In recent weeks, the notion of a ‘luxury player’ is one that has been widely debated. I suppose it began when the season kicked off; as Juan Mata tried and failed to get into Jose Mourinho’s starting lineup at Chelsea. For the impartial bystander, Mourinho’s decision to bench Mata was incomprehensible – here was a player who had been voted as Chelsea’s player of the season for the last two years, a player who was regarded by many as the most influential cog in the Chelsea machine, and yet he could not get on the pitch.
Similarly, it has recently been reported that Man Utd striker Javier Hernandez is starting to tire of his bench role, and will be forced to consider his options if he is not afforded more playing time in the near future.
Mourinho detractors were told that the reason Mata was not playing was that he was too much of a luxury. Mata is an attacking player, and is less likely to do the tracking back that has become a key part of the Mourinho gameplan. Hernandez is also said to be a luxury; the reason being that apart from score, the Mexican doesn’t do a whole lot else.
The question I’ve been asking myself is: in what way are these players luxuries? The dictionary generally defines ‘luxury’ as being something is not a necessity; something additional to what is required. And yet when this definition is considered, I can’t quite see how Mata or Hernandez can be viewed in that light.
Let’s begin with Mata. The Spaniard is one of the most creative players in the Premier League. He is tricky, has a fantastic pass and shows great vision to put his teammates into space. As well as having a mean shot, Mata is a superb provider; a fact illustrated by the fact that he was responsible for creating 18% of all of Chelsea’s goals in the Premier League last season in addition to his impressive personal goal tally of 12. The statistics indicate that Mata is a highly valuable member of the Chelsea squad, for the simple reason that he wins Chelsea games.
So in what way is he a luxury? Apparently one of the reasons why Mata has failed to get into the side is because he is not much of a defender. However, we’ve already established that Mata is an attacker, and his attacking attributes have been tremendously beneficial for Chelsea over the last two years. Given that he plays in an attacking position, why should he be seen as a luxury just because he primarily likes to attack as opposed to defend? To me, it seems that Mata fulfils his role perfectly, and only when the role is unfairly skewed does he suddenly seem like a less than exemplary performer.
The same too, is true of Javier Hernandez. Since he joined Man Utd in the summer of 2010, the Mexican has averaged just over a goal every 100 minutes of action. I appreciate that some of us aren’t into stats, so just to put that into perspective, this goals-to-minutes ratio is better than Eric Cantona, Thierry Henry, Alan Shearer, Robbie Fowler, Wayne Rooney and Didier Drogba. Even with this in mind, Hernandez has failed to really nail down a starting spot at Old Trafford, and it is suggested that this is because aside from his goalscoring record, he doesn’t offer a lot else.
The question is: why does that matter? Goals win games, and if you have someone who is capable of scoring a lot of goals, the chances are, you’re going to win a lot of games. I appreciate that Hernandez’s life has been made harder by the purchase of Robin van Persie (one of the few players with a better goals-to-minutes ratio than Hernandez), but when the technically limited Danny Welbeck is getting game after game in Hernandez’s stead, you can understand the Mexican being a little miffed. (Just in case you were wondering, Welbeck has averaged a goal every 200 minutes in a United shirt).
I guess what concerns me is that with all of this over-analysis and desire for strikers to be providers and attackers to be defenders, we could be losing sight of what this game is all about. Primarily, it’s about scoring more goals than your opponent. Somewhat unsurprisingly, to do that you need goals. To decry your principal suppliers of goals as ‘luxury players’ just because that’s all they do seems to me to be missing the point.
The other point is that football is about entertainment. Ask any sane football fan whether they would rather watch Mata or a disciplined midfielder who tracks back without really showing any signs of brilliance, and I think you’ll get a landslide answer in one direction. Equally, asking a football fan who is more exciting to watch out of Welbeck and Hernandez is like asking someone whether they would rather watch an Oscar winning film or sit bored in the darkness.
Unless football gets out of this habit, we could see that natural talents of players like Mata and Hernandez stifled, and that wouldn’t be good for the game. For the players in question, the question for them is whether they are prepared to continue to be undervalued or whether they might prefer a new home where they are seen as necessities rather than luxuries.