The Summer transfer window of 2011 started as many before it, with us desperately needing genuine full backs and at least one winger – we got neither but we managed to spend over £20m and in doing so completely unbalance a side whose previous season’s heroics saw us charge to the Cup Final and into Europe.
I’ve covered a lot of this throughout last season and predicted as much as soon as long ago as August 31st but having seen that we are chasing Michael Owen, I fear the manager simply does not learn any lessons and continues to make the same mistake over and over again expecting a different outcome.
Crouch and Woodgate – both players with enviable pedigree, one coming into the last few years of his career, the other should have retired years ago. Let’s start with Woodgate;
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Woody is a name, and Pulis loves nothing more than a name being linked with the club, it doesn’t matter that the player is past it, it doesn’t matter that the system will suffocate them and ruin any slim chance of success, nor where they will fit in but he has to go and get them and that’s exactly what he did here.
I was more than willing to welcome Woody to the fold, it was difficult to know how to judge him given I hadn’t seen him in action for years, in fact I was looking forward to seeing him feature, the question was – when would that be? We have Shawcross and Huth who are our foundation at the back, our brick wall of a defence, there is no way he would split them up, especially after the failed attempts to shift Huth out wide the season previous?
Sadly, this is exactly what happened, but he had his chance to impress, so I watched in anticipation of a Madrid inspired masterclass, what I witnessed was more of a Morecambe mare as we witnessd a man bereft of any fitness, shape, pace or anticipation who backed out of all tackles and headers, this was not a good start.
He was awful, time and again he floundered, got the wrong side, left the defence with gaping holes, dragged his man down, it was painful, Pulis had to put him out of his misery. He didn’t, he continued to feature, seemingly willing to compromise the success and balance of the side, the happiness of the current player of the year, just to close his eyes and comfort himself that he had the Woodgate of old, when infact he had simply signed Old Woodgate.
It became a joke, sweepstakes would take place on when he would get booked, how many goals he would be responsible for every week, and it’s not like we could even take him out of the firing line of the pacey Premier League and have his international experience in Europe given the manager left him out of the European squad – it just didn’t make sense on any level.
People still argued his corner but the dissenting voices were getting louder and Huth himself was starting to become annoyed at being hung out to dry on the right. Pulis knew a change was needed, so he dropped Huth. The stubborness of the man at this point really got to me, arguably our best player, whose contract was running down was being treated like a leper to accommodate a player years older who was quite clearly well out of his depth. Pulis soon realised that the defence was a mess so brought back Huth and put him in the middle…. but then moved Woodgate out to right back – you couldn’t make it up.
Ripped to shreds...
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Watching Woodgate in the matches that followed was comical, he became a figure of fun across the country and his display at Wolves where he was subbed after less than 20 minutes said as much about the manager as it did of the player, after all he may be past it but he doesn’t pick himself to start. Much of the season had passed at the point Woody was finally dropped to the bench and the defence restored, countless points sacrificed to stubbornly accommodate him, that for me is unforgiveable.
So we move onto Crouch, if you think Woody is a name, you can only imagine what the manager thought when he had the chance to bring in Crouch, a player he has lusted after for years, though a player who is the wrong side of 30, is nothing like his previous striking target of Ba and a player who would go on to completely change the shape of our attacking play for the worst.
I’m not saying Crouch is a bad signing for anyone or even that he is a poor player, on the contrary, he is probably the best ‘footballer’ we have, but in Pulis’ system it is absolutely vital that the man leading the line has power, purpose and most importantly pace and I’m sorry he just doesn’t.
Once again we saw Pulis jump at the chance to sign a name, paying well over the odds in the process, and not give one ounce of consideration about how he would fit into the most strict of strict systems or the fact he had just signed a player who plays the same position as the one he signed for £8m only the season before.
Isolated and immobile...
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I was looking forward to seeing how he would fit into the team, hoping the manager would encourage movement and pace around the big man to replace what was lost by removing Jones from the team, initially it looked like the midfield were getting closer to him and he wasn’t as isolated as I feared, but sadly this lasted for about 45 mins before we saw the endless diagonal balls pumped in his general direction. If those balls fell on crouch’s head, great, he would bring them down with enviable technique and bring those around him into play, to his credit he does that better than anyone at the club. However, any balls that were more than three feet away from his head he simply wouldn’t challenge for or ‘attack’ as he didn’t have that burst of acceleration we’ve been used to to from target men of old make up those small distances.
This lack of mobility soon became an issue as Pulis reverted to the most rudimentary form of Pulisball and the percentages with Crouch were much less than those with Jones. It wasn’t just Crouch who was struggling though, Walters, Pennant and Etherington all had poor seasons, not a few games but months of not making an impact, because the movement in front of them was virtually non existant. Again, this is not a criticism of Crouch, outside of Pulis’ system there would be midfielders and full backs supporting the wingers but we don’t do that, so the whole attacking shape suffered leaving us bottom of every offensive table known to man at the end of the season.
Many would argue that Walters just didn’t live up to the highs of his previous season, that Matty was out of sorts, that Pennant had off field problems, but the fact remains that by bringing in Crouch 100% of the other attacking players in Pulis’ system suffered for the entire term and that is no coincidence.
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So now we are in talks with Michael Owen, yet another name for the manager to get starstruck by, where will he fit in though? He isn’t going to play the Mama role, he won’t play the Walters role and he isn’t going to usurp Crouch leading the line as Pete is much less effective going forward from deep and doesn’t have the agility to cope there. The only way that Crouch and Owen, or indeed any other striker we sign, will work is if the manager changes his system but we know that just isn’t going to happen. No matter how many strikers or wingers we sign, it’s the system + Crouch that is killing us and when you think that we were second bottom of the table for 2012 it really does paint a worrying picture indeed for the new season.
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