from English Premiership clubs are the ones who have had the opportunity to show case their talent in a different context, namely the Champions League.
This season, of course, only Celtic players have had this opportunity and they have invariably risen to the challenge. No sight of the psychological problems that have plagued them elsewhere.
Yet as the aforementioned writers pointed out, these same players have struggled to perform to the same high standard when competing in domestic competitions and against so called inferior teams (on paper, at least). The suggestion by Henry Clarson is that this could be down to some kind of fear of losing to the under dogs; whereas Graeme Macpherson’s article considers the view of sports psychologist Tom Lucas, that it probably comes down to complacency and poor preparation.
Different observations. Each worthy of consideration.
But this also got me thinking about how easy it could be for potential suitors to make costly errors of judgement in the transfer market by underestimating the significance of a context judged too weak to matter, and overestimating the significance of a context judged to be the ultimate marker of a player’s worth.
The problem is that the context deemed too weak to matter in this instance is actually the one in which a player’s strength of character faces an important challenge, which can be completely missed if we focus too much on the bright lights and the bigger stage.
What I mean is that when it comes down to mental toughness – an indication of just how valuable a player actually is to a team – the ability to rise periodically to the silky smooth occasion of Champions League football is perhaps not as telling as the ability to perform regularly on the rough ground of Scottish football.
So my question is why do clubs place more weight on individuals playing well in Champions League games, for example, than they do on their sometimes faltering performances in domestic league and cup games? The answer has to be that it is all about context, and the context in question is one which has been created by the type of media hype that always wants to ask the question, ‘yes, but can they step up to our level?’
It is a smug sense of superiority that exaggerates the worth of one context over another and that distorts the perception of what matters most when judging the value of players and how well they are likely to perform.
Now, by way of tying all of these points together, I will throw another opinion into the mix – perhaps the reason why some very good Celtic players have struggled to perform to the standard we all know they are capable of in domestic games, is that they too have bought into the media hype and transfer market preferences that renders many of our domestic games of low importance when it comes to proving their calibre as the top players their Champions League forays appear to have made them.
So rather than fear of losing to the under dogs, or complacency because they should be expected to win easily, perhaps it is much more simple. Perhaps it is just a subconscious decision that they don’t have to work hard in these games, because despite their importance to the rest of us, these games don’t actually matter that much to them when viewed with one thought in mind: these are not the games on the basis of which they will earn their lucrative move to the promised land of the English Premier League.