As Freddie Flintoff has demonstrated, even elite athletes fall off the wagon, or pedalo, sometimes. There was a time when he could do no wrong – after a long, conveniently forgotten, period where he could do precious little right – now temptation has got the better of him again which is showing in his indifferent performances on the pitch.
The contrast between victory and defeat is so apparent and life in general so complicated and unpredictable that retaining consistency is the single biggest challenge to any sportsman. I once heard the coach of the British badminton team explain that they choose which tournaments to win and which to sacrifice because it isn’t possible to deliver performances of the required standard in more than a couple of top ranking tournaments a year.
To perform at a top level fifty times a year, therefore, seems a very tall order indeed, but that’s what’s required of a professional footballer. The further down the leagues you travel the more inconsistency you see, and it’s infuriatingly evident at the Kassam at the moment. Four wins, then two winnable home games lost, then a 3-0 stroll in the park away. Who knows what to expect next?
It suggests there may have been a strategic error in the original approach to this season’s squad. Jim Smith focussed on a small squad of quality league players. which worked at first. The starting 11 picked itself; when a player was out, another seemed to be available to slot in. But, there are only so many Matt Day’s available at one time.
Quality league players are playing in the Conference for a reason; inability to resist the temptations of footballer’s life, age, injury, a combination of all three. What this means is that the variance in performance is likely to be much broader in these players than in those more appropriate for this level. In fact; the players whose performances have varied least are Eddie Anaclet, Danny Rose, Martin Foster, Yemi Odubade – are all players with a handful of league appearances between them.
There is so little opportunity to bring players in during the season and the wage cap is further restricting still; it seems that a big squad of solid professionals is preferable to a small squad of quality. It would be difficult to argue against the original strategy, but not having the bodies to call on may be the difference between success and failure.