Consistency versus the big moments

Ben Mountain

“He’s one for the spectacular” is a very tired and vague old adage. Often, players who seldom turn up to most matches but display a moment of glory from time to time receive a glowing standing in the eyes of their fans. Those who grind on, game in, game out, rarely enjoy such praise; even if it comes in the form of a weary little idiom.

Imagine standing at Wembley, watching your side compete in the FA Cup Final. It’s probably your club’s biggest game of the season and you’re drawing 1-1. You’re not particularly deserving of a win and, in reality, are in need of a bit of a hero.

You need that one star to step up his game and put on a show in this colossal of matches.

Enter, Jesse Lingard. A cracking volley ensues.

Yes, by now you’ve probably guessed what we’re referring to. The 2016 FA Cup Final was a day of jubilation for Manchester United fans and a certain Mr Lingard. It was also the day that established one of the most ridiculous reputations in English football.

Jesse Lingard: man for the big moments, hero of Wembley.

Because, naturally, the cocky winger netted again at England’s home ground. This time against Southampton in the EFL Cup Final.

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Lingard’s sycophants supporters often passionately caw out that his record at Wembley is second-to-none. We at CLICKON know this more than most.

Just what is it about Wembley’s hallowed turf that turns Lingard from your average, fairly young squad-player destined for mediocrity to some sort of Wembley lovin’ demi-god?

Of course, it’s nothing. Three goals from three, non-consecutive games is hardly conclusive evidence of Wembley’s magic grip on Lingard’s boots.

It is, however, conclusive evidence of an absurd and deluded fan obsession. We herald players who, every so often, display an inspired and glorious moment when the cameras are all switched on, and fade away into relative insignificance when they’re all packed away again.

Obviously, in English football, the cameras are never truly packed away; but you get the drift.

We laud over the players who hem it up now and then and deliver us rare moments of magic. For us fans, bicycle kicks, 30 yard screamers and mesmerising stepovers cloud any damning realities that might exist about a flashy footballer.

Take players like Philippe Coutinho; a man who’s mercurial on his day, but just a little flat at other times.

This season, whenever the young Brazilian has scored, it seems to have been an emphatic and stunning worldie. He then dominates the following morning’s papers and the world sees him as some sort of footballing Jesus incarnate.

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Afterwards, people overlook the pretty shocking stats that reveal the truth. Coutinho’s shot accuracy, for example, is a mere 31%. He’s missed 15 ‘big chances’ from 33 games. That’s almost a chance a game. Imagine where the Reds would be if he hadn’t.

But, thanks to the odd 30-yard screamer here and there, Coutinho is regarded as one of the Premier Legue’s best players.

Coutinho, while skilled, has only really shocked the crowd and turned it on with a few big moments. He is yet to have proven himself consistently or with much preserved conviction.

In this respect, he’s much like Jesse Lingard and many other highly praised footballers.

But are players like these what the fans actually want? After all, football is a form of entertainment; a game designed to thrill and excite. The moments of inspiration that the likes of Coutinho can deliver are surely what makes this sport so great.

Or are they? Perhaps we prefer the sport for the glory of winning, the buzz of getting one over on the next team. The players who ensure we can enter the office with our head held high, fully demonstrating our best smug smile are possibly those we adore the most.

Just look at Ruud van Nistelrooy; Mr Consistency, himself. From 1998-2008, van Nistelrooy managed the staggering achievement of scoring 20+ goals in every season bar two. The two seasons he didn’t manage it were massively hampered by a lack of game time.

And, famously, the Dutch forward once managed a ten-game run, scoring in every game consecutively.

But just how many of these goals were uninspired, simple and unattractive tap-ins; built on his ability inside the six-yard box? We dare not say, but surely it was a dull majority.

Yet, perhaps fairly, van Nistelrooy is regarded as one of Europe’s top 21st century strikers.

At the end of the day, he won games. And he won them consistently. Philippe Coutinho, on the other hand, doesn’t. He does, however, shoot a jet of excitement and child-like enjoyment through the heart when he delivers.

So, this begs the question as to whether fans prefer the point-clinching Mr Consistent or the game-changing maverick.

Perhaps it’s the latter. Surely if it wasn’t, we wouldn’t all whip out the old stat-board for the likes of Michael Carrick and dub him ‘underrated’ and ‘consistent’. The nation’s Carrick love-in ended up becoming annoying and tiresome after a while and that, among many others, is at least one reason to end any possible obsession with ‘big moment players’. We won’t have the obligatory flip-side of acclaiming the consistent, underrated ones who don’t make the YouTube compilations.

In truth, a professional footballer should be performing every week. Naturally, they’ll hit form at times and less so at others but, come on, using the number of goals scored at Wembley is hardly a measure of their talent. Neither is the frequency of their full-pitch runs. It’s the consistent quality they demonstrate in helping their club win.

It’s frustrating because, thanks to football’s entertaining and unpredictable nature, us fans go wild for a big goal or stellar performance when it impresses most. We struggle, however, to get the blood pumping for the players who are there every week, turning up and keeping the team going.

It’s those players we overlook and, almost apologetically, have to gawp at the stats for come the end of the season.

But supporting Mr Consistent whilst the ‘man for the big moment’ screams and shouts to block him out is important.

So, to the Philippe Coutinhos and Jesse Lingards out there; thank you. Thank you for making football the electric and ever-changing sport it deserves to be. But, for the love of god, turn up more often. Then we can all adore you more next to the likes of Ruud van Nistelrooy; the martyr for consistency.

That way, we can leave the stats behind and enjoy watching the football. We’ll get the points and the entertainment, Everyone’s happy. Cheers, lads.

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