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Is there a place for the 'Jack of all trades' midfielder in the modern game?
In a game that is increasingly becoming more a game of tactics and style rather than raw talent and grit, is there a place for the traditional British midfielder? Britain has (for years) produced some very talented midfielders, but they have always been good at everything and rarely exceptional at anything in particular. There are of course the world class exceptions like Lampard, Scholes and Gerrard who are more like Masters of all trades to be honest! What I want to look at here is a select few players who will have the pressure on them to emulate these three greats, and become the next 'Master' and manage to shake the 'Jack' part of the nickname. These players all excel in different areas, but are by and large very similar in terms of position, style, ability and age. I will be looking at Jordan Henderson, Joe Allen, Tom Cleverley, Fabian Delph, Aaron Ramsey, James McCarthy and Jack Wilshere. All around the 21-24 ages where you are looking at your players to break into the team and become 1st team regulars. Who will lead the next 'Golden Generation' in British football?
I will start with perhaps the most under rated player on the list, Fabian Delph. Having started his career at Leeds United, Delph impressed massively in his first taste of senior football. He was thrown in at a very tender age as well, but excelled under the pressure and became the engine of the Leeds midfield. He is still only 23 years old despite seemingly being around for a decade. At 1.75m tall he is about the average height on this list. Physically he is very powerful though, and is quick enough to get up and down the pitch and keep up with play. It is his ability to do this all game though, that has made Aston Villa into a very solid team with some industry in their midfield. He can take the pressure of the defence with his excellent tracking, and is quite solid in the tackle. He has the energy to get forward and offer support, but needs to work on his final ball and creative spark. This is a traditionally British problem though. He can do everything, but is not exceptional at either end of the field. He is predominantly left footed, but trusts his right foot for simple passes and easy tackles. So could he adjust to play a more disciplined role, or does he need to be set free? I think he needs to play in a 3 man midfield so he can just be let loose. He will cover so much ground for you, but he cannot be relied on to do the business up top, and cannot be trusted to sit deeper and cover the defence all game. His statistics show him for exactly what he is. In 134 games he has just 9 goals and 1 assist. That's a goal/assist every 13 games, so he is hardly productive. He also has 37 yellow cards. This is just evidence of his sloppiness in the tackle, but to get 37 yellows in 134 games (roughly 1 card in every 4 games) you have to be putting yourself about a fair bit and at least getting stuck in! He has never been sent off though, and has even chased back deep enough to put the ball in his own net on just one occasion. Averaging a goal every 1091 minutes, he will likely never be a double figures man, but what he brings to the midfield at Villa, is not irreplaceable energy that wins you games. You need this kind of player in the engine room when playing a 4-3-3 system like Paul Lambert does. Delph is afforded an almost free role to just chase the ball all game. His ability to be in almost 2 places at once essentially makes it similar to a 4-4-3! I highly doubt he'll ever make the England squad though, unless he gets a big move.
Moving on, we will look at the player who seems to be favoured on the International stage, Tom Cleverley. Cleverley is another one of those players who has to work his socks off to become a fan favourite. He is a very crab like midfielder who plays the majority of his balls sideways or backwards. In Manchester United's system which relies so heavily on wingers though, a player who likes to shift the play out wide is a necessity. He also brings that graft to the side, with his work rate second to none in the Manchester side. However, is he strong at anything in particular? I actually think in a more fluent and passing style he could be a good player. He links up well in tight spaces around the box, and can actually produce some moments of real flair. He can shoot well with either foot, but could do with maybe getting his head up sometimes and playing in one of the forwards. He is 24 years old now making him the oldest on this list, but he is not really that far ahead of any of them. He must make the step up this season if he is to ever become one of the next greats. At 1.75m tall, he is also average in height. He is not as powerful as Delph, but is a bit more aggressive. He seems to get lucky quite often in discipline terms, and he only has 14 yellow cards and 1 red card in 154 games. He has added 21 goals and 18 assists so far in his career though, so he does show some signs of creativity in the final third. Could he then, become a master of one trade, or is he doomed to being the 'Jack' on the bench? I think if he works at it, he could become a good attacking midfielder. As a manager I would want to keep him away from my own penalty area due to the amount of silly fouls he concedes, but going forward, he can be that energetic spark that chips in and makes the forwards job easier. With a goal every 529 minutes, he is just the most clinical on this list. Maybe he could be the next Scholes for United, who knows? But like his predecessor in the Devils midfield, he perhaps needs another decade of calming down before he can be trusted in a deeper role!
