If you don’t play – do you serve any purpose in a squad?

That’s a decent question and one that I answered recently after some feedback from one of my social posts.

I run a Facebook page for my book, Almost Invincible, the Class of 1991. It is a labour of love for the Arsenal side that lifted the title so heroically in the 90-91 season, losing a single league game in the process. The full story is incredible (you can get the book and eBook here) – and I regularly post to celebrate the birthdays of the players and staff involved that campaign.

One of those players recently had a birthday. Siggi Jonsson.

Siggi Jonsson in an Arsenal shirt from 1991
The lesser-spotted Siggi Jonsson

Yep, the Icelandic midfielder made just two appearances that season (eight in total in two years) and was deprived a winners medal for his contributions. At the end of the season he declared his retirement, only to continue playing back in his native Iceland and eventually, Dundee United!

I digress. My post mentioned his infrequent appearances in the season, but wished this part of the ‘Almost Invincible’ squad the happiest of birthdays. But a comment mentioned that he was hardly worth mentioning, due to the lack of times he pulled on the shirt.

True, the back injury he suffered meant we never saw the Jonsson that pulled the strings previously at Sheffield Wednesday. But should squad members be judged solely on the minutes they play on the field?

By now, we surely appreciate the training schedules of players. We understand the need for a level of intensity on the training field – much like the Invincibles talk about in their documentary of their unbeaten season. Thierry Henry, Vieira, Bergkamp, Campbell et al, they all refer to the training being like another match, such was the ferocity and the will to win in the players.

And that was instrumental in pushing the players to new heights. And on the training field, players who are obvious understudies – much like Siggi Jonsson was to Paul Davis and Mickey Thomas at the time – will still sweat and exert effort to push their rivals hard. To prove to the coach they are worthy but also, for a sense of pride.

Siggi may have only made two appearances in that historic season, but he would have played alongside the players regularly in training and his efforts would have helped to make the starting players sharper. Davis and Thomas would also work harder knowing there was a little competition for places. Much like Smudge grabbing the Golden Boot for a second time that season, looking over his shoulder at a young, vibrant, unstoppable Kevin Campbell bursting through the ranks.

Andy Cole made a solitary substitute appearance that season. He made next to zero impact on the field, but would Kevin Campbell be working harder to prove to George Graham that he was the best option to start alongside or instead of Smudge? You bet. Andy Cole, Siggi Jonsson – they played precious few minutes, but they made an impact nonetheless.

Everyone plays their part.

Who’s your favourite bit-part player? Comments below!