Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Charlie Adam: from Bottom to Top

Charlie Adam appears to have finally sealed a move to Liverpool, six months after it was first mooted during the January transfer window. Now, the questions that remain aren't so much when and how much (a mooted ₤7 million-plus-loanees), but how he and his magical left boot will fit into Liverpool's now increasingly crowded central midfield. While he indubitably has the skill, fire and vision, his greatest drawback may be his body shape as he hearkens back to the days of solid footballers, rather than lithe athletes.
Charlie Adam's Wikipedia page in January

Perhaps more interestingly, he becomes the first player to jump from a Premiership relegated club to one of the "big" clubs in quite some considerable time. He is certainly the first to go to an established , Old-School"Big Four" club for a sizeable fee (and thus expectation) since Peter Crouch moved from the south coast to the north-west. This indicates easily how reliant on him Blackpool became, and also how warmly fellow Scot Kenny Dalglish must think of his countryman.

Over the past few seasons, plenty of players have used the predicament of relegation to their advantage: in fact, raiding the relegated has become an annual pastime for those clubs chock-full of TV revenue. After season 2010-2011 alone, many players stand to improve their footballing and financial fortunes as their clubs slide back into the Championship. Adam's fellow Blackpool standouts David Vaughan, Matt Gilks and DJ Campbell look likely to depart - or have already. The entire Birmigham City defense looks liable to be for sale to the highest bid considering their English roots and 2009-10 efficacy, while Scott Parker, Rob Green, Carlton Cole, Thomas Hitzlsperger and Matthew Upson are all established Internationals with English roots and an eye for Premier League, rather than Championship, football.

That most (if not all) these players will be in the Premiership next term is testament to the wonderful season of English Premier League football we have just experienced - not vintage in terms of great play, but by recent standards surprising, combative and very, very even.

But very few players make the leap from the very bottom to the very top. Those who do often arrive as role players or depth and without significant expectation. In recent memory, those that stand out as being snaffled by top-six sides include Crouch, Michael Owen's fabulous Bosman from Newcastle to a new injury-list in the red half of Manchester and Ross Turnbull's astonishing free to Chelsea - surprising more for the Blues' desire than for any other reason; he's subsequently played two matches in two years. 

That clubs as small as Wigan and Blackpool have been able to make a good fist of staying up speaks volumes of the uniform nature of the Premier League when both could so easily have simply faded into gauche unadventurous football. Both clubs have in past had one player on whom they relied: the Tangerines on Adam, and the Latics last year on Charles N'Zogbia. They are almost featured players - soloists in otherwise pedestrian orchestras.

This reluctance for the big clubs to spend on the little guy could come for a couple of reasons - because the bigger fish may reason that the player isn't sufficiently talented or because there are better players available for a similar cost. Perhaps, amidst the ghastly sums thrown about for unproven and sulky forwards, the big clubs are seeking some semblance of Return on Investment; by opting for tried performers - albeit talent coming from performances in vastly different systems.

Of course such theories are debunked easily and painfully by the ₤50 million Manchester United has offloaded already, a rumoured ₤20 million bid for Downing from Liverpool and Chelsea's concerted - and potentially unrequited - chase for Neymar.  While Financial Fair Play apparently isn't restricting the big clubs' overall spending, it is having a more subtle impact - it requires them to hold out for fiscal, as well as footballing Return on Investment. Ferguson's willingness to sell one-club lieutenants seems to indicate the greatest contribution they can now make to the Red Devils could be evening United's balance sheet.

As clubs enter the Premiership with a plan - and do good jobs of sticking to that blueprint - prepare to witness more of this phenomenon. All of QPR, Norwich City and Swansea City play an unsophisticated method - and the Canaries and Swans are exciting to watch. This could result in the same occurring next year: with Scott Sinclair, Wes Hoolahan or even James McCarthy taking the role of featured soloist.

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