The much-travelled Steve Claridge was on Radio 5 Live on Sunday summarising the Southampton v Newcastle game. Following a 30-second spell of calm possession by Saints, the former forward fizzled and berated, “Just boot it forward!! …. I can’t stand this ‘fancy Dan’ stuff”.
Based on the squawked opinions of some Norwich City fans who sit in my vicinity at Carrow Road, those words will no doubt have been applauded.
He later commented that neither team were “running around enough” for his liking.
He’s certainly not alone in his condemnation of the now more common, more modern, more patient, stylised game that some clubs are using as their approach, including our own.
But as someone who is able to voice their rhetoric to a vast number of listeners across both the UK and sunnier climes, it worries me greatly that English football will never shake off this bug that so afflicts them.
In this country we have this overwhelming desire for blood and thunder. We need more PASSION!! Quick, quick, quick; attack, attack, attack!!!
A nation where Emile Heskey receives 62 caps while Matt le Tissier gets a paltry seven.
A nation where Jordan Henderson is on target to win 80+ caps, yet James Maddison has never been capped at ANY level. Having a ‘good engine’ is preferable to being ‘skilful’.
And hasn’t it served us well over the past 50 years?! Football without brains. What about intelligence? Craft? Technique?
Which brings me neatly on to the enigma that is Mario Vrančić.
I’m not sure the 28-year old has quite reached ‘scapegoat’ levels just yet, but there is a growing sense of frustration amongst some when he gets the ball.
This fervour seems to be aimed at him not doing things quickly enough for their liking; that he’s a bit too slow, both in foot and mind, and that he doesn’t track back enough.
My opinion will no doubt prove controversial with some, despite Mario still adjusting to the rigours of the Championship – and I’m expecting plenty of people to dismiss this as complete poppycock – but I think Vrančić is a fabulous footballer and I base this solely on what I’ve seen of him in a City shirt so far.
And like Claridge, I am not a lone voice – I can certainly see why Daniel Farke sees him as one of the first names on the team sheet.
A Rolls Royce of a player – Steve would definitely describe him as a ‘fancy Dan’ – beautiful, lavish, smooth, classy – but perhaps spends too much time hidden away so as not to get chipped.
I hold the total opposite view that he is too pedestrian.
I think the £750k summer signing from Darmstadt is on a higher frequency than all those around him – a step ahead, not behind – and its this that means we aren’t getting the best out of him.
He constantly demands the ball and when he receives it, always looks as though he has more time than any other player in a yellow shirt. That’s not a fluke – that’s because his first touch is always spot on.
The problem is, because it looks like he has that extra time, we expect him to play a positive pass every time he gets possession. We expect him to move it quickly. But this, obviously, is not always possible and is completely dependent on team mates making intelligent runs beyond him so he can find the right pass.
When this doesn’t happen he plays it simple; off to the side or behind him – and this winds up sections of the crowd who think he’s dawdling on the ball, in much the same way Wes Hoolahan has always had his detractors, yet he too has also often found himself on a higher level than those around him.
Frankly, I don’t think the movement ahead of him this season has been good enough. When the right run has been made, he’s picked them out and he’s passed it quickly.
Cameron Jerome, though a willing and determined runner, has certainly lost a yard of pace over the last 12 months and to compensate is not timing his runs as well, getting caught offside more regularly.
Nelson Oliveira is not an out-and-out striker, so provides a problem as he drops into the pockets of space inbetween the lines that Vrančić wants to play in himself – so we get too bogged down in that area of the pitch.
When he chooses to pass sideways rather than forwards, its not because he is too slow or ponderous on the ball – it is because the chance to make a key pass never arrived.
He gets his head up, takes his time and assesses what’s happening in front of him. If that run doesn’t happen, should he just loop the ball over the top regardless or should he keep possession?
This lack of intelligent movement can be backed up by the fact that Wes has also had less impact this season.
When we did see a well-timed run in front of him on Saturday, he produced a sumptuous through ball. His chip to Yanic Wildschut (who should have scored) was as masterful as it gets. Having the vision is one thing, but to execute it to perfection takes real ability.
I’d love to see a striker with real pace up top – someone like Dwight Gayle for example – because I think Vrančić would have a field day picking out his runs. But that is for another day – we don’t have that option right now.
I think the Bosnian international is being judged on his body language as much as anything. It doesn’t exude positivity. His languid running style may appear like he’s lazy, but he’s not. He’s measured, very technical and calm; a perfectionist (both on and off the pitch if I were to guess).
He doesn’t so much pass the ball as stroke it. I suppose he could be compared to Mesut Ozil in terms of how he plays the game. He lacks the dynamism of pretty much all those around him, but just because he’s not tearing around the pitch at a hundred miles an hour shouldn’t count against him.
He can be a vital player for us this season.
He is very good at spotting positions in the midfield where he can exploit any turnovers in possession. Whenever we win the ball back, he’s always within ten yards of the guy who wins it and making himself available for a simple pass.
However, he isn’t going to break his neck to get back and win the ball himself because that isn’t his job. He needs to be the one receiving the simple pass from Tom Trybull (or whoever).
Think of it as off-the-ball ‘intelligence’ rather than ‘graft’. Moving 5 yards to the side in order to give himself an extra second on the ball goes unnoticed by most – but he does it.
He isn’t going to get bums off seats with a mazy 30 yard run or put in a crunching tackle on the edge of his box, but there’s more to football than that and there’s certainly room in our team for something a little different.
I do think he could have a pop from range every now and then if a key pass isn’t available to him in and around the penalty area, but its a minor niggle as far as I’m concerned. I’ve been impressed, even if others haven’t.
Whether we have room for a perfectionist in ‘every’ game is perhaps a fair question, but we certainly can’t just throw to one side a player with this kind of technical ability. He needs to be given the same patience that we’re affording Farke and his other new players. He needs to be played as often as possible.
I just wish people would get off his back (and all our players for that matter). This is a different brand of football we’re trying to play, so try and embrace it – even if it’s not how ‘you’ would play the game.
There’s nothing wrong with passing the ball backwards in order for your team to go forwards. But I’m sure those criticising could easily make the difficult pass that Vrančić and co sometimes refuses to play. Easily.
Footballers come in all shapes and sizes and have different strings to their bow. It’s easy to run around for 90 minutes and look busy but you normally need a little bit of subtlety to be successful. We need all the talent we have, so get behind them.