Premier League? Piece of piss
Three of the more unexpected stars of this Premier League season so far, at least at Magic Spongers HQ, have been Blackpool’s Charlie Adam, Newcastle’s Andy Carroll and begrudgingly, his teammate Joey Barton. More remarkable than the fact they have held their own against Gerrard, Lampard, Drogba and Fabregas et al this season is that all three were Championship players less than a year ago.
The history of the Premier League is peppered with examples of strikers who scored goals for fun in the Championship and then couldn’t buy one the following season. Likewise, it is sprinkled with playmakers who would bamboozle defenders with ease on a Saturday afternoon at Vicarage Road before being totally anonymous at Old Trafford the following season. But does the rise of Adam, Carroll and Barton represent a sea change? Was there evidence last season that within six months Adam and Carroll would be coveted, and the latter purchased, by Liverpool? Carroll appears to be the exception, admittedly, but what exactly is the rule?
It would be disingenuous to not stick a caveat on Barton (no this isn't a euphemism). Without the baggage, it would be safe to assume that he would not have had to step down to the Championship. Newcastle threw him a lifeline when Manchester City got sick of him and have stuck by him despite various misdemeanours culminating in him serving 77 days at Her Majesty’s pleasure in 2008 for assault. Volatile personality aside, Barton has been superb on the pitch this season. It isn’t just his aggression and ball-winning skills that have caught the eye. Barton is accomplished on the ball, two-footed and has the vision to spot a through ball or cross and execute it. Without the priors, Barton would be a stick-on for the England Euro 2012 squad.
Carroll and Adam represent something different though. Carroll is 22 and the most expensive English footballer of all time. While you are digesting that, consider that he is the eighth most expensive footballer of all time. Nineteen goals in 42 Championship games cemented his reputation as a lethal marksman, deadliest in the air. Impressively, Carroll continued this form in the top flight, netting 11 in 19 Premier League games this season so far. Do these stats a £35m striker make though? Well that is up for debate. The consensus would seem to be "HAHAHA". But as covered on these fair blog pages last month, transfer deadline day is a ludicrous concept; Sky’s wet dream, a hypothetical air raid siren spreading panic across the country as zero hour approaches and spotty-faced teens burn (or attempt to burn) football shirts in club car parks.
There is no denying Carroll has a bright future in the game. He is tailor-made for the Premier League and keeps ex-pros salivating because he resembles the old-fashioned, blood and thunder big man of days yore. Not to do him a disservice though, he does possess a hammer of a left foot, as Pepe Reina found out back in December. Don’t be surprised if he forges a deadly partnership with Luis Saurez when he makes his comeback from injury.
Charlie Adam’s influence on his side has been even greater. A playmaker from the old school stable, Adam has a wand of a left foot. He’s supplied some of the best long range passes of the season and has a decent goalscoring return for a centre midfielder – eight in 27 games in all competitions. Last season, the Scot was inspirational, scoring 17 in 46 games and more often than not dictating play with his wonderful passing range. Adam’s rise this season is all the more remarkable when you consider he was something of a laughing stock at Rangers, early in his career, where he was far from the bedrock of the side and had to suffer the ignominy of being shipped off to Ross County and St Mirren on loan.
Watching Adam last season, you’d have backed him to make an impression in the Premier League but it would have been the most optimistic of Blackpool fan predicting such a huge influence on the Seasiders’ campaign. His suspension for their next two games – against Wolves and Chelsea – could be especially significant.
On the whole, the standard Championship player that moves up a division will amount to no more than an average Premier League player. Now this certainly isn’t to do anyone a disservice, moreover, it is more a case of finding a level and simply not being able to operate on the very highest stage – the Championship is a very good standard of football, lest we forget. And if said player can do no more than an average Premier League player, at least they can also do just as much.
To highlight the impact of the aforementioned three, it would be beneficial to remember some of those who have looked tremendous in the Championship but have been unable to make their mark on a regular basis at the highest level. For every Charlie Adam, there are 10 Chris Eagles. I mention Eagles because he obviously has the pedigree – he went through the ranks at Manchester United – and is a firm fan’s favourite at Turf Moor. But watching him tear Watford apart with twinkling feet less than a fortnight ago made me immediately ponder whether he could do this regularly in the Premier League. Everton were linked with him in January after all. On last season’s evidence though you would bet against it as he would much too often go missing in games.
Michael Chopra is another good example of the difficulty faced by Championship forwards when attempting to step up to the Premier League’s exacting standards. It’s all very well masquerading as an apple in a bag full of onions, but rest assured that even a hint of onion will be quickly rooted out should you suddenly find yourself in a bag of apples.
If yo-yo clubs are a prevalent expression, then Chopra is the archetypal yo-yo player. Before 2007-08, the Cardiff City striker had never spent two consecutive seasons in the same division, though every other season to that point had brought a chance to prove himself at Premier League level. Two seasons with Sunderland have since been followed with three in the Championship. His overall Premier League appearance to goal record is 57-9. In the Championship, it’s 148-62 and he’s been in the Team of the Season in 2006-07 and 2009-10. Add in 17 goals in 39 for Barnsley in League One, and you can see where I’m coming from.
Darren Huckerby, best known for usually scoring at least one brilliant solo goal a season, is a more surprising example. His best ever season in the Premier League is a decent return of 14 goals from 34 for Coventry in 1997-98. Other seasons in the top flight returned hauls of 0, 5, 9, 0, 2, 0, 1, 1 and 6. Seasons in the Championship have provided 60 goals in 202 games – an average of 10 a season, compared with four a season in the Premier League (in 201 games overall). Never prolific, Huckerby was ocassionally wonderful value on Match of the Day but more often than not he’d be anonymous beyond the odd flick or trick. Going back even further, Guy Whittingham was lethal at Portsmouth between 1989 and 1993, scoring a remarkable 88 goals in 149 league games, but was unable to replicate such form in the Premier League at Aston Villa or Sheffield Wednesday, hitting 5 in 17 while at the former and 22 in 90 at the latter.
It’s easy to use purely statistical means to gauge the success of a striker but the proof appears to be in the pudding. A lesser standard of defending in the Championship means a higher goal to game ratio. But at the other end of the pitch, one need look no further than Birmingham’s Scott Dann and Roger Johnson to see a recent example that Championship defenders can successfully adapt to life in the Premier League too. Dann made his name marshalling the Coventry side of 2008-9 so well and has formed a rock solid partnership with Johnson, who spent three seasons with Cardiff City before moving to St Andrews.
The Adams and Carrolls are the exception, that is a given. But come next season, there will be a queue of attacking talent headed by the likes of Adel Taraabt, Connor Wickham, Shane Long, Danny Graham et al. Should QPR gain promotion, will arguably the most skilful player in the Championship, Taraabt, be able to step up? Damian Comolli is a master spotter of talent and believes the Moroccan has what it takes, and judging by the Championship league table, we may not be waiting much longer to see his considerable talents gracing the Premier League.
Carroll and Adam may have gone against the grain in fitting in so seamlessly at a higher level but this should offer Championship clubs genuine hope that the Premier League can bring the best out of their players rather than show them up for being out of their depth.