Next in the firing line is a player who was highly rated before his most recent move. It is in fact, our very own Joe Allen. Labelled in Swansea as the Welsh Iniesta/Xavi he came with a sizeable monkey on his back (some might argue that's closer to a Gorilla!). It is a serious amount of pressure for a young man to be compared to two of the best midfielders of the last 20 years. He is technically very good. His ball retention is second to none not just on this list, but in the league. He just keeps the play ticking over with his simple passing and really sets the tempo for the game, very rarely taking more than 2 or 3 touches. He is comfortable on the ball even in the tightest of spaces. His quick burst of pace makes him very good when it comes to intercepting attacks, but he needs to beef up so he can put in a more solid tackle. I do like him as a player, and the effort he puts in does him no harm. At just 1.68m tall he is one of the shortest midfielders in the league, and whilst that doesn't stop him playing his game, he does need to improve his power on and off the ball so he isn't bullied so much by the Nzonzi, Diame and Toure's of the world. In 203 matches so far, he has scored 10 goals and set up 14. This underlines his lack of ability in the final third, as that is a goal/assist roughly every 8 games. With just 18 yellow cards, and 1 very unlucky red card on his CV though, he is not that careless when sitting deeper so could drop back into a more comfortable role. He is not tough enough to be the midfield destroyer like Lucas is for us, but he can get stuck in and would be excellent as a deep lying playmaker. If he can bulk up a bit, he could mould his style around that of Claude Makalele's. He is very good positionally, and very calm in playing the ball out from the back, so could play this role to great effect. He needs to work on the defensive side of his game though, as he just lacks the flair to play in a more forward role, despite his pace and energy. He has the second worst goals per minute ratio on this list with just 1 goal every 1386 minutes. He is very comfortable passing with both feet though, and if he can learn to tackle better his goals ratio will be of little importance.
The next player is another who is now plying his trade on Merseyside. Not in red though. James McCarthy has (after about 3 years of waiting) finally managed to escape the sinking ship that is Wigan Athletic. After being the main engine in a midfield that was the only good part of a struggling team, he finally failed to keep them up, but by no fault of his own. Being far too good for Championship football, he was snapped up by his former manager and brought in to revitalise an aging and average Everton Midfield. McCarthy is unlucky enough to have two doses of British in him! Being of both Scottish and Irish descent, he is truly doomed to being a 'Jack of all trades' right? He is the most powerful player on the list by some way, and at 1.83m tall he is not short. He is very strong on and off the ball, and strong in the tackle to boot. He does lack the technical ability going forward, but his power seems to compensate in a rough and tough league like the Premier League. He has a pretty decent shot as well, but don't expect to see him threading any eye of the needle passes. He just doesn't have the vision for that. He is not positionally good enough to play in a deeper role, so will likely play in a slightly advanced position. I think at Everton he has found his level, which is by no means an insult. Everton are a very good side and they will always be in and around the top half of the table, but they just never really challenge for anything. He will mainly bring a physical presence to the side that they have just lost in Fellaini. I think he is likely to play a similar role too. Don't be surprised to see him as the most advanced player of a midfield triangle under Martinez. He will do well there, bringing a more physical aspect to the Everton attack, and bullying defenders. In 262 games he has bagged 25 goals, but just 13 assists. That's a goal roughly every 10 games, but an assist roughly every 20 games. I think his goals ratio will improve now he's in a better side, but I still don't expect to see him pulling up any trees in the assists department. He has just 32 yellow cards in all those games and not a single red card to his name. Despite being just 22 he is still the most experienced player on the list in terms of games played, and as averaged a goal every 826 minutes. That is fairly average, but most of his goals have come from his stronger right foot. It would be nice to see him work on his weaker left foot so that he can smash loose balls back in first time, regardless of how they fall to him. The majority of his goals come from the edge or just inside the area like that, so it'd be a useful skill to have in his locker. He has scored 1 own goal in his past, but seeing as he's played over 250 games, we'll let that slide!
