Archive for January 19th, 2011

Will The Best 4th Striker Please Stand Up

You Want How Much?

Darren Bent reveals his true worth to 'Appy 'Arry Redknapp - or possibly his cut from his recent deal

I don’t get Darren Bent. Not least because I don’t support Villa and I don’t have a spare £24 million lying around in my back pocket. I simply just don’t get him. Sure we’re all in the market for a proven Prem goalscorer, not just one of those Johnny Come Lately foreigners who’ve done the business in one of those big abroad leagues but is utterly untested in the rough and tumble of the Prem penalty area, but Bent? Spindly, lacklustre in front of goal Bent? Who saw that one coming?

Certainly not me. Because, you know what, I still don’t get Darren Bent. I don’t see him as a dangerously prolific, gamechanging striker like Drogba, Chav Wanker or Torpid Torres, despite having scored just one less Prem goal than the former two and way more than the latter. My impression of him has always been that he’s a relatively ineffectual lightweight striker, not unlike his erstwhile, if even less effective, strikepartner Offside Trap Defoe. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride, Bento has missed out on not just big team action, but two World Cups as his international career has been mysteriously scuppered by the rise of even less effective striker Peter Crouch. But despite knowing all this, despite checking his stats and being amazed, I still don’t see Bent physically holding off a defender before slamming the ball past a top four keeper in a key match, or doing his defender for pace before casually slotting the ball home. Rather to me he has always seemed a bit of a soft lightweight, someone who needs to be handled with kid gloves and wants/needs to be the big fish.

For Bent the move to Villa makes perfect sense. Villa are on a par with Sunderland as wannabe ‘Big’ teams go and having been threatened by the arrival of the effective Gyan (who also replaced him as Sunderland’s record signing), he becomes, once again, the undisputed no 1 at a club who will really value him and which has exactly the kind of striker support that will benefit him and give him goalscoring opportunities. And there’s no doubt that for the rest of the season (if not beyond) Villa will arrange the team around him and his goalscoring. For Villa it’s the nearest thing to buying an insurance policy against relegation and reaffirms their position as an ambitious, ‘buying’ club following the loss of both Barry and Milner to Middle Eastlands. As for Sunderland, maybe, just maybe, it removes the worry that faced Bruce when he bought Gyan, namely that you can’t realistically play Bent and Gyan in the same side all the time. And for my money Gyan is the better player.

Will The Best 4th Man Please Stand Up

Which brings us to the key question. If Darren Bent is actually not that bad, then who is the single worst squad striker in the Prem? Who least deserves that most reviled of positions, benchwarming supersub and rotation magnet? And immediately I’m faced with something of a list:

  • Kalou (Chelski)
  • Bendtner (Arsenal)
  • Jo (Man City)
  • Agbonlahor (Villa)
  • Offside (Tottingham)
  • Lil Mikey Owen (Man U)
  • Ngog (Loserpool Redsox)
  • Babel (Loserpool Redsox)
  • Ameobi (Newcastle)
  • Santa Cruz (Man City)
  • Carlton Cole (West Ham)
  • Carew (Villa)

And so on. The criteria here is simple. You have to not be the club’s no 1 striker (which kind of counts Bent out) and you have to be a proven failure in front of goal when given the opportunity.

And the Stats (for last season at least) speak for themselves:

Name Prem Games Played Prem Goals* Goals per Game %
Kalou 23 5 22%
Bendtner 23 6 26%
Jo 28 3 11%
Agbonlahor 36 13 36%
Offside Trap Defoe 34 18 53%
Lil Mikey 19 3 16%
Ngog 24 5 21%
Babel 25 4 16%
Ameobi 18* 10 55%
Santa Cruz 19 3 16%
Carlton Cole 30 10 33%
Carew 33 10 30%
Kuyt 37 9 24%
Bent 38 24 63%

*Ameobi’s last season was in the Championship, so maybe his goals are like Scottish goals and only worth 1/3 of a real Prem goal.

One thing is clear, most of these guys are nowhere near Bent, clearly reinforcing his position as a no 1 striker (and their’s as ‘not no 1’s). Only Offside Trap, who again has a legitimate claim to a no 1 spot (although Tottingham have a more revolvable formation than that), can really compare. The rest of them are, quite literally, playing for scraps.

I’ve put in Loserpool’s Dirk Kuyt for comparison. Kuyt is there because, for me, he represents probably the best perceived value for a 4th striker, someone who puts in the hard yards, doesn’t moan about it and delivers. Probably more about apparent effort than effectiveness, he doesn’t so much change games as give you a sense that at least he’s committed to giving the opposition a game and supporting the rest of the team. You get the feeling that he’s ‘busy’ on the pitch.

The first thing is that there is a clear dividing line between what you might call Second String strikers like Cole, Agbonlahor and, surprisingly, Carew and the rest of the Prem journeymen. The difference between 26 and 30+ percent might not seem that much but it represents a chilling gap in class between the second string and the journeymen. The former are expected to carry the burden of the midtable Prem teams, while the latter are really there to provide relief for their more prolific first team counterparts.

Aside from the lamentable showing of Lil Mikey, Babel and City duffers Jo and Santa Cruz, who really are bottom trawling fourth raters at this level, the most surprising thing for me was the relative ineffectiveness of Kuyt in comparison with Kalou, Ngog and, especially, Bendtner. My impression of Kuyt was that he was significantly more valuable than any of those three (although the value of his all round game may still be greater). And certainly I’d be happier to see him on the Loserpool teamsheet than Ngog and he appears to be more useful than either Kalou or Bendtner. Yet he’s less effective at scoring than Bendtner and only marginally more so than Ngog and Kalou.

And it’s exasperating because none of these three look remotely like being able to make the next step up and become genuinely dangerous, world class, 20+ goals a season strikers. Indeed with Kalou you almost sense he’s not even trying, what with his Ivorian compatriot The Drog still holding down the big boy’s position in pretty much every area of his life, a bit like that elder brother who’s not really your buddy and who consistently overshadows you. Possibly he’s decided to simply wait it out for the next couple of years as Drog begins to go downhill and make his move then. Bendtner seems to believe that he’s already made it despite all evidence to the contrary, while you just sense that Ngog will never make the grade even if he is only 21.

It’s also clear why the triumverate of Ngog, Kalou and Bendtner are so exasperating. Billed as goalscorers, their strike record of a goal every four or five games simply doesn’t justify their inclusion ahead of regular first teamers, especially when you consider that as fourth strikers they’re often used in rotation against lower grade opposition where they should be expected to score more freely. Yet their value as strikers diminishes the nearer you get to the cutting edge.

And suddenly you begin to appreciate the real value of Darren Bent.