There are many pairs of very skilled footballers who have had to learn to share the pitch without stepping on each other toes.
“A blessing in disguise.” This is what coaches usually say about their ‘bench’ when asked about the difficulties they face in having to choose eleven players for the starting line-up. When you have two or more talented players who play in the same position it causes headaches for the technicians of the best European teams. When there is so much talent in a squad, it is never easy to make the right decision. Sometimes the solution lies in not benching either of the two.
Football history is full of examples where two players with very similar characteristics have had to learn to share the pitch without stepping on each others toes. At Real Madrid this happened to Cristiano Ronaldo and Bale, resulting in the Welsh winger having to change sides in order for the two to be compatible. At Juventus Mandžukić had to give up being the Italian team’s battering-ram so as to maintain his place in the starting eleven. The presence of Higuaín forced him to play as winger and even as midfielder. Mourinho asked the same sacrifice of Eto’o when they won the treble with Inter Milan.
“In order for two players with similar characteristics to be compatible, generosity is fundamental”, explains Felipe Ragel Mármol, trainer of the Marcet A U16’s. “The sporting coexistence between two talents works when both are willing to make an effort to allow the other to shine in their abilities. It consists in both working together to fulfil the objectives of the team”.
“In order for two players with similar characteristics to be compatible, generosity is fundamental”
Every week Ragel has to work out situations of this nature with his players. Especially in the attack where there are two forwards with very similar characteristics. “Rachid and Karika are very fast and towering players. Although one is a striker and the other plays on the left wing, they have a tendency to overlap in the same space. Both score many goals, win duels and want the team’s play to go through them. They like the leading role on the pitch”.
Rachid was already at Marcet before Karika became a part of the team. The arrival of the Egyptian player could have posed a threat to the Mauritian striker, but Ragel decided to not alternate between the two on the pitch, but to make the most of each talent and make space for Karika in the starting line-up; despite the risk of tactical equilibrium for the team and the psychological motivation for the two players.
“It is all about not occupying the same area, making movements that oppose those of your teammate”
The bet paid off. The team benefitted from this pairing and had a great season. Among other rivals, Ragel’s set managed to hold their own against a giant of the Premier League, Crystal Palace, in a spectacular match that can be seen in the video heading this page.
“In order for this association to have positive implications for the team, we needed both to prioritize the team over their individual objectives”, explains Rágel. “The key was for both to not do the same. For example, when Karika approaches the midfield to receive the ball, Rachid has to move to set up another passing line. It is all about not occupying the same area, making movements that oppose those of your teammate and interchanging positions throughout the match”. This is a lesson well-learned by Rachid and Karika, as the goals they scored against Crystal Palace demonstrate.