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The Quarantine Selection – Wide Midfielders/Wingers 14/06/2020

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

To repeat:  my favourite wide midfielders/wingers of the past 40 years, not necessarily the best.  Definitions slightly arbitrary but there’s no “right” answer here… attacking wingbacks are wingers, defensive wingbacks are full backs.

And there’s a quiz at the end, as per.

10 Peter Kennedy

9 Roberto Pereyra

8 Don Cowie

7 Neal Ardley

6 Nigel Callaghan

Peter Kennedy was great.  Being top scorer from wing back in a title-winning season was a cool thing, doing it in the number 3 shirt even cooler, and being a decent wide man without a lot of pace a good trick if you can do it.  He signed 23 years ago, by the way.  Jesus.  Bobby P…  I know he’s had downs as well as ups, he’s not been great this season (5 in 17 starts mind).  But a statement signing when he arrived – get us, signing Argentine internationals from Juventus – and a wonderful blend over the four seasons he’s been here… deft without being flashy, gritty without being dirty, energetic without being only energetic.  And a purveyor of fine goals, Leicester, Chelsea (more than once), Brighton.  Says something that he’s not an automatic pick.  Don Cowie, the duracell bunny…  when you’re the team we were, struggling in the Championship, then a bloke you’ve never heard of from Scotland turning up and just changing the whole dynamic of the team is a fine fine thing to be cherished.  Neal Ardley… 150 top flight starts before he signed, another winger without a lot of pace but what a cross on him.  That stock goal, Ards dumping into Heidar’s orbit at the far post, Heidar propelling ball, goal, everything goalwards was undefendable.  A decent bloke too, the rancour when he left for Cardiff even less justifiable in retrospect than it was at the time.  And then Cally, another who didn’t have to beat his man.  He could put a ball wherever you wanted it, had a foot like a traction engine when given a shooting chance with just enough audacity and rough edges to make him a cult hero in any team, let alone one that successful.

5- Ismaïla Sarr

Yeah, I know.  Sue me.  In fairness there were probably times when Will Buckley, Rod Thomas or Anthony McNamee would have made this top ten, at the zenith of their potential when they were an exciting maybe with all sorts of possibilities in front of them.  Sarr is different gravy altogether though;  he should be, given the whatever-you-choose-to-believe that we paid for him.  But what is not to like about this kid.  Quite obviously shy, humble, out of his comfort zone…  but capable of almost anything.  Liverpool was the headline of course, the siren to the rest of the Premier League in case there were folk who hadn’t been paying attention.  His full debut against Coventry was the first “Good God” moment though.  Faced with an opponent on the half way line his first touch appeared awful, propelling the ball haphazardly down the line towards the Rookery and a goal kick.  Except that as you watched it the backspin on it held it up in the corner.  You shifted your gaze back towards the player with a slow realisation that echoed the “shit, we’re going to score” of the Deeney goal against Leicester.  This was no clumsy miscontrol;  Sarr was well past his man, chasing the ball that he knew would hold up.  Good god.  What a tantalising cliffhanger to pause the season at.

4- Nicky Wright

He had one season, really.  Yes, his Watford career stumbled on for another three-and-a-half years after the summer of 1999.  But he only started five more games, and didn’t finish any of them.  Injury did for his career at the age of 24.

It’s not impossible that he simply wouldn’t have been good enough for the Premier League, perhaps not have sustained that remarkable first season back in the second tier either had injury permitted him to try.  Had that been demonstrated he might not have made this shortlist.  As it is, he was a firework on the right flank from start to finish, hurtling around at speed with colour and vigour, barely seeming to break stride before fizzling out and being dragged off barely able to walk.  He was subbed 21 times in 34 starts in 1998/99.  And the big bang, of course, the big dramatic explosion was that goal at Wembley.  It was beautiful, poetic, tragic.  But not a completely accurate way to remember him.  He would, after all, have needed to be standing still briefly before executing it at all.

