With the Premier League season entering its adolescent period, twenty footballing squads are fast becoming twenty established first teams. Greg Simkins looks at the summer signings who, for whatever reason, currently find themselves playing a predominantly supporting role at their clubs.
Manchester City seem to be the standardised fulcrum for discussions of this type, yet it is one of their former players who has been a noticeable absentee in this season’s embryonic stages. Stephen Ireland, the definitive footballing enigma, found himself left out of yesterday’s dull stalemate with Birmingham; Gerard Houllier instead preferred the combative duo of Nigel Reo-Coker and Steve Sidwell. And, perhaps more perplexingly, with Aston Villa struggling to muster a single chance on target, Houllier overlooked the cheeky playmaker, bringing Barry Bannan off the bench for just his second Premier League appearance. Bannan did not look out of place – his curling effort almost stole the points – yet his introduction was a very public snub of Ireland, one compounded later by Houllier’s comments to the media: “He
It is, of course, very early on to pass any sort of conclusive judgement about Ireland’s role in the Villa squad. Ireland himself, however, has accrued something of a reputation for being outspoken; the transition from Manchester City substitute to Aston Villa substitute may soon draw his frequently publicised ire.
Three of the smaller Premier League clubs broke their transfer records this summer; £6 million Mauro Boselli jetted into Wigan, £14 million Asamoah Gyan flew into Sunderland while £6.5 million Steven Fletcher headed down the M6 to Wolverhampton. The three strikers were seen by their new clubs as the men who would fire them up the table, the substantial outlay justified by the financial prize of continued Premier League survival.
Yet, to varying degrees, the expensive transfer fees have yet to be fully justified. Fletcher started the season in fine form, netting twice for the Midlanders – despite carrying a foot injury. The Scot’s star has seemed to wane in recent weeks, as Mick McCarthy has adopted a 4-5-1 formation that has seen the former Burnley man relegated to the bench. With Kevin Doyle still goal-less, Fletcher must not pin his hopes on wrestling the lone striking role from the Irishman.
The prospect of Gyan and Darren Bent in tandem left many Sunderland fans salivating as Steve Bruce shelled out £14 million for the Ghanaian. The former Rennes man has found it difficult to adapt to the English game and has spent the majority of his time on Wearside sitting next to the man who brought him there. One cannot blame Gyan for Bruce’s decision to use him as an ‘impact sub’, but – at £14 million – the fans are expecting more.
Mauro Boselli’s six goals in six pre-season games gave the Wigan fans renewed hope that this season would not be one of perpetual struggle. Zero league goals and four insipid performances later, the Argentinian finds himself at the back of the Latics’ pecking order. The six goals he notched in pre-season are long forgotten – the only relevant ‘six’ now is the number of Premier League games since Boselli last featured.
The season is just ten games old; the ‘settling-in’ period often cited by managers has yet to run its course. With the line between success and failure so fine, it is difficult for managers to find the right balance between giving an expensive out-of-form acquisition much-needed playing time and sticking with a tried and trusted XI. The four aforementioned players must now seize upon the (limited) chances they will inevitably get if they are to avoid being consigned to the annals of novelty football books.