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    Are 'Luxury Players' a Dying Breed?

    Watching Mesut Özil’s leisurely stroll of a performance against Manchester City was both alarming and frustrating in equal measure. It got me thinking about whether players who tend to avoid defensive responsibilities but offer so much going forward, so called ‘luxury players’, are more of a help or hindrance to their sides. Also, are these types of players becoming a dying breed in the face of the high tempo and fast paced nature of the Premier League?

    The best sides in the league at the moment for most fans, are Chelsea, Tottenham and Liverpool. Sides such as Bournemouth, Burnley and West Brom are also exceeding expectations so far. The top sides all possess truly talented squads, but their top players also fit into the high pressing, high tempo system that they all implement. Mane, Firmino, Hazard, Costa, Son and Alli all graft for the team. Even Arsenal’s best player is the hardworking Alexis Sanchez and Manchester United can boast Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford as players of a similar manner. Always famously fast-paced and aggressive, the Premier League has transformed into, as Paul Merson consistently comments, an environment where it is absolutely essential to be at your physical peak. Technical ability is a bonus, and if a player is on the wrong side of 30 then they are often considered undesirable. The likes of Özil, Yaya Touré, Christian Eriksen, Dimitri Payet and Riyad Mahrez are starting to be criticised because they do not fit this desirable criteria. Ability wise, they are some of the best players in their respective positions, but they are a liability if their teams are under the cosh, becoming isolated and ineffective.

    Riyad Mahrez (pictured right) is beginning to attract criticism

    There are methods of countering this weakness though, as proven by Manchester City during the week. Yaya Touré was deployed in a disciplined, deep lying playmaker role against Burnley and the Ivorian was key in freeing up both David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne. He allowed them to roam up field in the knowledge that he would not be able to bomb up and down the pitch and be caught out. Teams that rely on an intense pressing style also have their deficiencies. David Moyes’ sides all play with this type of aggression and also famously drop like flies by November. His Everton side were particularly blighted by injuries on a consistent basis and Sunderland seem to be experiencing a similar situation at the moment. This does not detract from his ability as a manager- his teams are always difficult to break down and can compete against the best as an organised, determined unit. But given the high intensity and fast pace of the Premier League, it can be so easy for even one of the best players to become anonymous. It isn’t a given that a hard working team is going to be successful.

    Yaya has been deployed as a deep lying playmaker to great effect of late

    What is more likely is that certain teams can afford to have luxury players. Some of the most memorable players in Premier League history include the likes of Dennis Bergkamp, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Dimitar Berbatov, Nicolas Anelka and Mario Balotelli. Some of them may not have necessarily been amongst the best and they all put in hardly any defensive effort, but every single one of them played for a successful team. In essence, they could AFFORD to shirk responsibilities because there was enough around them to pick up their roles. For every Bergkamp there was a Gilberto Silva or Viera, for every Berbatov or Ronaldo a Rooney or Tevez, for Balotelli a Barry, De Jong or Milner. Maybe the luxury players just need to have the right players around them? On the other end of the spectrum, Adel Taarabt and Dimitar Berbatov were unquestionably talented but found consistency difficult to come by along with their struggling QPR and Fulham sides. Riyad Mahrez seems to be in a similar situation this season, possibly given the absence of part time marathon runner N’Golo Kante. Yohan Cabaye is another example, on the ball he can change a game but he can also be a liability at set pieces for Palace, frequently leaving his man. These luxury players can be such an advantage. If they can be allowed the freedom to focus solely on going forward, they’re generally the creative heartbeat of the attack, possessing an unrivalled creativity and awareness. They have to have players willing to pick up their responsibilities though, otherwise they create problems at both ends of the pitch. The greatest asset of the likes of West Brom, Bournemouth and Burnley this season has been their team ethic. They have particular players who stand out but there are no superstars who aren’t willing to work for the team over their own individual desires. If they had a luxury player it would be interesting to see how they fared, would it help take them to the next level or would it hinder their currently impressive ascendency up the table?

    The epitome of a luxury player: Dimitar Berbatov

    Overall, luxury players can be both a positive and a negative. They are unquestionably innovative but can also fall asleep when required to track a man or stop a cross. Whilst growing up, Ronaldinho was, in my eyes, the world’s best player for a number of years. He was an incredible talent with a technical ability the likes of which may never be completely emulated. However, he was allowed his free role because of the players around him. For Brazil, he had Gilberto Silva, Emerson and Ze Roberto covering him and at Barcelona, Xavi, Iniesta and, for a time, Thiago Motta. Admittedly, the Brazilian played at his peak over a decade ago in a slower paced Spanish league but, when mixed with the right blend of players, Ronaldinho set Barcelona and Brazil apart from the chasing pack. Regardless of the league, luxury players are something that teams are happy to pay a premium for and are also amongst the world’s best. They do however seem to be dwindling in numbers with the high intensity of the Premier League phasing them out. While they’re still about, they’re an absolute joy to watch, so let’s enjoy them while we can!

    Ronaldinho always played football with a smile on his face

    George Kelsey
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    Item Reviewed: Are 'Luxury Players' a Dying Breed? Rating: 5 Reviewed By: George Kelsey
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