Let's Get Physical
Date: Thursday 5th May 2005Over the past season we've been tarnished with the overly physical brush, given the nickname of WimBolton and had probably the most exaggerated press against Tal Ben Haim. So where is the problem? Well, the way I see it, there is no problem. Lying sixth in the table and in touching distance of not only European football but Champions League football can only suggest that things in the Bolton camp are actually being done right. Ex-professionals and managers alike have all bemoaned the lack of old-school tackling in the premier league since it was formed in 1992. Yet rather than praising our new found physical strength and determined tackling, we once again find ourselves on the end of a scathing media. It seems, to the vast majority of football fans, that fair isn't fair in the premiership. The big teams are always the favoured ones and anyone to upset those gets on the rough side of the media. Take Everton for example, who have a style of play similar to our own - determined, physical and very organised - in a 4-3-3/4-5-1 formation. Yet while Gravesen's determined bouncer-esque battling went unpunished, Kevin Davies immediately becomes a thug for being the best at what he does - i.e. winning headers. It may not be the prettiest thing to watch, this six foot striker throwing himself around and not scoring goals, but its certainly effective. Since Davies' involvement with Bolton its easy to see why teams are so threatened by his work-rate and aerial ability that it won't be long till something like this becomes commonplace in professional football. Teams will start cottoning onto what the Americans have known for a long time, tall and strong is the traits of a winner. So much so that the entire sporting community is not only around six foot but also shaped in the way for the sport. Bret Favre and Peyton Manning (American Football) realistically only need to have decent throwing arms, yet they're physcially built in a way that not only suggests they could throw a ball but do almost every other position on the field. Yao Ming in the Houston Rockets (basketball) lineup is an astonishing 7'5", while a certain Rik Smits, a veteran Pacers star was 7'4 playing for over 12 years, least of all not forgetting Shaq. Shaq has pretty much made the court his own after growing to a size that stops even the lankiest of stars from reaching around and winning the ball off him. So, where does this fit in with football? Well, we've not only seen the insurgence of stronger players in the premiership (eg, Papa Bouba Diop), but also taller players. While Davies, Nolan, Gravesen, Vieira and Keane have all enjoyed successes in the sport by throwing round their body weight and pressuring players in what is aptly defined as 'dominating the field of play', players like Peter Crouch has excelled at using his superior aerial advantage to good effect, something which was vastly overlooked by previous managers. Peter Crouch is a resounding example of how height can be put to good effect, the beanpole striker is as effective as a broom when not put to good use, but like all great managers, Harry Redknapp has known the formula to gaurantee his abilities are used to the best of effect. While taller players have a great advantage, smaller players, on the other end of the scale have been caught wanting. David Seaman and Fabien Barthéz got caught out for being too small numerous times (World Cup and Premiership respectively). Not only that but the England team has suffered greatly for trying to play a style of hit and hope football that had no end product (vs. Portugal without Rooney, playing Defoe and Owen), it seems as evident now as it did back then that its a factor of play that should not be soon overlooked. While its probably unfair to suggest that Nicky Hunt is getting into the team simply because of his aerial height it seems that its one of the more favourable aspects of his play that he's being selected for. Especially considering he's about 6 inches taller than his closest rivals (Anthony Barness and Vincent Candela). It seems more and more likely that height is becoming a pre-requisite in todays defenses with the average Bolton signing being 6'1 (César, N'Gotty, Campo & Laville (6'1), Jaidi (6'2)). Its a shrewd tactic that is more than paying dividends in the number of clean sheets and the severe lack of last minute goals conceded. While I can't see the general number of talented five footers diminishing anytime soon, it seems less and less likely that the premiership will become over-run with five footers in the future. Fact of the matter is that the physical presence is here to stay. So for all of those Premiership featherweights, its either time to shape up or get out, because you're not gonna cut it if you stick around.