A couple of years ago some people at work started a weekly 5-a-side football night. Thinking this was hilarious, a couple of women from work got wind of it and decided to join us for the first game. It unleashed my deep-set anxieties from school of being routinely humbled by some wispy midget from Berinsfield or Icknield in front of a gaggle of the popular girls who had no interest in me.
After about 20 minutes of what I thought was fierce, high paced competition, the ball dropped to me about 20 yards out from goal. Now, I’ve never had any pace, but my technique is OK. I am, what someone once told me, ‘a bit too continental for the British game’. As soon as I received the ball, I knew I had a chance. I controlled it on my chest and then hit it on the half volley. The ball arrowed into the top corner; the goalkeeper even did that ‘didn’t see even it’ statue that always makes a goal look better.
It may have been best goal I ever scored. I’ve never scored many, there was a period where I played one game a year, a cobweb blasting Boxing Day run around, this streak included a six-year goal drought.
There were audible gasps at the cleanness of the strike and my wondrous technique. I was the most senior member of staff in the game, so it helped to reinforce whatever limited authority I possessed in the office. It was quite a moment.
As it happened one of the women had been filming the game in the hope of getting some gold dust footage she could share around the office. She captured my goal, upon reviewing the footage, it looked like we were in an advert for walking football. Nobody was running, nobody was near me, my feet didn’t even leave the floor when I hit it. I’m not even sure it was a half-volley; it may have bounced twice. In my mind it had been a goal which would have graced the Bernabau, the reality was very different.
Seeing myself in action was like an out of body experience, I wasn’t a graceful maestro with the ball with a quicksilver footballing brain. I was a three-legged hippo who got lucky.
Most of us are fairly new to the experience of watching games via iFollow, so watching games is similarly alien to watching myself score. iFollow isn’t the lush multi angle entertainment spectacle of normal TV coverage nor the sensorial overload of being there. We want it to be one or the other because that’s what’s familiar, but it’s ultimately neither. As a result, understanding the game is difficult. When you’re at the match, you live the effort and struggle of the competition, but on TV everything looks fluid and effortless. iFollow is neither of these things.
Watching on a laptop doesn’t give you the peripheral vision of the game; the movement off the ball or the effort that is being put in. That said, last night’s defeat to Crewe seemed to show a distinct lack of basic organisation. Nobody was setting the pace of the game, passes were rushed or overhit, attacks were the result of raw effort rather than the product of a planned strategy.
The problem no longer seems to be limited to our defensive issues, we seem to lack both metaphorically and literally, a spine.
There was no point when the back-four simply moved the ball between themselves to control the tempo of the game. In midfield, we were chasing shadows or trying to break up play, more destructive than creative. The strikers were left feeding off scraps or trying to achieve the impossible by dribbling through the massed ranks off the Crewe defence. There was just no apparent plan.
For the last two years we’ve enjoyed the unerring presence of John Mousinho and Jamie Mackie, while not always regulars on the pitch, their influence in the squad is currently being missed. The senior players are now people like Simon Eastwood, James Henry and Matty Taylor who seem to be quieter characters; great club men, but are they ready to lead? We seem to be missing the players who demand the character, focus and organisation we need to turn things around.
Karl Robinson is very in tune with the emotional side of the game whether that be promoting the value and purpose of being a real football club or managing its individual and collective mental health. However, the empathy he shows seems to result from experience, meaning he’s prone to his own fluctuations in emotion. It may be why he prefers exciting wingers to dogged defenders, emotion over pragmatism. The challenge is that if his emotions aren’t kept in check, they can become a distraction from the fundamental organisation of the team.
The feeling of belief is slipping away, the loss of momentum can only be stemmed by stepping back, re-establishing the basics and building from there. We have such reliance on our emotional momentum, though, it may be reasonable to question whether we have the players to dig ourselves out of this hole.