Does having the best players in your team always bring success?

By Tony Attwood

In the first of Andrew’s two articles today the point was made that the title winning teams in England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, between them had 39 of the 100 top ranked players in the world.

As you might recall nowhere was this more extreme than in Germany where Bayern Munich had 11 such players and the next five clubs in the league table had just one player between them.

There was a similar situation in Spain where Barcelona had 10 such players, although here Real Madrid did muster four – the same number as Arsenal.

In fact Arsenal were one of 11 teams in Europe with four or more players from the CIES top 100 players list.   But less we think that having the top players across the world in your team gives automatic entry to winning the league, this was not always the case.   Consider these four examples:

Napoli with seven such players ended up second in their league behind Juventus with three.

Monaco with no such players came second to PSG (with 7) and above Lyon and Marseille (with five and four respectively).

And in England, Manchester United with just one player from the top 100, were above Liverpool and Tottenham each of whom had seven.

Here’s the full table again, just to remind you.

England France Germany Italy Spain
Man City – 8 PSG – 7 Bayern – 11 Juve – 3 Barca – 10
Man United – 1 Monaco – 0 Shalke – 0 Napoli – 7 Athletico – 1
Tottenham – 7 Lyon – 5 Hoffenheim – 0 Roma – 2 Real – 4
Liverpool – 7 Marseille – 4 Dortmund – 1 Inter – 3 Valencia – 1
Chelsea – 3 Bordeaux – 1 Bayer Leverkusen – 0 Lazio – 2 Villareal – 0
Arsenal – 4 St Etienne – 0 Leipzig – 0 Milan – 2 Real Betis – 0

Of course all sorts of games can be played with statistics, although sometimes the headlines do get a big weird, as with the Canon’s “CIES: Arsenal only big-6 club without player worth €100m” – a factor which gives them cause for concern, just as the Express expressed concern over the fact that Arsenal were “set to lose key first team players this summer” because of the way contracts are constructed.

But we should always be wary of basing an entire approach to football on one set of figures.   After all, one possible reason why Juventus might have won the league with only three top 100 players is our old chum Type III Match Fixing.  I am not saying that is what happened, but merely it is one possible explanation among many others.

To go further, another explanation might be tactics: being willing to sacrifice style and attacking flair in order to grab a 1-0 win.   And another might be the use of younger players.

To consider this final point further, younger players won’t yet have had any chance to establish themselves in the CIES rankings, but can make quite a difference to a club in several ways….

First, they might be exceptionally good and the CIES rankings simply haven’t caught up with them yet.

Second, although clubs prepare their players for individual matches, it is always harder to prepare for game against a youngster whose tactics and approach are not that well known, and on whom there are far fewer videos showing far fewer variants on his playing style.

Third, injuries can force a team to lose a few top 100 players during the course of the season.  CIES only counts the fact that the players are on the club’s books, not how fit they are to play through the season.  This in turn means that a club with a range of highly talented back up players can do better than might be expected when injuries come along.

To give an example of how this can happen, even though Mr Wenger gave notice one year ago that he expected Maitland-Niles to play in the first team this past season, I doubt that many opposition clubs were really that sure where he was going to play, how often he might play and how he was going to play.

Indeed we can see how far this extends by the way in which the newspapers and blogs consider the situation of the Arsenal team.   There are constant calls for a key defensive midfielder, and yet in Maitland Niles we have one such.  Not experienced, true, but about to be a great player in that position. And if we don’t give him that spot he might be tempted away by offers elsewhere.

Or consider Eddie Nketiah who you may have seen earlier this past season.   He had just made his debut for England U21s (although still only 19).  Now you might think that because the match ended goalless, it was not much of an impact that he made, but  as reports from the Toulon Tournament show, he was playing not as centre forward but on the left wing and was highly impressive.

And of course there is the question of team cohesion.   It seems ludicrous to have to say that just putting a bunch of top players together does not make a team, but the media seem to forget that they do have to be moulded together – and this is where having members of the “top 100” club can be a problem.

When you are a star that big you expect special treatment and respect while at the same time you expect to win things.  Indeed outside their own clubs, none of the 14 members of the Liverpool and Tottenham teams who are in the top 100 will be that well remembered if they continue not to win things

As you might recall from an earlier article neither of those two august teams has won anything in the past five years.  Indeed in the past 22 years those two have won a grand total of 8 trophies, of which five were League Cups.  That’s fewer trophies for those two teams added together, than Arsenal have won on their own.

Who is to say which of these factors is going to be the most important in the coming season?  Yes having some “top 100” players is going to help, but even top players (such as Alexis) can have off periods.  In the end, the table shows that having such players can be a help, but unless you play in Germany where one club virtually has a monopoly, it certainly isn’t a perfect indicator of what is going to happen next season.

Mind you, even if I thought it was, I’d still have renewed the season ticket.



6 Replies to “Does having the best players in your team always bring success?”

  1. Good article and well researched. It obvious helps if you have a number of top players in your team but it doesn’t guarantee success e.g. Man City 2016/17.

