It could only happen to me. My first commissioned MFW article was always to be about ‘left-backs I have known and loved’. I actually wrote nearly all of this before the QPR fiasco. Then along came the Martin Olsson ‘incident’. My bad sense of timing or what?
I’m not going into the ramifications of that match – others have done so already – but suffice to say I am as disappointed as any of us and I feel the sands of time are flowing against Alex Neil.
Herewith the original script:
When I played for my school I had very little skill but was quick, knew where the goal was and was often incredibly lucky, so I had a regular berth as the second striker, feeding off knockdowns and particularly through balls. I broke an ankle when I was about 17, lost my confidence completely and discovered things that keep a young man alive that didn’t involve a pair of goal-nets and some white lines, and didn’t play again – at all – until I was 23.
The pub I used (to live in, it felt like sometimes) formed a Sunday team so I trained with my mates. The only way I could get a game was as a right-footed left-back. My pace had largely gone but it didn’t matter too much on Hackney Marshes. You didn’t want to try to slide your winger out too often because the lime marking was often frozen solid with jagged edges and you could lose serious blood.
As a result of this I tend to over-watch the City left-back, just because that’s where I ended up playing myself for nearly ten years.
Mark Bowen has to be one of the very finest players ever to wear the yellow shirt. “You’ll never beat Mark Bowen” sang the Barclay, and were invariably correct. He could play anywhere, too – midfield, striker, even in goal once at Coventry. It was such a joy to watch him latching on to one of Chippy Crook’s delicious long balls between the centre half and full back and putting the ball where it belongs. In the back of the net. He also converted a few penalties. So sad he ended on 399 appearances, but when your face no longer fits…
No surprise with my choice of the second member of the Holy Trinity. Step forward Mr Adam Drury. Dependable, calm and very difficult to turn as many opponents would testify. That goal against Middlesbrough; well, if you’re going to get a rare one why not make it a potentially important one? Also an exceptionally good guy off the field in my experience and I’m glad he’s still at the club.
A passing reference too to Ryan Bertrand; great young player in a poor side. And to Simon Lappin later, who often had to fill in there.
On, slowly, to completing the line-up of my Trinity. In came Paul Lambert, who engineered the arrival of Marc Tierney. Great to watch bombing forward, whole-hearted – another whose face eventually didn’t fit, but good value while he was here.
Then there was Javier Garrido – he even had his own song for a while: “He likes to eat paella and now he is a Yella“. Not great lyrically, but it showed what the Barclay and The Pit thought of him and he could seriously cross a ball too if he had the time and space.
The most recent upgrade – and he is just that – is Martin Olsson. I don’t care about the agent-driven WBA incident, or whatever it actually was, he’s the best since Mark Bowen. He gets up and down quickly, often left with too much to do by our dodgy central defence and lack of midfield cover, and tends to be blamed by some folks for things I do not think he is remotely responsible for.
Now to the sting in this tale.
It’s no fantasy: we could have no left back at all by January!
If we assume that Olsson’s agent will be up to engineering something for himself and his client during the next window, then factor in the Robbie Brady situation (come on, does he look like he wants to be here?) that’s the first choice and the only realistic cover gone.
And where’s Harry Toffolo? At Scunthorpe. All season. No recall.
That would mean Steven Whittaker as the only feasible cover, unless Captain Fantastic fills in as he did briefly for one game this season – I can’t remember which one, this campaign is turning into a horrid blur.
Martin Olsson, you have been excellent for us and I would hate to lose you. A misguided moment maybe, but you only tried to keep the ball out of the net by any means possible as any defender who has ever seen his keeper fail to come for a long throw would do.
So… Bowen, Drury and Olsson. Simply the Best.
My favourite position too, quickly followed by the holding mid/deep lying playmaker (your Crooks, not your Tetteys). Olsson’s recent indiscretion was simply desperation, which actually shows he cares unlike your Ruddys, Martins and Sebs of this world. There is something about a left back that can do something no other player can. The unorthodox come good is a special beast indeed.
Ps. No, Brady does want to be here but that goes for a lot of them. Keeping a squad together because they got promoted last time ignores human nature and the impact confidence and scars have. It’s not football manager.
Stewart Lewis says
Nice piece, Martin.
Full-backs these days often seem to forget their first job is to defend. We’re privileged to have had two of the best defensive ones in the business, in Bowen and Drury.
I’d agree about Olsson too. It may be that he wants out, but I wouldn’t have guessed it from his play this year (something I wish we could say about everyone).
I saw some of the pre-season games in the last two summers. The two players who really caught my eye were Louis Thompson and Harry Toffolo. The manager undoubtedly knows better than I do, but I’m sorry his loan at Scunthorpe is for a committed season.
Gary Gowers says
Good stuff Martin. Bowen was that rare commodity of a full-back who was equally happy back-peddling or surging forward. Will be forever remembered for heading in Chippy’s beautifully floated free-kick in Munich.
Jon Dunn says
Not wishing to rain on your parade, squire, but were you at the Norwich 2 Notts Forest 6 game in 1990/91?
Three (3) times “tricky” winger Franz Carr left “you’ll never beat” Mark Bowen sprawling on his backside – and all three led to goals!! 🙂
“Highlights” (?) are on youtube.
Agree about Bowen and Drury, excellent defenders as well as being loyal, long-term servants of the club.
martin penney says
#5 Jon Dunn: The first time I heard “Don’t Rain on My Parade”, it was by a band called Japan. I know it’s originally from some old musical, but I can’t be bottomed to research which.
You make a great point. Yes I was at the game and I remember Franz Carr – he was built a little bit like Foxy and destroyed us that day. He never had the career longevity of Mark Bowen as I recall, but your comment is spot on and thank you for it.
I’ll swerve the YouTube recollections if it’s okay with you – we’ve collectively got enough to worry about just now!