Friday, July 15, 2011

View From The Away End: Football League scouting report

Thus far this summer all of our acquisitions - Demba Ba, Yohan Cabaye, Sylvain Marveaux and Mehdi Abeid - have been recruited from the continent or the Premier League, while we've been closely linked with a whole host of other players from those origins. But our scouts' attention has also been caught by at least a couple of Championship stars, Swansea's Neil Taylor and Reading's Shane Long. So we thought we'd take the opportunity to ask Lanterne Rouge and Lloyd, founders of Football League blog The Two Unfortunates, about the pair, and about potential transfer targets in the Football League in general, in the style of their own recent Conversations With... posts.

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Ben: Do you think Neil Taylor would be a worthwhile signing for us?

Lloyd: Taylor came from nowhere as far as I'm concerned, so I'm not best placed to answer that one!

Lanterne Rouge: I understand Taylor’s release clause is for just £1m which is small change in Premier League terms. He’s done well since taking the Principality’s southward leading roads from Wrexham a year ago but was sent off after less than a minute of their play-off trip to Nottingham Forest. One might argue that it’s a typical Pardew signing – picking a player to fit into a system and one who won’t break the bank if it doesn’t work out – file under Routledge, Best, Perch etc.

Ben: Well, that release clause was under dispute - and now it's emerged he's signed a new deal at the Swans... So what of Long? As a Royals supporter, what do you make of him?

Lanterne Rouge: The dispiritingly mediocre fortunes of previous Reading departees makes me nervous about giving a solid endorsement – Kevin Doyle has done reasonably well at Wolves but has hardly troubled the scoring charts at times, and yet he’s superior to Long as a player in most respects. Long’s strengths are a prodigious leap (possibly honed as a hurling player in his youth), a renewed confidence in front of goal and speed that will take him past most defenders at the lower level. Unfortunately, the presence of not a few hares among Premier League defences partially negates this last quality and I wouldn’t put money on him breaking into double figures should he sign for Magpies.

Lloyd: As a denizen of Reading, I've seen Long play on various occasions and I have to say that he's come along nicely over the past 18 months or so. Prior to that, I didn't think an awful lot of the Irishman, and unlike Lanterne Rouge was never particularly impressed with his pace or aerial ability. I wasn't quite sure what type of striker he was supposed to be; he didn't quite fit the criteria of a runner, a target man or a poacher. But following the sale of Kevin Doyle and the arrival of Brian McDermott, he's really improved and post-Matt Mills' departure has to be viewed as Reading's most prized asset given his age. He just gets into positions that force defenders into mistakes, and has a real eye for goal. I think his next move will be to a Premier League club (unless Leicester give up on Nicky Maynard, perhaps), but he's no Alan Shearer I'm afraid; rather a striker of modest talents who's had a good run of form in an adequate league.

Lanterne Rouge: A reason why I might be proved wrong is the vast improvement in attitude he has shown after a real dip in form under Brendan Rodgers’ stewardship. It seems that Brian McDermott thrust the proverbial ram round him and the result has been 18 months of giddy form. I would love to see him do well but see him as back-up for a club of Newcastle’s size. There is talk of Leon Best as a makeweight in the deal – Best probably has more skill than Long but is likely behind him in determination.

Ben: As our interest in Taylor and Long would suggest, we're in the market for a striker and a full-back. Anyone else in the Football League you could recommend as worth a peek?

Lloyd: There are a few decent players knocking around in those positions. Brighton's full-backs, Marcos Painter and Inigo Calderon, are destined for better things I feel, and a cautiously ambitious Premier League club could do worse than take a closer look at Burnley's Danny Fox, who was tipped for big things when he was at Coventry a few years back. Otherwise, I've heard that Ipswich have a good crop coming through, but I couldn't tell you anything in particular about individuals, although one player I do like is Yeovil's left-back Nathan Smith, whose athleticism and touch suggest a player who could hold his own a league up in the Championship at least.

Lanterne Rouge: Hard to disagree with the main thrust of Lloyd's comments although I would certainly be careful about dropping as low as League One in the hunt for players - Jermaine Beckford may have worked (kind of) but for every one of him, there's a Fabian Delph.

Lloyd: Forwards-wise, Danny Graham, Steve Morison, Grant Holt and Connor Wickham, some of the Football League's finest, will all be playing in the top flight in the year ahead. Jay Bothroyd is still available, I see, and I'll be gobsmacked if he doesn't line up in the Premier League alongside those contemporaries. [As it turns out, Lloyd definitely won't be gobsmacked - Bothroyd having signed for QPR yesterday.] Perhaps Newcastle have been in touch, who knows, but the aforementioned Maynard of Bristol City might be another worth tracking, although I personally feel he could do with another Championship season given that he's suffered injury problems in the past.