Next up is Aaron Ramsey. He's another Welshman, but with a different dynamic to his play. Whilst still maintaining the 'Jack of all trades' trend, he has a lot of creative potential. When going forward, he is very good at picking out a pass, and can create a lot of opportunities for the players around him. He's also very good at finishing with either foot. He juts lacks consistency. He's had some excellent purple patches littered throughout his career, but has always proceeded to fade away, and end up being dropped again. With Ozil, Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott to compete with in Arsenals attacking trio that sits behind Giroud, he is likely to find himself dropped once again, despite a magnificent start to the season. With Arteta currently out injured, he will probably be dropped into a deeper role alongside Wilshere, but I don't think that suits him. He can play there, but this would be him falling victim to the 'Jack' tag. He could be a master of one role, but will likely see himself being used as exactly what these players will not want to be, a utility squad man. I really do struggle to see Wengers logic in signing Ozil just as Ramsey started to fulfil his attacking potential, especially when Arsenal lack depth in so many other areas. Ramsey isn't tough enough to play in a defensive role and whilst he can play as the deep lying playmaker, it's like buying a Ferrari and then only doing 50mph on the motorway. It can do that fine, but it could be so much more. With 25 goals and 22 assists in 217 games, Ramsey can boast an impressive ratio of a goal/assist roughly every 4 games. That's not far off of top 4 standards, and he has a lot of room for improvement yet. Hopefully Wenger does not freeze out and waste yet another good British talent. He's got a suprising disciplinary record with 28 yellow cards and 1 red card. He isn't really that dirty though, so this doesn't really do him justice. I would think the majority of those bookings were mistimed tackles or cynical fouls, rather than aggressive or dangerous tackles. With a goal every 537 minutes, he sits just behind Cleverley in this department, which is why it would be a shame to see him shackled in a deeper role. He's quite tall at 1.81m but needs to bulk up a little bit as he can get pushed off the ball easily and he has suffered some pretty horrific injuries in the past that he will hope to avoid in the future.
Aaron Ramsey's young team mate, Jack Wilshere is yet another young 'Jack of all trades' (no pun intended, I swear). He is the youngest on the list at just 21 years old, but he is perhaps one of the most 'ready' of them all. He needs to nail down a position in the Arsenal midfield, which looks likely as long as he can avoid another injury. He has had a series of bad injuries recently, missing nearly a whole year of development. He seems to have found his feet again now though, and will be looking to kick on. The main thing I'd say he has that the other players lack is confidence. Whilst he is a good as Joe Allen technically and as solid in the tackle as Henderson with the energy to match almost anyone on this list, he has a confidence to his game that the others are only just starting to find. He will try things that they won't think of and dish out orders to people much older. He is a born leader, and perhaps the only other genuine leader on this list is Henderson. Wilshere has an excellent first touch, and is great in terms of link up play, but he always seems to come up short in the attacking department. He has just 6 goals and 20 assists in 139 games. Whilst that assist record is good, bare in mind he's only ever played in the fluent Arsenal team (excluding a short spell at Bolton on loan) who are ever present Champions league competitors. He needs to add goals to his game if he wants to be a more forward player, with him averaging just 1 goal every 1618 minutes! However, I think he'd be best in a role similar to the one Delph plays in Villa's system. He has the energy to fly about the pitch all game, and get stuck in when necessary, but won't be relied on heavily to add goals to the team. He can also comfortably use both feet despite preferring his left. He could be the link up man who provides the engine in a sometimes lack lustre Arsenal side. Wenger currently has him a little too shackled in a defensive role that he can play, but it is wasting his talent. Hodgson gives him a little bit more license to play his own game for England with Gerrard in the holding role, and Wilshere relishes the freedom. Wengers reluctance to sign a proper defensive midfielder will stop Wilshere becoming the best he can, as he really could be a world class talent. He does love to get stuck in, but he has 22 yellows and 2 reds in his short spell in senior football, which suggests he can be a little rash in the tackle. There's nothing wrong with loving a tackle, but he needs to play the ball. For a player who is just 1.73m tall, he's an absolute terrier, and I hope Wenger allows him the freedom to be that engine he has the potential to be.
