Thursday, August 14, 2008

Too many Crooks

Ever tried to take on the persona of former Norwich stalwart Ian Crook? Neither had I; but when the Gaffer asks you to do something, you do it, no questions asked...

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

A striking shortage

Unpublished article written in May for, based on previous musings.

Absences are, by their very nature, often conspicuous, yet one of the more arresting disappearances of this season has been thus far overlooked. For the first time since Brian Deane christened the Premier League way back in August 1992, the top ten of the scorers’ chart is devoid of an Englishman. To be precise, the top five has never wanted for a representative of the home nation until now, but in spite of Joleon Lescott’s heroics an area of shortage for
England is looking more depleted than ever.

’s striking indigence has come during a time of ostensible plenty for the top division. This, however, has been the year of Cristiano Ronaldo and Fernando Torres, Emmanuel Adebayor and Roque Santa Cruz, and the days when Teddy Sheringham, Les Ferdinand and Dean Holdsworth were the most lethal marksmen in the country now seem so far away as to be almost indiscernible. With Alan Shearer a familiar outline on the punditry landscape rather than atop the scoring tree, home-grown strikers are a rarer breed. In recent seasons, Darren Bent, Wayne Rooney and even James Beattie have flown the flag, but in 07/08 only Robbie Keane, whose 15 goals place him in joint fifth, can provide a presence even approaching ‘domestic’.

If this seems like an opportunity to indulge in jingoism, then it shouldn’t be. Whilst it may be true that such a paucity of goalscoring resources has occurred at the time of England’s most recent footballing ignominy, failure to qualify for Euro 2008, it is frustratingly parochial to blame the woes of the national team on the influx of foreign players. Besides, if we want to produce a Torres of our own, what better way than to be able to observe him against Premier League opposition week-in, week-out? The current situation provides Fabio Capello with plenty to mull over, though. After all, even catenaccio requires a goalscorer.

Despite the gloom, there is scope for some positivity. Since February, Michael Owen, currently out of favour with England’s professore, has scored nine times in just 14 appearances, helping to make up for his early season shortfall. A look at Opta’s statistical breakdowns is also instructive: Owen’s conversion rate of goals-to-shots is up at 23.4%, putting him on a par with Adebayor (23.1%) and Ronaldo (23.7%), and only fractionally behind Torres (25%). Gabriel Agbonlahor has continued to develop his eye for goal with 11 this year, and surely only his 12-game drought during November and December kept him out of the top ten; while Jermain Defoe appears reinvigorated down on the south coast, where he has scored eight times in 12 games for Pompey.

Perhaps most worryingly for Capello, the striking form of his apparent first-choice to lead the line, Wayne Rooney, is the least encouraging. With 12 goals, Rooney finished the season tied with Defoe as the Premier League’s 11th top scorer, but this was his lowest return since his first season at Manchester United. His conversion ratio also pales in comparison to those mentioned before, with just 14.1% of his efforts finding the net. Peter Crouch, who not so long ago racked up 11 goals in 14 internationals has suffered in Torres's shadow, with just five league goals this term, and Everton’s Andy Johnson seems unlikely to once again hit the heights of scoring 21 times in a season, as he did with Crystal Palace.

Indeed, Johnson’s heroics for the relegated Eagles three seasons back are a vestige of a more innocent era, the like of which was embodied by Marcus Stewart scoring 19 goals to help newly promoted Ipswich to fifth in 00/01, and Kevin Phillips winning the golden boot the year before, with 30 goals for Sunderland. Such feats look anomalous now. The Premier League has become a boom-town marshalled by the big four, and it is conceivable, even likely, that the top four scorers this season would have been provided by United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea, had Didier Drogba not endured such a truncated campaign – and none of them would have been English.

What next, then, for our prospects of unearthing a new Shearer, or pre-injury Owen? In the Championship, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake topped the scoring, but it is only two years since he was released by United without having made a first-team appearance. Phillips will return with
West Brom for a last Premier League hurrah, but at 35 he is the oldest of a group of seasoned campaigners in the second tier which also includes Beattie. Fraizer Campbell could still make a mark, either with play-off hopefuls Hull, where he is on loan, or back at parent club United, while Capello will surely be monitoring Theo Walcott’s progress at Arsenal and possibly even the young Freddie Sears of West Ham. And maybe there are yet more rough diamonds down in the leagues’ lower reaches of whom we are currently only passing aware…

If there’s one silver lining to this typically English cloud, it is that the striker with the best conversion rate of those discussed here was born in east London. Jermain Defoe’s record of netting with 29.6% of his shots since joining Portsmouth hints at the pedigree he has long been associated with but seldom lived up to. Perhaps under the guidance of the most successful English manager this season, Harry Redknapp, there’s still hope for a prodigious scorer raised on our green and pleasant land.

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Friday, August 08, 2008

Run with me on this one

Part me, part someone else: all Gaffer.

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