The enabler is a well-established figure in football: the Makélélés, Mascheranos and Carricks, whose work rate, defensive cover and/or quiet distribution keep a team ticking over and free up the more creative players to
avoid tracking back “do their thing”.
The invisible man is a similar character, but one that fans and even experts rarely recognise.
On the pitch, his very presence – regardless of whether he ever touches the ball – changes the pattern of play and, particularly, the performance of his colleagues. The invisible man may even influence the performance of the opposition.
There is no esoteric explanation for this impact: the classic invisible man is simply one with advanced positional acuity, strong passing accuracy, self-assuredness and an unflappable confidence on the ball.
His presence fills those around him with the confidence to take more risks (successfully) and pursue more attacking tactical options. He may also force the opposition to switch the emphasis of their own play to beyond his immediate sphere of influence.
These impacts are consciously recognised by the invisible man’s teammates, but rarely by those watching the game. He can be absolutely critical to the team, but only those who observe that team regularly and with a keen eye will understand the importance of his role.
The concept applies equally off the pitch, where the invisible man’s influence is even less likely to achieve recognition from outside the squad and training staff.
He is the conflict resolver in the dressing room, the interpreter, the sounding board for troubled youngsters, or the chameleon who fits into different cliques within a team, helping all bind together.
Of course, the invisible man also has his antithesis: the invisible disabler. His presence may suppress confidence on the pitch or sow discord off it.
When a good functioning team suddenly becomes ponderous, discordant, irritable or simply below par, the fault may often lie with an off-pitch disabler, one who has set little cracks running through the foundations of team spirit and cohesiveness.
Fans and commentators may never know the true cause of a team’s apparently inexplicable loss of form, and will often blame fatigue or a lack of passion. But when the pattern of a game or team changes for little reason, always look for the invisible man.