Nathan Redmond’s been getting a bit of stick lately hasn’t he?
But then we do like to build them up before we knock them down again at Norwich. He isn’t the first and most certainly won’t be the last Canary who suffers the ire of certain supporters for his perceived in play failings. And more’s the pity.
One of the biggest drawbacks Nathan has to contend with in his professional life is the term that has been attached to him since he made his first-team debut with Birmingham City as a 16 year old in 2010.
And yes, whisper it quietly, but he’s subject to the ‘F’ word here. In fact it’s the ‘F’ word that rarely seems to be left out of any discussion about him.
He’s a flair player.
It’s not the best of descriptions that can be given to a football player admittedly. It sounds good, at least on paper. But then so does owning an Alfa Romeo. The reality is sometimes different.
Out of interest, I looked to see if there were any definitions of what a flair player was in football. One in particular took my eye:
A player who is very skilful, for example being able to dribble, go past men or do the bicycle kick. Often used to suggest that the player isn’t so reliable or won’t do boring things like defend.
Now I’ll be honest with you. I haven’t seen Nathan attempt a bicycle kick in a game yet – not that I wouldn’t put it past him. But the rest of it pretty much summed up what a flair player might be regarded as, in terms of both his positives and negatives.
Yes he is very skilful. Yes he can run on the ball and, in doing so, deceive opponents with ease. We’ve all seen him do that. He is fleet of foot and of mind, a player capable of reading the game very well and knowing, instinctively, where he needs to be, especially if it means his is the final act in an attacking move.
Witness his goals in the play-offs last season for evidence of that.
Yet it’s the second part of that description which is the more interesting one. The one that reckons that flair players aren’t “so reliable” or “won’t do boring things like defend.”
Because there, in my opinion, do you have one of the great disappointments of English football in the last four decades or so. That over-riding fear of flair players because of what they are perceived as not being able to do, rather than what they most certainly can do.
Let’s look at a couple of examples from previous years.
Graham Paddon for example. That great contradiction of the Ron Saunders side that took Norwich to promotion in 1972. Ron’s teams and players mimicked him in look, personality and playing style; disciplined, occasionally dour, defensively rigid and as organised as the sock drawer or CD collection of someone who is anally retentive.
You knew what you were getting with Ron’s Norwich. And sexy football, as it was later coined by Ruud Gullit, wasn’t on the menu.
And yet amongst all of Ron’s warriors – men of granite and steel, footballing men with names like Jim, Geoff, Ken, Doug and Clive – strode this hippy-like free spirit in the midst of it all, long blond hair blowing in the wind and shirt trailing outside of his shorts, tripping the light fantastic over the Carrow Road mud like Bambi on ice.
Saunders, the old rascal. He may have come across as a disciplinarian, a hard arsed RSM with a bite worse than his bark. But, for all that, he indulged Paddon because he knew the sort of qualities he could bring to a game, qualities that could raise a game from the mundane to the magical in an instant.
It might have been the only contribution he would make in the whole match. But you can neither build an army or a football team on foot soldiers alone. And Saunders knew it. He won a League title with Aston Villa with a team that, although better than anything he had ever managed to put together at Norwich, still mirrored the Canaries in style and application; hard working, hard running, disciplined, fit and very physical. And organised.
Yet, just as he had Paddon at Norwich, he had that flair at Villa Park as well in Gordon Cowans; a player who, to this day, is still rated by many older Villa fans as one of the best players the club has ever had. Good enough to play in Italy for Bari as well as for England for whom he won ten caps, scoring two goals in the process.
Yet he would have had his days when maybe he wasn’t so reliable or, heaven forefend, couldn’t be bothered to track back and defend as much as, say, Denis Mortimer or Des Bremner.
And that’s hardly a surprise. Hardened warriors like Mortimer and Bremner wouldn’t have wanted Cowans floating about in his own defence like a feather in the wind. He’d have been encouraged, and industrially, to get up the pitch and frequent the areas where he was more useful to them.
A class act indeed. Yet, in a playing career that lasted for two decades and saw him make nearly 700 league appearances, he still only played for England ten times.
Yet it’s still ten times more than Paddon managed. When he was at his pomp with Norwich, scoring hat-tricks at Highbury and generally beguiling anyone who saw him play, the England midfield was regularly stuffed to overflowing with space fillers like Peter Storey, or, when Paddon was with West Ham, the likes of Brian Greenhoff, Tony Towers and Paul Madeley.
Paddon, a notable and very visible member of a West Ham team that won an FA Cup and the European Cup Winners Cup, didn’t get a sniff of an England cap and, I suspect, headed off back to Norwich with that as the one overriding disappointment in his professional life.
Still, for a footballing nation that gave Carlton Palmer more caps than Matt Le Tissier, what would you expect?
Flair players were, and still are, it would seem, treated with scepticism and suspicion. And they’re easy targets, high profile individuals who stand out even if they’re having a quiet or ineffective game – indeed, paradoxically, it seems to make them stand out more.
And that is what seems to be happening in the case of Nathan Redmond.
He is, as those that have gone before him, a player who merits his selection on what he can do and the threat that he does offer. He’s a wildcard, a joker in the pack, someone you hope might just turn it on and, in doing so, turn a game.
Sometimes, indeed, more often than not, given the opportunity, he will. But he most certainly won’t do it week in, week out and on a regular basis. For one thing, if he did, then he wouldn’t be playing for us.
And, for another, hardly any player does. No matter who they are.
His detractors will suggest he shouldn’t make the starting line up at the moment. There are even those who suggest that, given the opportunity, we should seek to cash in on him.
Firstly, if he isn’t in the starting line up, no-one is going to be more pleased about that, than the manager of the side we’re playing in that game.
And secondly, if he is the sort of player we think we should be “cashing in” on, doesn’t that suggest he is the sort of asset we should be looking to keep? It’s a contradiction – he’s worth a lot of money, we’ll get a good price for him, therefore we should sell him.
No. We should play him.
Like it or not, flair players, the Redmond’s of this world, have to be indulged. Yes, they may be frustrating. And no, they may not deliver every week.
That’s the price you have to pay. And the reason they have a very large price that a lot of clubs would be prepared to pay is for what they can do, and that’s something which few of their peers are capable of.
It’s like owning that Alfa Romeo. Sure they’re cantankerous, expensive, prone to rust and unreliable. Yet when you get it up, running and on the open road… WOW!
You wouldn’t trade it for anything.
And I wouldn’t trade Nathan Redmond either.