Linked with everyone from Spurs to Liverpool, Connor Wickham has chosen Sunderland. If Bruce works on his all-round game, then a glittering future lies ahead. But should he only play to his strengths we should all be worried...
Despite being one of the greatest central midfielders of the modern era, it is clear that, as a manager, Roy Keane couldn’t coach his c*ck out of his trousers. Too demanding, too mental and always bristling for confrontation when he sees standards drop around him, Keane is the latest in a long line of iconic players to have failed in a tracksuit. Yet, having consistently played with an array of prodigiously talented strikers (plus Andy Cole), his belief that Sunderland’s new frontman, Connor Wickham, has the talent to be as good as Wayne Rooney should be taken half-seriously. He’s got the talent bit right, but at 6’3”, with good pace, movement and a battering ram of a right foot, the player the £8m man most resembles is a young Alan Shearer.
If you’re a Sunderland fan, then I’m sure you’ve just spat hard twice at the floor, and if you’re a neutral you’ve probably wanged your sandwich at the wall at yet another ‘the new whoever’ article. But hang on, I’m not saying Wickham is the new Shearer, perish the thought that anyone else could be so talented and so banal at the same time, but that in his play, career trajectory and potential he has something of the young Wor’ Alan when he left Southampton for Blackburn about him.
With a goal ratio of one in five games, Wickham lags slightly behind Shearer’s one in four for Southampton, yet it is the way he takes his goals that remind me of Shearer. Violent dipping volleys from the channel, nipping in ahead of defenders to tap in and using bristling physicality to muscle defenders out of the way before calmly finishing. This is all good news for Sunderland fans desperate for a number 9 to call their own. The bad news is that Sunderland are the Southampton of the piece rather than the Blackburn. I’m not having a pop at the Black Cats, but Wickham is still only 18 and, should his development continue apace, then it is hard to see Sunderland as anything but a stepping stone to a club with genuine title aspirations two, three or four years down the line.
Violent dipping volleys from the channel, nipping in ahead of defenders to tap in and using bristling physicality to muscle defenders out of the way before calmly finishing
The biggest question is if Steve Bruce is the right manager to take his raw-boned talent and make him a complete striker. Bruce has always liked a big man up top (he bought Emile Heskey, twice) and at times last season struggled to get the balance right with Gyan and Bent who both like to play on the shoulder, he’s also been consistently linked with Peter Crouch yet it would be a shame if Wickham is only used as a static focal point to allow other players to move off him. That is of course a part of his game he should develop, but Wickham is entirely comfortable playing up front on his own, has shown that he can move wide to pick up possession and come infield to score and, like Shearer, he is also a more than competent crosser of the ball.
The revelation that I’m a Liverpool fan will have you sharpening your knives for the comments box, of course I wished we had signed him, I believe that he has more potential than Andy Carroll but I also reckon his development could’ve suffered if he’d come to Liverpool. Carroll cost £35m and, if fit, he will play and be a huge asset to Liverpool if he stays free of injury, but I’m steadfast in my assertion that Wickham will be far more important to England over the next 12-15 years if he works on every aspect of his game rather than just playing to his strengths.
The other player he resembles is the young Kevin Davies. The Bolton skipper is a big unit himself, but as a younger man he was far quicker than he is now and scored every goal in the book. His career took a bit of a nosedive with a merry-go-round of transfers, while injury and an early thickening process of his body robbed of him of the all-important yard and he should be commended for adapting his game to be one of the most effective strikers and link-men in the Premier League.
This article is, of course, based on a bit of conjecture and a bit of empirical knowledge. At 18 and with a few niggling injuries already behind him, the jury is out on Connor Wickham. With a bit of luck, good coaching, the right advice and a steady head he as every chance of being more Shearer than Davies. No disrespect Kevin, but I’m sure the whole country hopes it is the former rather than the latter. Even Sunderland fans.
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