Life as a professional footballer fluctuates between unimaginable highs and distressing lows, it’s par for the course.
But there is little that will upset a player more than being axed on the back of a good run of performances.
Possession (of the shirt) is nine-tenths of the law - or at least it should be - so to see it ripped from your back when you’ve done nothing to deserve a dropping, hurts more than a Lukas Podolski pile driver that catches you in the nether regions.
What more do I have to do? - that’s the first question a player will ask if they’ve been left out at a time when they're playing well. And no matter what the manager comes back with, the axed player will be left cold; stung by a demoralising feeling that their face doesn’t fit.
"You played well son, I’m just giving you a breather."
"So and so needed a game, you’ll be back."
"It’s a tactical decision. Nothing you’ve done wrong."
"I needed to freshen things up with a spot of rotation."
"I thought you looked tired towards the end. The rest will do you good don’t worry."
As a player I heard them all. In my younger (greener) days I took a manager’s word as gospel but that element of trust rapidly dissipated with every white lie that was designed to appease.
It happened to me, and at some time or another it happens to most players, but when you’re left out after a good game, or a run of good games it usually means only one thing. The manager prefers somebody else to you. You’re not his favourite.
Disheartened at the unfairness, many footballers’ react inside by thinking ‘stuff this, what’s the point of playing well for this guy? I’m off.’ Some will readily externalise those feelings through wrath inside the gaffer’s office.
Not playing is the worst thing about the job. So when this happens at a time when you deserve to be, it really does suck.
I bring this up because Arsene Wenger has a big decision to make in the next game or two. First choice keeper Wojciech Szczesny is returning from a hip problem, and (finally) David Ospina also appears fit and available to challenge the Pole for his number one spot.
The spanner in the works is that in the duo’s absence, third-choice stopper Emiliano Martinez has stepped in to do a terrific job.
Taking his place between the sticks for pressure contests against Dortmund, West Brom and Southampton, the 22-year-old Argentine hasn’t put a glove out of place, keeping three successive clean sheets.
Accomplished in his handling, athletic in his ability to make saves, sensible and assertive with his distribution and decision-making, the rookie has radiated the calmness of a custodian that’s been protecting Arsenal’s goal for years.
It’s a quandary for the Gunners boss. He really won’t want to upset confirmed number one Szczesny or new boy Ospina, but on current form the youngster in possession of the luminous orange shirt can’t be left out. Can he? I’ll be fascinated to see what happens.
Away from Arsenal, where rotation has largely been fazed out in recent seasons, it perpetually baffles me how intelligent managers ignore the basic premise that a footballer will give you more if he knows he’s playing for his place.
Throughout the history of the game, managers have selected their teams on merit, promising those who get the nod that the position is theirs until they a) get injured, b) lose form, or c) somebody else shows they’re playing better than you in training, or for the reserves.
Nowadays, an obsession with rotation has knocked those values out of kilter.
In 14 Premier League matches this season Brendan Rodgers has picked 14 completely different XIs, and David Moyes famously adopted the same philosophy at Old Trafford last term. Many other managers also follow suit with random game-to-game tweaks, and I think it’s crazy.
If a player like Lucas Leiva is performing well and contributing to the side, he should stay in the team until he has a dip. The same goes for anybody at Anfield. It shouldn’t be up for debate. Yet the Reds boss seems intent of switching around his system and starters from one game to the next, based on his own tactical intuition.
While I do respect Rodgers’s view, surely a player (and a team) are likely to find greater rhythm if there’s continuity? Constant chopping and changing can also have a seriously demotivating effect too.
If form doesn’t keep a footballer in the first team, what incentive does he have to perform? There’s pride of course but that only goes so far.
Football managers are always talking about how competition for places is healthy, but this can only function properly if the fight is actually a fair one.
Messing players around because of their status - not showings - is a sure-fire way to drain spirit.
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