I hope that this page will become an archive for my various articles relating to events in the sporting world. The posts on this page are in no way connected to any media organisation.
Tuesday, 5 June 2012
I really like
It would seem,
however, that there are a number of criteria that need to be
fulfilled for that statement to be true. To really like James
Constable, one must not speak of his weaknesses, offer suggestions as
to how his limitations could be reduced or consider alternatives.
With that in mind, entertaining the thought of selling Constable is
likely to render me a heretic.
That is the
thought going through my head though. I am changing my mind
constantly, but on the condition that any transfer fee in reinvested
in the right player(s), I can see an argument for accepting the right
I am an Oxford
United supporter. I don't have an allegiance to Chris Wilder or James
Constable exclusively. I support both. They both want the best for my
football club, whatever you may be told. We are embroiled in a
strange situation whereby you are either 'Team Wilder' or 'Team
Beano', as if Oxford United's support is divided by some teenager
inspired Twilight based allegiance system. The only thing I
understand about the various cliques is that it is unforgivable to
criticise Constable's contribution, but perfectly acceptable to
suggest that a desire to sell a footballer links directly to a
manager's ego and jealousy. That alone is ludicrous, but it seems
likely to be the summer trend.
three areas to approach when contemplating Constable's future.
Firstly, what are his strengths and how likely are we to see them
next season? What are his weaknesses and why are they increasingly
apparent? Finally, what will happen if he goes? There is little
chance of fans agreeing on all three factors, but the last one
appears the crucial element.
One of the
greatest strengths to James Constable is who he is and what he has
achieved. Beano was a phenomenal non-league striker. His goalscoring
record was exceptional, defences couldn't handle him and alongside
Wilder, he was the driving force behind our resurgence. As such, the
man is talismanic. When you think of Oxford United, James Constable
doesn't follow far behind. Fiercely competitive on the field,
Constable the man is humble, intelligent and a fine representative of
the club. To have Constable playing for Oxford United has been a
privilege and the idea of the club without him is difficult to
As a player,
he has plenty of qualities. He works hard in pressing defences, is
capable of bullying defenders (although he has been out-battled by
several over the years) and although far from perfect, there is more
faith in Constable burying a chance than many of his team-mates. More
than anything though, I can't remember a striker with such ability to
spin a defender. He sticks his backside into the centre-back, he
turns sharply and more often than not, gets a shot away or wins a
free-kick. Whether he plays to this strength enough is an issue that
I will cover later, but it is certainly an asset that I will
associated with Beano, wherever his career may take him.
If you take
the best aspects of Constable's game, he is an excellent striker. If
he could produce his best every week, he would not be a League Two
footballer. The frustration will always be that we know what he can
do. Thumping headers against Swindon and Wrexham, an acrobatic effort
against Bristol Rovers, opportunistic goals like those against Barnet
and Histon and the emphatic finish at Wembley provide the show-reel
of a striker who can score all sorts of goals.
We all know
what Beano is capable of, but more telling is perhaps a study of his
limitations. Every player has a price, but Oxford United are willing
to accept an offer around the £200,000 mark for a striker who has
scored 79 goals for the club. In a market where lower level strikers
are moving for vastly greater sums, there has to be a reason why bids
of this level are considered. On the other hand, there is clearly
something about Constable worth having as managers of clubs above
Oxford United are showing an interest. What is it about Constable
that Wilder doesn't like? Why did Scott Rendell come into the squad
and keep him out of the team?
criticism of Constable is his failure to negotiate the offside trap.
I am aware that few people agree with this, but I think that this is
one of the most frustrating aspects of his game. For a manager who
lines up with a 4-3-3 formation, this must be immensely frustrating.
The role of the nine in a 4-3-3 is to provide the focal point for
attacks. The ball has to stick with the front man, allowing the wide
players in the front three to become involved in the game further up
the pitch. Aside from possessing
the ability to hold the ball up (which Constable can), the key to the
number nine is always being available. Beano's recovery runs make
this very difficult. Oxford fans are quick to count the number of
seconds a goalkeeper holds onto the ball, but it may be worth
employing the same tactic to see how long it takes Beano to become
available for a pass after working beyond the defensive line.
fact is that while Beano is the wrong side of the defender, he is
unavailable for a pass. When one of your greatest assets is backing
into a defender, I fail to understand the logic behind consistently
placing yourself in a position in which your strengths are impossible
to utilise. As the man who is supposed to provide the platform for
all attacks, this is a criminal offence. There are few more effective
means of killing an attack than a player who is unavailable for a
pass. It isn't even as if Beano is in the Pippo Inzaghi class whereby
he is rubbish at timing runs, he simply doesn't return to a legal
position quickly enough. He's hardly attempting to achieve Michael
Owen's trademark run, lurking behind a defender before curving level
and sprinting clear. Constable's pressurising of defences is
exemplary, but he would be a better player within the team if he
worked harder in terms of his positioning when out of possession.
Wilder often spoke about the movement of his front men as being
disappointing in the second half of the season. Constable was no
exception to this. It appears that I am not alone in demanding more
from my team's striker.
against Torquay should have shown you all you needed to see about how
effective a number nine who does the right things can be. An
ineffective Constable was removed at half-time for Scott Rendell. The
Wycombe loanee doesn't possess half the attributes Constable has, but
simply by making himself available he transformed us into a vastly
superior team in the second half. Constable is the best forward that
we have at the club and the best that we have had in a long time.
