There's a saying "it's not how much you've got; it's what you do with it that counts".
Now that might not be exclusive to football, but in football it helps to have a big squad. It's even better if this big squad has some real quality in it.
In South Africa, Orlando Pirates have the biggest squad of players followed by Mamelodi Sundowns. I think Ajax Cape Town have a reasonably sized squad, but the key is that their reserves have a lot of quality and are schooled in the Ajax system, so that they can step in and understand exactly what is going on in team tactics and systems.
Chiefs need some quality signings
I don't think Chiefs have a very big squad, and one of their problems is that when the senior players are struggling, there are few options to bring in and change things around.
I can't understand how or why they have not got the big cheque book out and signed about five or six top players from other SA teams, or even from other top African teams. They have the money, the reputation and the biggest support base, yet their performance in the transfer market has been poor of late. There is no use in signing a top striker like Jose Torrealba if you don't provide him with the right service.
Even though Pirates have a big squad, it seems that this doesn't help them, as they are yet to find their best combinations and partnerships. They have been relatively inconsistent this season, with some great performances, followed by some drab affairs. Santos, who have a small squad, dumped Pirates out the Nedbank Cup recently - a case of small and consistent over big and bulky! I think the problem at Pirates is that there are too many people having a say in who must be signed, and who must play.
Arsenal lack quality in key positions
In the English Premiership, I would argue that Chelsea have the best overall squad with regards ability in depth. Manchester United follow closely behind with possibly Liverpool in third. Arsenal do not have a lot of depth - but their reserve team made up of a lot of young players, has done well in the Cup competitions in recent times.
But I still don't think they have enough cover in the key positions - up front, central midfield, and central defence. Up front Adebayor has been relatively quiet lately (after his nine game goal spree a few months ago) and there has been no one to take up the slack. Arsenal have relied on some late goals, mostly from defensive players to get them a share of the points in recent games, and when you are challenging for the title, you need someone up front scoring regularly. I think their poor league run also co-incided with the absence of Kolo Toure. Philippe Senderos is a great competitor at the back, but lacks the class, presence and leadership of Toure, and Arsenal have suffered in the league because of it.
Liverpool need more depth at the back. Sami Hyypia is on his last legs but the emergence of Martin Skrtel has made up for this - but they should be in the market for a quality central defender. Up front, I think they'll be okay even if Fernando Torres was injured.
Dirk Kuyt, Ryan Babel and Steven Gerrard and a few others have weighed in with some goals here and there, and even though Torres has been the man to get them the results week in and out, I feel they would have adapted if he was not available - I'm still not sure why they don't use Peter Crouch more often.
Not the prettiest
United have relied heavily on goals from Cristiano Ronaldo, but they have some other players who can score goals too - Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez have 20 between them. In Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Nani, and even Michael Carrick, there is enough quality to get a goal or two every game. Even Darren 'Son' Fletcher came good with his brace against Arsenal in the FA Cup.
Chelsea have great depth in their squad. Their midfield trio of Joe Cole, Frank Lampard and Michael Ballack have got their share of goals this season, and in Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka and Salomon Kalou, there are a few goals there too. Their performances have not been the prettiest, but the results have been pretty good.
The next few weeks will be hard on all the top teams in both SA and England, because at this stage of the season, they are involved in the final rounds of big Cup competitions, and in the closing stages of the league title race.
I would say that Liverpool have an advantage in the Champions League over Arsenal because they could rest some key players during league matches prior to their Champions League clash. Arsenal, challenging for the title, probably can't do the same if they want to maintain their challenge. United play Roma, who are also challenging for the Italian title, so there is no real advantage to either team.
Top 3 out the Cup!
Locally, the top three teams in the league title race all went out of the Nedbank Cup on the same weekend! Ajax, SuperSport and Pirates will all argue that the league title is the one they want, hence the lack of focus. But you won't see Arsenal, United and Chelsea having the same excuse if they get bundled out of the Champions League. To be a big club, and to give your supporters the success they demand, you have to be competitive in the league as well as all the major Cup competitions - and the truth is you need a big squad of quality players to do this consistently.
George is Media24's soccer business manager.
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