It’s a strange thing to say but what sometimes seems to be lost in the modern day reporting an even discussion in football is that the names we talk about are human beings. We talk about transfers, contract situations and even a player’s form almost as if there can’t be external issues off the field of play that could be pulling them away.
This has come up recently with Raheem Sterling, who has even been vocal in his disappointment that his contract talks with Liverpool have come out. Unsurprisngly, his form declined at the end of the season and whilst some would point to fatigue, which could also be a factor, it’s clear from numerous performances that his trademark swagger has left him.It was what made him so distinctive and exciting, he showed no fear and looking at WhoScored’s ratings you can see the dip he’s gone through.
Up until his two-assist performance in the 2-1 win against Manchester City at the start of March, he’d put in a string of excellent performances and whilst his form was erratic at times, he’d regularly hit over 7.5 on their scale. After that point, he made just one more goal and assist, scoring over 7.5 twice in the final 14 games whilst finishing below 7 in all of his last seven games.
It’s clear from that whilst the actual situation with his contract isn’t affecting his play, the ire from the wider public that he’s received and the increased attention has. It’s a process he’ll certainly learn from and will likely grow a thicker skin, it’s interesting to see how the psyche can change a player’s form on the field.
It’s not just Sterling that’s been affected, Angel Di Maria has also had a pretty poor season for his lofty expectations and it’s almost obvious that the break-in at his home had a detrimental on his on-field exploits.
He would give the ball away, try to do a little too much and his own frustration at his inability to rediscover his form led to the petulance seen during the FA Cup quarter-final against Arsenal where he was sent off. Sometimes it’s just a break that a player needs to find his feet again and now the season is over, hopefully both can return to their former glories.
However, we should also take a player’s off-the-field happiness into consideration during transfers too. Some don’t join clubs because they don’t fancy the area, because they don’t want to learn a new language or they want to leave because it’ll make their lives a little easier.
A perfect example is David De Gea, who looks almost certain to join Real Madrid not simply because it’s a huge club but because it’s a lot easier on his family. His girlfriend much prefers Spain, his family hasn’t got to travel as far (especially with his father’s fear of flying) and that’s a really big factor in a player’s decision, sometimes even more so than money.
Sometimes we lose a little bit of thinking, analysing numbers on a screen and thinking of players much like they are within the realms of FIFA 15 of Football Manager but after all, they aren’t far removed from ourselves. It’s almost impossible to see the roadblocks in someone’s mind and we never will but it’s something that teams, players and even the media will get better with the more we learn.