AFC Richmond played their final match of the season on Sunday against Manchester City, a devastating loss at Nelson Road that ushered the Greyhounds out of the Premier League and into the Championship. Though they only needed a draw after Palace’s shock 6-0 scoreline, Ted Lasso and his men played for the win and likely wouldn’t have done too much differently. Ultimately, Manchester City were just the better side.
Ted Lasso arrived as a manager who knew quite literally nothing about the game of football. The past few months were a crash course in the massive ups and downs of the strongest league in the world. If the season were to begin again today, with all that Lasso has learned, it’s not hard to imagine this Richmond squad competing for a place in the top half of the table (or top five, lol). But alas, it was not to be, and now the club are looking at a very long, very important summer before the Championship kicks off in the fall.
Despite the brutal reality of relegation, Ted Lasso’s impact on AFC Richmond as a club is undeniable. His player-focused approach to coaching and development falls squarely in the lineage of the great personality managers in sporting history like John Wooden. And so today, in honor of the “Ted Lasso Effect,” I thought we’d use a few Woodenisms to reflect on the Greyhounds’ final game in the Premier League for a while.
“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”
As I discovered after painstakingly analyzing the match up between Richmond and Manchester City last week, um, City is way better. I mean, they won the League, and that seems pretty hard to do, so duh I guess, but it’s important to show your work. Richmond struggled to generate offense for most of the season, but this fixture was always going to be an especially terrible time. City have spent outrageously on their back four, and their defensive midfielder and captain Billy Brimblecom moonlights as a center back when the occasion calls for it. Here’s his heat map, for old time’s sake.
One thing the Greyhounds should be proud of, though, is the way they approached set pieces. Too often teams let free kicks go to waste, when in reality they are among the most valuable events over the course of a game. Possession is a lucrative stat, and City are famous for owning most of it. It’s extremely important to remember that a set piece is the referee basically saying, “Here, this ball is yours and the other team can’t come within ten meters until you decide what you would like to do with it.”
So when Richmond drew their first corner kick in the 31st minute, I was thrilled to see they had actually designed and rehearsed an elaborate set piece action. According to fans near the pitch, the Greyhounds called for “Sandman” when Rojas lined up over the corner. I would have argued for a different player to take the corner considering Rojas is their most potent finisher, but misdirection is a powerful thing and Dixon struck the ball really well, forcing a huge save out of Ireland’s number one, Timothy Hamelen.
As for the bizarre – albeit highly effective – play that Richmond ran in stoppage time to drum up an equalizer, my hat is off to Ted Lasso. I’m a fan of the quick restart when it’s used to catch an opponent off guard, especially if you have the talent and speed to exploit such a mistake. Short on those qualities, though, Richmond made the risky decision to take their time as the clock was ticking on their Premier League hopes. Using ingenuity, misdirection and a heaping dose of Mighty Ducks-style flare, they managed to capitalize on a fairly innocuous restart position and generate a goal scoring opportunity, which, ohbytheway, they scored.
That Jamie Tartt created one last nail for Richmond’s coffin out of thin air is, quite frankly, beside the point. The Greyhounds entered with and executed a brilliant game plan against a superior opponent. They turned weaknesses into strengths and did everything they could do to survive relegation.
“Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.”
By the sheer force of Ted Lasso’s will, AFC Richmond have all the character in the world, but they don’t have the ability to get to (or stay in range of) the top. At least not yet.
After getting completely destroyed by the speed of Manchester City’s attack for the entirety of the first half, Richmond’s only move was to answer with character. One character in particular – Roy Kent. In one of the most incredible moments you will ever see in the Premier League, Roy Kent chased down Jamie Tartt – an athletic specimen more than a decade his junior – in the open field for a goal-saving slide tackle. It may have cost Roy Kent his career, but it was truly chill-inducing.
Don’t let this magnificent, chant-resurrecting tackle blind you to the gaping talent gap between these two sides. Jamie Tartt spent the entire night galloping through the center of this Richmond side almost entirely unabated. At the very least, Ted Lasso should have a player that he can throw at Tartt just to make his life hell for a while. Instead, all we saw was a whole lot of this:
We’ll get into this more in the coming weeks, but Lasso’s squad needs a few upgrades over the summer to ensure they don’t get stuck in the morass of the Championship year after year. Clubs get parachute payments upon relegation, and Ms. Welton needs to use every penny to make sure this spell in the lower division is brief. Richmond can have all the character in the world, but without an upgrade in ability they risk a prolonged absence from the Premier League.
“The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.”
As painful as it was to sit and watch former Richmond star Jamie Tartt run roughshod on Sunday and relegate the Greyhounds in the process, it’s really important to remember that this team didn’t fully take off until he was sent packing back to Manchester. His stardom was on full display, but he didn’t score any goals; his greatest contribution to City’s win came in a moment of selflessness.
During his loan spell, this Richmond side was never fully behind Tartt, as evidenced by the dust up between him and Roy Kent in the Watford match. As a result, neither Tartt nor his teammates reached their full potential. It’s debatable whether or not Lasso wished for Tartt’s departure, but the aftermath was clearly positive for both parties (yes, even in spite of relegation).
Players like Obisanya, McAdoo, Rojas, and even Roy Kent thrived in Tartt’s absence. It’s unclear how many of these players will stick with a relegated club, but as teammates they believed in and elevated each other. And on the other side of the pitch, Jamie Tartt elevated to true stardom at the expense of his old teammates by passing up the shot for the game-winning assist, subsequently becoming a part of a League-winning team.
Bonus Woodenism: “Today is the only day. Yesterday is gone.”
Or, to put that another way, “Let’s be sad now. Let’s be sad together. And then we can be a gosh darn goldfish. Onward. Forward.”