Meritocracy is an ideal often espoused by football managers in interviews. Work hard in training and you will get your chance. Play well and you will continue playing. Play badly, and someone else will take your spot. It’s all any player could ever really ask for. Head coaches do not guarantee playing time, but they can guarantee a fair fight for minutes.
In practice, this is much harder concept to implement. Coaches have their favorites, their trusteds, their undroppables. In the real world, sometimes a little faith is what’s needed to get a player through a bad patch. Fans (over)react on the daily, even to the minute-by-minute ebb and flow of a game. Managers need to maintain longer-term perspectives. Fairness is a sliding scale.
Sometimes, the choices are obvious however. Christian Pulisic might not see much fairness in his current predicament, for example, but Olivier Giroud can only marvel at his. There’s little debate, after all, over who should be the first-choice center forward at Chelsea at this moment.
“At this moment, little Tammy is walking on water. Listen, it’s hard to drop a striker when he’s successful.”
So what’s a player on the sidelines to do? In Giroud’s case, it is to keep fighting, keep working, keep pushing. (Hopefully Pulisic’s also thinking along the same lines, as his chance(s) will undoubtedly come again as well.)
“I am patient. I work in training. You have to keep a good state of mind. We have a lot of games to play.
“Last week, I missed all three games because of a dirty virus that tied me to the bed. Now I feel much better. The coach preferred to start Tammy. It’s good for the team. It makes us want to continue working and shaking up the competition.”
-Olivier Giroud; source: L’Equipe via Metro
Team first: the correct attitude.
Tammy may be on top and scoring regularly — 8 in 10 appearances in all competitions — but it’s hard to keep up such stellar form for an entire season. It’s a great story that Chelsea are winning with (homegrown) youth, but the harsh realities of the game dictate that winning will always take precedence. And that’s when Lampard will be faced with the tough decisions.
“Tammy’s performance was more of the same. He’s hungry for goals, he’s physical, he gives everything for the team and he has quality when the ball is at his feet. Of course there’s improvement to be had but he’s showing that.
“The minute Tammy’s levels drop, then we look next to Giroud and Batshuayi, and can they come in and make a difference.
“We will see many more Champions League goals from him I hope, and many more performances like tonight.”
-Frank Lampard; source: Chelsea FC
Competition for minutes should be the expectation at any top level team. If handled properly by all involved, it’s the key to a long and successful season stretched across multiple competitions.