This post will be best understood by football fans of a certain vintage….but the lessons are universal.
Joe Cole was a footballer who plied his trade for West Ham, Chelsea and Liverpool before he fell off the radar of the elite clubs.
When he broke into the West Ham first team he was clearly a precocious and amazing talent. The English media, notorious for their fawning adulation, loved him. He was supposed to the next footballing genius in the English football firmament and he was not going to stop there. Certainly his star would also burn brightly in the galaxy of world football.
He could do almost everything in the modern game. He could run, he could pass, he could dribble, he could shoot, he was genuinely two-footed, making him a difficult customer when he runs at defenders; he could go either side of his would-be maker.
He could play behind the striker, he was a good fit for the number ‘ten’ role. He could play in wide positions too, either wide left or wide right. He could sit deeper and dictate the play from the number ‘eight’ position. He was the epitome of the modern attacking midfielder. He could play right across midfield.
Yet his career did not bring the laurels that his talents promised. He won trophies at Chelsea but was displaced by more muscular and energetic midfielders who were considerably more prolific goal scorers and had a better ‘engine’ to cover every blade of grass in both boxes. They could work hard both offensively and defensively. Graft was edging out talent.
Or was it? Perhaps it was the case of the sharpened dagger becoming more useful than the Swiss Army Knife.
His output was inconsistent, his influence on games was not all pervasive. Surely a midfielder of his calibre should be dominating games?
A wag once opined that Joe Cole’s problem was his excess and multi-faceted ability. Because he could dribble, run, or pass with either feet, he was often confused by the array of options when he got the ball. Consequently, he frequently lost it. While he dawdled, he was tackled.
While that may be a simple characterization, there is an element of truth in the observation.
When you have too many skills/opportunities, when you have too many credible and viable options, you can easily lose the cutting edge. Simply put, the individual will suffer the confusion of profusion.
This is the confusion that results from having plenty to choose from. While you juggle your choices, the more nimble and focused are ruthlessly pulling ahead.
The player/person with a singular dominant skill has a Hobson’s choice. Just one option. He is forced to knuckle down, work hard and hone that attribute to perfection. That is all he/she has.
He is saved from the confusion of profusion or the paralysis of endless analysis. He/she is thus able to specialize and become the best in that niche.
While Joe Cole offered the fans a tantalizing future that never was, the clearly less multidimensional Frank Lampard soon took centre stage. He focused on becoming the most effective goalscoring midfielder in the league. Not for him the finesse of gliding past players, except with pace and power.
It is certain that time is finite. It is equally certain that finite time when spent on polishing five raw diamonds will achieve less lustre than if the time was spent on one.
What then is the Joe Cole metaphor? It is being the Jack of many trades while being the second best at all. It is for those who derive pleasure from breadth rather than depth. It also speaks of those for whom craft outshines graft.
Or indeed for those whose speed of execution is reduced by analysis paralysis. Or those for whom the gain of plenty brings the pain of procrastination.
To return to the game, we can think of the two footed player who never becomes a specialist set-piece taker on either foot.
In defence of the Joe Coles of this world;
Who needs the deep dregs of deliberation
You can have varied sips of adumbration
If the only thing you lose
For having too much to choose
Is the fate of being first-rate!