How do you analyse the performance of the team when one player is head and shoulders above the team?
Above everyone, really, who is playing at the highest level in the game today?
This week we saw one of the great strikers of his generation take a step towards being one of the greatest ever. Erling Haaland so completely destroyed RB Leipzig that all the media could talk about was how good he was and how good he yet might be.
And somewhere amidst all that, a question died on the vine; just how good were Manchester City on the night? How much of that annihilating final score was owed to the brilliance of the team, and how much of it owed to the brilliance of just one man?
One of the strengths of City these past few years was that they operated as a unit. As a team. They were fearsomely effective at that. You never knew which player in their side might conjure up a moment of brilliance. Those players are all still there, but the style is different, the team is reshaped and all to accommodate a single individual.
Don’t get me wrong; that individual is absolutely exceptional.
He may yet go on to shatter all the records which stand, and redefine what we mean when we talk about the modern centre forward. He does not possess the masterful, magical talent of Messi. He does not have the arrogance and the blazing skills of Ronaldo. But he’s not all about brute force either, although with his size and physicality he can certainly play that role.
Messi could play anywhere across the front. Ronaldo too.
Haaland is an old-fashioned centre forward … but the impression grows that he might not be like any we’ve ever seen before.
The writers at The Guardian, who have seen it all, wonder if he’s not more Terminator than man, a machine perfectly crafted for the purpose of scoring goals.
It might seem odd to mention Ange and Kyogo Furuhashi in an article that is centred on Haaland and City.
But in fact, it all comes to bear.
Because this was the week when Ange publicly told his players that one of their principle jobs on the pitch is getting the ball to the Japanese Bhoy. He, too, is a goal-scorer of supreme talent and skill.
Yet Ange has no intention of shaping this team to suit the talents of a single excellent player, and nor should he. This is the most complete Celtic “team” I’ve watched in no small part because that’s what it plays like. We have outstanding individuals in every position … but not one of them is allowed to become the fulcrum the whole side revolves around.
Imagine something happens to Haaland.
What do City do, now that they’ve crafted a system around him?
Now that he’s the man responsible for carrying so much of the burden of their team? Hey, those broad shoulders of his are perfectly capable of it … but that’s not a healthy way for any manager to put a team together.
That will never be us. Look at Ange’s decision to sign Oh, a very different player than Kyogo and a guy who will lead the line for us many, many times. There are rumours about another striker in the summer, and I would bet he’ll be a different sort again.
This is not a one-man band. This is an ensemble.
This is a meeting of talents, and the merging of them.
So is City, by the way … or it has been up until now. No matter how good Haaland is, they have lost a little of that in his acquisition and in the building of this team around one footballer.
I think it’s an error. It’s one we must not repeat.