Winger Renaissance For British Football

by Joshua Fowler

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

This season, like all things at the moment, has gone retro. I’m not just talking old school kits or Marouane Chamakh’s mullet, even the type of players emerging have begun to hark back to simpler times. Over the past decade the modern winger has changed, we now associate the position with tricks and skills, we expect to see our wingers nutmeg a player twice before spinning the ball on his nose and crossing into the box with the back of his heel – or something like that. However, I argue that this all beginning to change.

When looking at the greatest established wingers in the world at the moment, we look at Cristiano Ronaldo, Arjen Robben and, when he’s put out there, Lionel Messi. Undoubtedly, these are three of the best players in the world and they all possess bags of tricks that will dumbfound most of the world’s defences. These are examples of what the past decade has built towards – wingers who cut inside, using step overs and various other quick footed techniques to draw defenders in before leaving them behind. It’s not exactly exclusively the past decade that has witnessed this type of play, but it has certainly become the ‘norm’ in this time, clubs in all leagues have this type of player and they tend to draw the biggest transfer fees.

But this season has seen the emergence of a new breed of winger, all trained in the ancient art of the direct run. Epitomised at the moment by the hype surrounding Gareth Bale, his style of play is fast, strong and straight. We all saw the now famous Inter Milan games, as Bale tore down the wings to score his hat-trick at the San Siro, he left Maicon scratching his head at the lack of attempt to cut inside using the tricks made famous by Ronaldinho and Ronaldo. It may be lacking in Europe, explaining the trouble Maicon had with Bale, but the direct winger is certainly on the rise again in English football. Bale has had the majority of the attention, but it has become evident that he is by no means the only one.

This past weekend I paid particular attention to Everton’s Seamus Coleman, whose direct, straight line burst down the right wing against Arsenal should have ended in a Tim Cahill goal. There were no tricks, no cutting inside, just direct attack. Although this didn’t cause Arsenal any major damage, Marc Albrighton’s similar style of attack certainly dented Manchester United’s defence, as it has done many teams this season. The Aston Villa player’s future looks bright under Houllier and he is now a figure in the England U21s, as was Theo Walcott – another prime example of the direct winger. Having suffered major criticism in the past, Walcott has silenced many critics this season with his impressive displays and has shown a lot of star quality. His runs are always direct and he rarely attempts anything but the straight line towards goal, but this has provided him with 7 goals in 8 appearances this season.

I am by no means ringing the death knell for the tricky winger, but I do believe we are seeing a real emergence of a classic type of player. Ronaldo and Robben remain on top of the world, scoring goals for fun and winning the biggest trophies in football and the likes of Adam Johnson show that this style of play is still coming through. But, through the likes of Bale, Walcott, Coleman and Albrighton, we’re seeing a different style of attack that we haven’t seen for quite a while and looking at the hype Bale generated in Europe with just two performances, maybe it’s a style that just might spread across the channel.

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