At the halfway stage of this topsy-turvy Premier League season one of the themes to take away is that hard work is certainly paying off. This might seem pretty obvious and the least fans expect from players earning vast fortunes each week but the success or Leicester City and the struggles of Chelsea have bought effort, desire and commitment to the fore this season. Here are a few examples of players who’ve always put in 100% for their team.
With their rivals struggling, Arsenal has their best chance of winning the Premier League for a decade. With Santi Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez both enduring frustration with injury the onus has been on Mesut Ozil to lead Arsenal’s title challenge. The German has certainly done that with 16 assists in 18 Premier League games so far. If the midfielder continues that form he is on course to comfortably break Thierry Henry’s record of 20 assists set in 2002-03. It isn’t just Ozil’s assists which have been receiving plaudits but also his work rate. Since the former Real Madrid player arrived in England for £42.5m in September 2013 his languid style of play has seen him come under scrutiny with accusations of not trying. However this season based on the EA Sports Player Performance Index the German World Cup winner runs 10.24km over the course of 90 minutes and during the Gunners 5-2 win over Leicester City which was the fifth highest by any Arsenal player this season, only eclipsed by Aaron Ramsey.
Fighting with Arsenal at the top of the league is surprise package Leicester City. Having survived relegation last season the Foxes are compounding critic’s predictions of another season of struggle by entering the New Year joint top with the Gunners. Although Leicester have been solid all round most of the plaudits have been for frontman Jamie Vardy. Having scored five goals in his first season in the top flight Vardy broke Ruud van Nistelrooy’s Premier League record of scoring in consecutive games. In his team’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United Vardy scored for the 11th consecutive match. The England internationals work rate has been as much a feature of his game as the goals. Whenever he plays the opposition defender knows that Vardy will chase down every loose ball and contest every challenge. This is something which Vardy himself acknowledges, on his meteoric rise up the footballing pyramid, “The secret’s just lots and lots of hard work and the motivation that this is exactly what I want to be doing.” On his relationship with Leicester manager, Claudio Ranieri Vardy touches on his style of play, “He’s literally given me the licence to roam free up there and do what I’m good at, which is quick pressing and quick counters.” Vardy clearly has the goalscoring touch and the hard work to reach the top, and based on his career so far you wouldn’t be against him.
In what has been a season of struggle for Chelsea the shining light has been the form of Willian. Last season’s champions have been a shadow of the side which comfortably won the league and currently lie closer to the relegation zone after 19 games. With a number of teammates failure to recapture last year’s form Willian has added goals to his hard work for the team. So far this season, the Brazilian international is the Blues top scorer with seven goals in all competitions. ‘Every day, we come to train and that is where we have to do the work to change things. Speaking to Chelsea’s official magazine Willian said ‘in our performances on match days, we have to show the hard work we are doing on a daily basis to win games and turn the situation around.’ Having joined for Anzhi Makhachkala in 2013 the 27 year old was an integral part of Jose Mourinho’s first season at back at the club, and was the perfect style for the Portuguese, hard-working, disciplined and threatening on the break. Although a major part of last season Premier League and League Cup double the winger only contributed with two league goals and played a supporting role to Eden Hazard and Diego Costa, yet remained a fans’ favourite, not least for snubbing Tottenham Hotspur in favour of a move to West London. In the first home game following Mourinho’s sacking the Chelsea fans voiced their disapproval at the players, Cesc Fàbregas’s and Costa’s names were booed prior to kick-off, with one banner calling the two Spaniards and Hazard “rats”. It is noticeable how a number of Chelsea’s team were singled out for criticism but Willian was exempt. Despite arguably being less talented then his aforementioned colleagues the fans recognise when a player is making an effort, which can result in them being immune to criticism.
In England perhaps more than in other major European leagues hard work is valued as an essential part of the game. This may be to do with the climate, as in hotter temperatures it would be unfeasible to run around for 90 minutes or due to the style of play in this country where traditionally the crowd was made up of working class people letting off steam from a week of hard work, and the 11 players on the field were the representatives of their supporters.