However, something isn't working.
defence of Constable is that 4-3-3 does not suit him and that he
would score goals in the correct system. This totally overlooks the
fact that he has scored the vast majority of his goals for the club
whilst playing in this formation and seeks to exonerate Beano of all
blame. The system is not going to change, so for Beano to demand a
place in the team, he would have to prove that he is the best man to
play centrally in this formation. On last season's form, there is
little evidence of this.
scored in just 8 of his 43 appearances. Even with a total of 11
goals, a goal every 3.9 games is not good enough for a central
striker in a team that have a lot of the ball in home fixtures. There
are other factors in the low goal tally, but any perceived lack of
creativity cannot disguise the fact that Beano didn't score a goal
between February and the season's end. Speculation linking him to
Swindon may have been unsettling (and he deserves the greatest credit
for rejecting their advances), the form of the team as a whole was
miserable and he struggled to get a regular place in the team, but I
am certain that if it had been Dean Morgan who was frequently
offside, failing the control the ball and misplacing passes, the
atmosphere wouldn't have been so forgiving.
This is part
of the logic that confuses me. Chris Wilder turned the entire squad
around and won promotion, but we are rapidly reminded that this was
in the past. He must be judged now. However, Beano should be judged
by the goals from his past, rather than the disappointing season he
has just had. I would like Beano to score 20 goals as much as the
next fan, but I'm also going to use my head rather than my heart to
judge his performances. They haven't been good enough since December,
at the very latest. Scott Rendell scored twice the number of goals
per game as Beano in the season run-in. That tells you everything you
need to know about the dip Constable is in.
There is one
thing that concerns me more about a possible departure than anything
else. With 11 goals, Beano was Oxford's top scorer last season. He
has been our top scorer every year that he has been at the club. We
have tried to add to him in the past and possibly even replace him in
the second half of this season. We have never managed to permanently
sign an attacker who scores more goals than Beano, whoever we have
tried. If Constable agrees terms elsewhere, who will we bring in?
However poorly Beano has been playing, there has always been the
knowledge that he can do it. Whichever striker comes in and fails,
Beano was always there to steady the ship. If he goes, there will no
longer be a trusted insurance policy.
This is the
ultimate case of head VS heart. My heart wants Beano to stay and
become our all-time record goalscorer. I want him to score the
brilliant goals that he is capable of and I want him to spearhead the
attack that fires us to promotion. Even with that in mind, my head
says that the time might be right to part. The various transfer sagas
appears to have affected the player and the use of Constable's
situation to attack the manager is increasingly divisive. No player
is bigger than the club and to his immense credit, James Constable
has never tried to be. However, the situation is threatening to
stretch beyond all realms of logic. I will always admire Beano and be
thankful for his contribution to our club (whatever may happen this
summer), but I am uncomfortable with a situation in which football
decisions are criticised irrespective of a player's performance due
to his identity.
If you could
guarantee that Wilder would sign a striker of greater suitability
than Beano, I would have absolutely no hesitation in wishing him well
for the future and moving on. I can't overlook the feeling that we
need a fresh impetus up front. Cheltenham were successful with a
4-3-3 formation in which Ben Burgess played the central role. You
will never convince me that Burgess is a better player than James
Constable, but he works better as part of a team. I would take a less
spectacular, but more effective version of Beano any day of the week.
The club comes first and if Wilder can fit the pieces together, we
could become a better team.
That is the
big word, however. If. I think that any move for Jon Shaw (who may
well stay in the north anyway) would be in addition to Constable,
rather than a direct replacement. The man who would replace Beano
would be more likely to come from the calibre of replacements
outlined when Swindon submitted their offer in January. However, when
you have a man who has averaged 20 goals a season over four years, it
is a lot harder to bring a replacement in than it is to stick with
what you have and know. It takes a brave manager to sell a top
goalscorer when there is no guarantee that a replacement will
concern is that the fans who are so fond of Constable would not
afford any replacement time to impress. Beano himself took time to
settle at Oxford, but didn't have the expectations placed upon a
player who is replacing a club hero. Would our fans accept a
replacement or hold something against them because they are not
Beano? I'm not sure.
I don't think
James Constable is as good a footballer as his bond with Oxford fans
would suggest and I don't think he has been playing the role asked of
him as well as he could be doing. However, he is a player that I have
the greatest respect for. He is as close as we have to a club icon
and every one of his individual successes feels slightly more
significant than other players. If he goes, Oxford United will feel
very different. Constable's value is attributed as much to us as a
fan base as it is to his ability on the field.
I am also
fully aware that no words I write on the internet will make a jot of
difference to the outcome (others could learn from this). What will
be, will be. We will all have to deal with the consequences and no
amount of fan posturing will change this. There are both financial
and, in my opinion, footballing benefits to accepting an offer. If
the manager and chairman thinks that the timing is right, we have to
accept it. The loss of our four time top goalscorer would clearly
place more pressure on the manager. What Wilder would do in replacing
Beano (who we must not forget is still an Oxford player) would be a
crucial moment in his tenure. Despite the Deane Smalley's of this
world, I still trust him to get it right. The attitude of some would
suggest that Chris Wilder doesn't want the best for the football
club. If Beano goes, it won't be with a desire to harm our
Joey left. Even Jack Midson left. I want a successful Oxford United
with James Constable at the forefront, but I can understand why we
may opt to cash in and move on. No player, however close to our
hearts, will ever be more important than the club.