    Liked your remarks regarding Liverpool and Spurs and would like to add one more stat. Neither of them have won a 1st Div or Premier league title in the last 28 years and in the case of the latter, 57 years.

  2. No, you don’t have to have the best players to guarantee success. Check out what is happening in the National Hockey League’s playoffs. The Las Vegas Knights have won three playoff series this spring to find themselves in the finals against the Washington Capitals. Hockey fans are marveling at their success. The Knights are a new expansion team into the NHL. The Knights organization drew 30 players, one from each of the other NHL teams in an expansion draft last summer. Each team was allowed to “protect” 10 of their players. Therefore the Knights are composed of second string players, not deemed good enough to protect. All these players are used to playing supporting roles. They have come together as equals supporting each other as real team mates should. Their coach Gerard Gallant trusts them all and they have all delivered back in strong play. They have already won their first game against the Capitals. If they win 3 more games out of this series of 7 they will be crowned NHL champions and make sporting world history. Sports analysts are dissecting the Knights success to try to find the secret. Much of it is summarized in Gallant’s ability to draw the best out of each of his players. No superstars needed, thank you very much!

  3. Great work , Andrew and good summation, Tony . In any team game as in life , there is truly many a slip ‘tween the cup and the lip.

    Blending together a good crop of players with a mixture of raw skill and power, mature seniors with budding youth takes a lot of time and hard work. But when it truly comes off , it is so often refreshing , as we saw with AW’s early teams.

    I also saw it with the Everton team of the mid eighties , who were a joy to watch. Ditto too Kenny Dalglish’s Blackburn Rovers; Keegan’s Newcastle ; Ranieri’s Leicester ; and Atikinson’s Man United team.

    Maybe we too are due another great and exciting team ?

  4. What exactly are Arsenal priorities this summer as they embark on signing new players to revamp their squad on a very limited transfer kitty of the reported £50m reportedly approved for incoming transfers this summer by Arsenal owner?

    Well, I have been reading in the media that Arsenal have prioritised strengthening their defence first this summer by signing 2 experiencd centrebacks to instill more discipline into their back line that will make the Gunners to avoid a repeat of conceding many goals next season especially at away games in the PL as they did last season’s campaign which led to many defeats for them in their games that cost Arsenal many points which saw the club dropped out of the CL places for the 2nd season running.

    According to reports, Arsenal are reported to be attempting to sign Papastathopoulos and Lichtsteiner from Dortmund and Jeventus. While the signing of Lichtsteiner is reported will not command a transfer fee payable to Juve’ if Arsenal sign him. But I think £12m should get the signing of Papastathopoulos wrap up instead of the reported £16m Dortmund are said to be asking for Papastathopoulos who has a year left on his deal with them.

    Assuming Arsenal succeed to sign the above 2 centrebacks this summer, they’ll still have up to £38 – 34m left in their summer transfer kitty to do other signings for their squad. But in which areas in the team squad are they considering weak and needed to be strengthened ahead of the opening of next season’s campaign? Their midfield and striker departments? I should think so. I think a playmaker/holding midfielder and a new striker signing this summer should also be prioritised by Arsenal this even if Jack Wilshere remains at the club. For, a midfielder signing of playmaker/defensive midfielder kind will only replace Santi Cazorla. And a new striker signing of good goals scoring record will equally be necessary for Arsenal to do this summer if they believe they should sell a senior lackluster striker in the rank of their squad and replace him with the new striker signing.

    Yes, having the best players in your squad diesn’t guarantee a club to win the PL Title but it can help to win it if they are used efficiently well during the campaign and are fortunate not to suffer injuries to some of their key players which can lead to them dropping points. And a times having the best players at a club could give their team a CL place. But not in all cases as we saw Chelsea dropped out of the CL place next season despite having a better squad in cost price than Liverpool who finished 4th in the table last season.

    Can Arsenal then win the League Cup, the PL Title and the Europa League Cup next season despite the fact they will only come close to having the best players in their squad behind Man City, Man Utd, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Chelsea in terms of the best players on ground at these top 5 PL club sides now and couple with more best players they’ll sign this summer surpassing Arsenal in acquiring the best players overall? I think if Unai Emeri, the new Gunners boss manage his squad of next campaign efficiently well better than Arsenal 5 PL Title win rival clubs will do in the next campaign, Arsenal will excel winning those 3 Titles.

  5. OT Alert – tenuous connection to football

    Yesterday, I caught most of a talk on the CBC Radio program called Spark. It speaks to the reliability of information one finds via social media.

    The interviewee had been concentrating on Twitter. They found that about 90% of people re-tweeted without stopping to think about what they had just read (or seen). In addition, most people (I didn’t hear an estimated fraction or percentage) will not delete or otherwise correct a tweet if they come to realize it is incorrect or otherwise in need of clarification.

    The medja often looks at twitter activity as a sign of importance (twitter going into meltdown blah, blah, blah). With 90% of people re-tweeting without thinking about what they read/seen, the whole twitter “experience” sounds to me like what happens in an ionization detector when the voltage rises to the point where “avalanche” happens. You definitely get a signal that something happened, but you have no clue as to what that something is.

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