Ben: What about players who are much talked about, highly rated and on the face of it look to be tempting propositions but whom you would caution us against pursuing, for whatever reason?

Lanterne Rouge: One of the main aspects of the game that separates the Premier League from the lower echelons is pace, so old-fashioned centre-halves who look dominant in the Championship rarely pass muster when up against a van Persie or a Hernandez. Hence, the Forest back line of Luke Chambers and Wes Morgan are effective but neither should rate serious consideration by a Premier League club.

Ben: Your old boy Matt Mills might have been worth a punt, if he hadn't already been snaffled up by Leicester, as part of Sven's bid to rebuild his entire defence. Worth adding too that Roger Johnson and Scott Dann both stepped up from the Championship to become a much-admired and much-coveted partnership in the Premier League (in Birmingham's first season up, at least), so it can sometimes work.

Lanterne Rouge: And then of course there is the biggest enigma of all - Adel Taarabt. He was hands down the best player this past Football League season and some of his goals and flicks were jawdropping. But ... better than Jonas Gutierrez? I wouldn't necessarily say so. In a post on our blog earlier this year, Taarabt's Premier League credentials provoked heated debate in the comments section. I would love to see him do well - preferably at QPR - but he appears to have a very greedy agent and has the attention span of a goldfish. Not a correct fit for the Toon in my opinion.

Ben: And finally, why don’t more Premier League teams scour the Football League for players? Is it because they aren’t value for money compared with recruits from abroad? Or because the gulf in quality is too large for Football League players to be able to step up and immediately settle in? Or is there another reason?

Lanterne Rouge: It became clear to me in the two seasons that Reading were in the Premier League that players I had previously dismissed as a bit rubbish based on a TV viewing were actually more than half decent – Kieran Richardson, Stewart Downing, Manuel Almunia etc – and that the gulf is, sadly, just as big as the cliché-mongers make it out to be. Look how the likes of Fabricio Coloccini and Graham Dorrans suddenly looked like world-beaters against Scunthorpe and Barnsley. As a strong advocate for the joys of lower league, grass-roots football, I would argue that the standard at Championship level gets better all the time ... but it’s got a way to go to match the level above.

Ben: In fairness to Coloccini, he looked far better last season in his second spell in the Premier League. I generally agree with you, though - but it's interesting that a newly promoted club like Norwich, who know the Championship and League One well, seem to have focused on those divisions. Clearly they think the players they’ve bought can do a job in the top flight.

Lloyd: The signings of Graham, Morison and Holt, albeit the former two by newly promoted clubs, suggests that if anything Premier League sides are scouring the lower divisions and Norwich's strategy, whereby they're bringing in former League One players such as Anthony Pilkington and Elliott Bennett, is particularly encouraging. Rather than focus scouting networks overseas and worry about your new recruits struggling to adjust to a different way of life a la Robinho, perhaps some of the rising stars from the 72, who've often been released from top-flight clubs in the first place, are worth punting on instead? There are so many players across these divisions who are steadily improving their game under good managers before picking their next moves wisely, that aspiring European sides like Newcastle, who must compete with all manner of sides around them in the global transfer market, really should give the Paul Lambert approach some further thought should the Canaries manage to adapt to this, a second step-up in as many years.

Ben: Yes, that's the crux. There may be a lot riding on Norwich's success or failure this season - the steady flow of Premier League transfer fees into Football League coffers, for a start...

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Thanks to Lanterne Rouge and Lloyd for their time.

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Anonymous Stanley said...

On the specific point of Noriwch's transfer dealings, while it's great to see the likes of Pilkington, etc. getting a reward for their hard work in the lower reaches, it seems to me that the Canaries' purchases are intended, at least in part, to get them back up in the event of relegation. It's refreshing, but slightly baffling, that Lambert has put his trust in Football League talent, rather than exploiting his contacts in Germany.

In the wider Premier Legaue, considering the short term emphasis on survival at all costs, it is still less risky for those who can do so to recruit from a wider pool of players who either already have the level of experience required (Cheikh Tiote, anyone?).

Football League players are getting chances, though. Consistent performers at Championship or even League 1 level do attract attention from the PL. Tim Cahill, Jermaine Beckford and Adam Johnson - to name but a few - were all rewarded, as has Keiran Westwood this summer. When even the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea are signing unknowns from Serbia and Belgium, it will increasingly make sense for their smaller competitors to look at the domestic market for value, just as lower league clubs have begun to recruit again from the Scottish and Irish leagues in recent years.

3:09 pm  
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