You’re all familiar with Charlie Chaplin’s 1936 masterpiece Modern Times, right?
No, I’m not actually that old. It was required viewing in a business ethics class. The film’s commentary on the industrialization of the workforce remains poignant even today.
To catch you up to speed, the basic gist of the film is this. Chaplin is a factory worker on an assembly line. The workers on the line each perform a specific, repetitive task as the product makes its way to its final destination. No worker performs the same task. Nor do they know what those that come before them or after them do, let alone how the pieces come together to comprise the final product.
It’s a comedy.
I’m telling you, it’s hilarious. And the full version of the movie is on YouTube. I’ve pretty much just planned your Friday night for you. You’re welcome.
But in all seriousness, the film’s depiction of increased efficiency through reducing workers to mindless automatons is still one of the great critiques on modern workplace’s seemingly endless pursuit of specialization.
We don’t often think of it this way, but sport is a modern workplace of its own. And specialization is as pervasive between the lines and on courts as it is in offices and warehouses – think of the relief pitcher brought in specifically to face righthanded batters or the three-point specialist that offers little else in terms of passing, dribbling, rebounding, or defense.
Football is not immune to this. Fullbacks are now thought of as attacking or defensive, rarely both. There’s still a tendency to classify midfielders as passers or destroyers. And the penalty-area poacher lurks on pitches across the world.
Latif Blessing is a bit of an anomaly.
The career trajectory of striker to winger to right back to central midfielder just doesn’t happen at the highest levels. But Blessing has thrived in every position he’s been asked to play. He’s now spearheading an LAFC midfield trio that is arguably the best in the league on both sides of the ball. And on Monday, the Club announced it had exercised the team option on Blessing’s contract, keeping him with LAFC through next season.
Like so many on the LAFC squad, Blessing is a footballer first. And his position is only a function of that. Bob Bradley has made it abundantly clear he wants players, not monoliths. LAFC is the antithesis of assembly-line football.
Every player is tasked with being able to pass and implement ideas going forward. Every player defends from front to back. Every player attacks and every player presses to win the ball back.
It’s with these principles in mind that Blessing has become a breakout star on and off the pitch. His personality is infectious. Teammates, without fail, speak of the special bond Blessing has with them and fans. He plays for teammates, wreaking havoc high up the pitch by harrying the opposition when the ball turns over and then forcing them under pressure with his close control in tight spaces and ability to find teammates in good positions. Blessing ranks in the upper echelon of MLS midfielders in both dribbles per match (2.3) and tackles (3.1) according to date from Who Scored.
Midway through 2019, Blessing’s midfield partners Mark-Anthony Kaye and Eduard Atuesta have both eclipsed their offensive outputs from last season. They’ve been quick to credit Blessing work high up the pitch and penchant for routinely finding them in spots to make the final pass.
Blessing has seen his creative output rise as well - his two goals and five assists have him on pace to reach career-highs in both categories. The midfielder has goals in each of his last two MLS matches. Both coming off his recognition of space and a surging late run into the dangerous area - another aspect Blessing has added to his game from midfield.
Couple those windfalls with LAFC midfielder’s ability to stifle opponents finding any end roads centrally and you have a pretty good idea why former LAFC Designated Player André Horta, a one-time player of the month in Portugal’s first division and a youth international, simply couldn’t force his way into Bradley’s starting 11.
Once considered LAFC’s Swiss Army knife because of his ability to fill multiple positions, Blessing has found a home in midfield. But if he does end up in another role at any point this season, it shouldn’t surprise you.
Blessing is a footballer first. His position is merely a starting point.