I was walking to across campus today trying to figure out what I wanted to write about for this space. I kept coming back to the idea of playing out the rest of the season. Are the players doing it? Are we as fans doing it? What about in my writing? What got me thinking about this was something Aaron wrote in his match recap on Saturday:
I don't like attempting to understand the motivations of people I don't know, but I think it's likely they're just as sick of this season as all of us are and they're having trouble finding the motivation. It's a small point; they're paid to play the game and play it well and such lapses shouldn't be allowed, but I think it's an important thing to understand. There's no way you can convince me these players don't care; I just think they want it to be over.
What really caught my attention was thinking about the players being tired of a year. It seems obvious, right? If we're tired of absolute mediocrity, the players probably are too. But we hardly ever think of players just playing out the string. At least for me, these athletes stay in my mind as hyper-motivated individuals, who don't suffer the ups and downs of we fans. Even if the team is safe now, players certainly want to help their stats and increase their value, right? But it makes me wonder about the reaction to the end of a disappointing season.
The other thing that got me here, and really solidified this as my topic for the week, was Kirsten's post on Emile Heskey. See, the players do look (at times) as if they are just out there to finish the season. (And before anyone gets upset, I don't mean this as a bad thing. Heaven knows I'd be doing the exact same thing). But then we get things like Heskey on Saturday. I missed the first half live, but when I went back and watched it, I was shocked at how upset Ivanhoe was. That sort of passion doesn't come from someone who is just playing things out.
And then you watch the rest of the match. Sure, the play is lackluster in the second half, and things aren't always crisp. But is that settling for the end of the season, or is it fatigue? Villa have been plagued by sloppy, often indifferent-looking play all season. The team has had four managers and never really seemed to gel the way we thought they would. Yet there are times when everyone on the field seems to be excited. Certainly, Ashley Young behaved like a so-and-so after his free kick goal, but that didn't dampen the initial thrill. And it wasn't just for the fans, as the players seemed ecstatic too.
So maybe we should be looking at this team a bit differently. I don't think they're giving up, or even settling. I think they just maybe never had it, and the fatigue of a season is making the fact even more obvious. This shouldn't excuse the way this team played for most of the season. Instead it should serve to temper our expectations for the final two matches of the season.