I'm sure it's the review you've all been waiting for. It is of course our new 'Lucas', Jordan Henderson. He started out has a player some fans loved to hate, and was written off very unfairly by a large part of the fan base. However, he has turned it around in style since the start of 2013, and become an almost automatic pick in the first team. He has more energy than anyone else on the list and he is second only to McCarthy in the strength department. Whilst he doesn't have the technical ability Wilshere and Joe Allen can boast, he is still very sound on and off the ball, and has perhaps the best passing range of all the players. In Liverpool's team he plays a very unique role that I'm not sure I've ever seen before in a team. When we are defending he seems to play as part of a 3 man midfield, albeit it in more of a free role with the responsibility of pressing the opposition in possession. However when we are attacking he seems to break forward as fast as any of the attacking players and often bombs down the right flank or straight through the middle. These powerful runs have become almost trademark in recent times, with his most memorable to date being the time he powered through the Arsenal back line, sending all 5 players sprawling and calmly slotting the ball home. He has gone from being the over rated youngster breaking into Sunderland's first team, to the under rated engine in the Liverpool midfield. He has started adding a few more goals and assists to his game, but like Aaron Ramsey, he just needs to find consistency. He has to cement his place in the starting line up. If he is pushed out onto the fringes again, it would be disastrous for his career. I think Rodgers has finally seen his talent though, and expect him to get a lot of game time for Liverpool this season. He currently has 19 goals and 29 assists in 218 matches which equates to roughly a goal/assist every 4.5 games. That's not bad for a 23 year old who has been used mainly as a utility player throughout his career so far. He has played right midfield, left midfield, attacking midfield, defensive midfield, and right back and now plays in this more comfortable free role that Brendan Rodgers and Paul Lambert have created. With just 20 yellow cards and 0 red cards he has the best disciplinary record on this list. Don't be fooled into thinking he runs away from tackling though, as he makes quite a few every game and averages a tackle success rate of about 80% on a regular basis. He is probably the most all round midfielder listed here and if he can hone a particular area of his game, then he could be something special and could maybe even one day go on to be the 'Master of all trades' us fans crave. He has added a power too our midfield that we've lacked since Gerrard was in his 20's. At 1.82m tall and capable of using both feet and his head to great effect, he is physically ready to go to the highest level. If he can just raise his consistency and his technical ability, he will be a part of this team for potentially the next decade. So many people forget that this guy who is now playing is 4th full season of Premier league football is only 23 years old. Having already captained the England U21's squad, he has proven leadership qualities. We just be looking at our future captain.
All the players here have potential in their own right, and will all make it in the Premier league without a doubt. Some will go higher than others, but make no mistake about it; there is still a role to play for the 'Jack of all trades' in modern football. The only question is how will their managers utilise them?
Thanks for reading.
07 October 2013
Very enjoyable post Adam, one about the young British forwards next Sturridge, wellbeck etc? Just one question... Out of the players u have just spoke about what 3 would u have as a midfield 3 and why? Kent red
14 September 2013
A lot of effort gone in hear mate, well done you. The education of our young players and the British style ( shown at international level) dictates you have to be good at all parts of the game or you will torn to shreds by the TV pundits who point out all weakness's ( its what they get paid to do) rather than be OK at some and world class in one part of your game. Robson was capt Marvell because he gave 150% and got injured in every game while Hoddle was a luxury we moaned about being lazy. Pele said 25 years ago Hoddle would be the only English player to make the Brazil team and a quarter of a century on its still all about what a player lacks rather than excels at that matters most in England. Spain changed their national attitude to young players and the rest is history with so many of their players now world class because of it
14 September 2013
Great read Adam, as always with your comments too! However, thought the comment about McCarthy having two doses of British in him was very uncalled for! :)
13 September 2013
Thanks Adam thats another great reading. I really enjoy your views on players and like the way you compare them. now if I can ask for a favour.
Can you do a similar type of comparison for young flying wingers in premier league like sterling Ibe, redmond etc.
13 September 2013
Thats a fantastic piece of work there Adam. You have been the best poster throughout this year IMHO. I really enjoy reading posts, keep it up!
12 September 2013
Very good read fella. For me the best player on the list is Henderson. The worst player on the list is Cleverly.
Is my bias shining through?? ha ha
12 September 2013
Nice one Adam, agree with you completely about Delph. Would love to see him in a Liverpool shirt, as an understudy to Lucas. Great potential and still comparatively young for such an experienced player, lets get him signed !!
12 September 2013
2 doses of british in McCarthy ? scotish and irish? irish is not britsh ed33
12 September 2013
Fab post mate. quality, keep it up! people like you keep this page alive!
12 September 2013
As always, a thoroughly informative and enjoyable read. Thanks man, really appreciate the effort. Needless to say, I agree with almost everything in there!
12 September 2013
Really good piece adam, quite an enjoyable read. My hope for Henderson are the same that he could turn out to be the next gerrard, perhaps not as good as the great man but good enough and vital to the team in the coming years. I would love to see him get to the 10 goal haul this year and progress from there
12 September 2013
Sorry for all of the mistakes. I just had a quick read through and spotted at least 6. Hopefully it doesn't take too much away from the blog! I'll type it up in a Word document in future so it highlights any mistakes for me.