It’s deadset Groundhog Day, readers! Another week, another decent performance, but no points, and more frustration for everyone from Ernie Merrick through to the fans, and your once-a-week hack.
We followers can be a fickle lot, and despite enjoying an attacking, free-flowing and entertaining style, you can find yourself yearning for a poxy, ugly, drab 1-0 win, just for a change.
Therein lies the quandary for Jets coach Merrick, who is a fervent, and at-times-vocal believer that attacking, aesthetically pleasing football is almost non-negotiable in his teams. Does he tinker slightly with his structure in deference to pragmatism, or continue to have belief that the Jets’ fortunes will turn if faith is maintained?
Only the hardest marker could complain about the entertainment value and the effort that is being produced on field. The effectiveness of that endeavour is down on the euphoric highs it provided last season, yet clearly superior still to much of the dross endured by fans in the previous half-dozen or so before the last campaign.
So would it be hasty (on steroids), for the fans to demand conservatism, caution, and hard-nosed pragmatism, at the risk of abandoning the gains of last year?
Anyone who knows Scottish men of Ernie’s generation, and or football coaches generally, will tell you they all have a pragmatic streak, so will this run of results, near misses, uncover Merrick’s inner accountant?
Could we fault him if he reassessed? Would we in fact encourage that and praise him?
I certainly believe he has more than enough credit in the bank to choose which ever course suits him, and I will view the results, and the patience of the fans with more than a passing interest.
Is the difference between last season and this, even about tactics, structure, luck?
I don’t always agree with Herald sports editor Robert Dillon, particularly when he sympathises with referees, who should be barely seen and barely heard at all times in football circles, but he outlined only last week the effect that the failure to fully replace Andrew Nabbout had on the performance of the team.
That blow was softened to quite an extent last season by the arrival in January of Riley McGree on loan from Club Bruges in Belgium. It wasn’t a like for like by any means, but both would sit comfortably in the top five per cent of players in the A-League for athleticism and pace, before ability even enters the equation. Both are gone, and strikers Roy O’Donovan and Joey Champness have both been absent for long periods.
Part of my Christmas present from my daughter and her fiancée was a book entitled Soccernomics, which provided some very interesting hours of reading in the holidays (yes, a nice change from form guides), in which the authors attempt to explain through data and statistical history much of what happens in the game.
A lot of it is common sense, but sometimes it’s reassuring to have irrefutable statistical evidence to back up what the eye sees and the gut feels.
The authors found that the teams with the highest-wage bill almost always won the major league titles! That’s not rocket science, Lowey, I can hear you mutter, they have the best players! I know, and it backs up my argument that overall talent is more valuable than a “great manager”.
Between 1973 and 2010 the top-four ranked managers for total wage spending in England were Bob Paisley, Alex Ferguson, Kenny Dalglish, and Arsene Wenger. Their teams dominated that time span.
That is relevant to the Jets, how? Glad you asked!
Six or eight weeks ago I hosted a luncheon where a very gregarious duo of Lawrie McKinna and Ernie Merrick regaled the crowd.
Lawrie being very forthright as he is (so I’m not speaking out of school here) noted from memory that the Jets operated on the third-lowest player budget in the A-League.
Perhaps we are getting full value for money.
Currently seventh, the team may be performing slightly above par.
Perhaps last season was a statistical anomaly, a mini Leicester-type one-off miracle. A time when everything went right for the Jets, and the regular heavyweights struggled.
Are Wellington having their turn this season?
Melbourne City can afford to leave in limbo a guy who scores at a rate of more than a goal every second game, and reportedly earns in excess of $1 million a season.
Victory’s marquee man Honda’s salary would cover 85 per cent of the Jets’ wage bill, and throw in Ola Toivonen ... ahh, don’t get me started.
Realistically are the Jets good enough to challenge? Should they be, on a consistent basis? They certainly compete well enough.
And they will get a chance to prove that on Saturday against a Sydney FC side that includes the leading scorer in the league, a Dutch marquee in Siem de Jong, who is just finding top form, and the excellent Milos Ninkovic. Did I leave out Alex Brosque, who has scored more goals against the Jets than anyone?
Those with faith can get $2.75 about the Jets to recover and make the top six. It’s not beyond them.
At the risk of upsetting my football-loving friend Ross Greig, go the underdogs.