3- Ikechi Anya

The best bit about that goal, that Deeney goal, was Ikechi Anya.  On the back of 270 minutes against Leeds and Leicester in the preceding week he collected Marco Cassetti’s belted clearance after Almunia’s second block to Knockaert’s pen.  And he was moving at full pelt again and yet his touch was ridiculous…

Troy once described Ikechi in interview as “a special individual”.  Wasn’t that the truth?  Born in Glasgow to a Nigerian father and Romanian mother he started his Watford career at full speed and rarely slowed down for three years.  You got energy, you got willingness, you got an outlet, you got a threat.  You didn’t always get anything terribly coherent, but Ikechi was always available, always positive, always fun.  Scoring against Germany for Scotland left him exclaiming that “he couldn’t even score against Manuel Neuer on FIFA…”. Never, realistically, destined for a long Premier League career but you’d have put money on him being a success at Derby.  Sadly injury intervened;  coming to the end of his contract this month, he last last turned out for the Rams in the 2018 play-off semi-finals.  A crying shame.  A tremendous footballer.

2 Tommy Smith

A third Derby or ex-Derby man in a row, and a fifth in the top ten.  Perhaps Glyn Hodges should have gotten a mention too on that basis.

Tommy Smith’s problem at first was exactly what to do with him.  He made his first appearances in the side at seventeen but was already whispered about as something exciting.  At that age you can get away with that… a bit of willing, a bit of exciting, a local boy, that’ll do.  Everyone loves you.  Before he was twenty, Smudger was scoring against Manchester United in the Premier League.  All good.  The thing was…   he wasn’t strong enough to be a striker, didn’t kick the ball hard enough frankly.  And he wasn’t quick enough to be an out and out winger.  So he would wander around somewhere in between.  Had his Watford career ended for good in 2003 when he left, out of contract, for Sunderland having been upset by his omission from Ray Lewington’s starting eleven against Southampton in the cup semi final it would have been remembered fondly but slightly wistfully, what could have been.

At least one regular BSaD correspondent was underwhelmed when he returned from Derby in 2006.  But if there’s a secret to success it’s in navigating your deficiencies, making the most of what you’re good at (any number of young wingers in particular could be cited as negative examples here).  Smith didn’t come back quicker, or stronger.  But he was clever.  He turned being not-quite-a-striker-and-not-quite-a-winger into an art form, a thing of beauty in its own right.  Its own genre.  He was utterly magnificent for three years winning consecutive Player of the Season awards in the process.  That his last goal at Vicarage Road clinched a title for QPR feels kinda wrong, but at the same time he was a player and a person befitting of better than being just our secret.  A star.

1 John Barnes

John Barnes was almost unfair.   Tricky, yes.  Great feet, two of them.  But quick too.  Oh, and as strong as an ox.  Decent in the air.  He could cross a ball as well… 1986 World Cup Quarter Final anyone?  Twice?  And consistent… never less than 43 appearances and that his first season, aged 17/18. 14 goals in that campaign and then 13, 15, 16, 13, 14.  It was remarkable that we held on to him for six years, even then… and there were stories, no doubt some based in fact and approaches that we never heard about.  How could there not be?  Inter were mentioned at one point.  There was even a song about him not going to QPR very early on, but my finger wasn’t quite on the pulse at the age of 8.  Perhaps someone remembers?

It was entirely appropriate that his star continued to rise at Liverpool.  Would have been wrong if it hadn’t.  He was the star of an extraordinary team, even by Liverpool’s standards, from his debut at Highbury.  You couldn’t have been happier for him.  And the old thing about him not quite doing it for England is belied by 79 internatioanal caps, 11 goals including the one at the Maracana… and his startling impact on that Quarter Final against Maradona’s Argentina, both of which when a Watford player.

For those of my generation – I’m nearly ten years younger than Barnes – he was an idol from the off, from the moment I watched his debut off the bench against Oldham from the North West corner terrace in 1981.  And that leads into the other significance of Barnes’ role at Watford and more widely.  Plenty of things influence folks’ opinions on race, attitudes to race.  Barnes wasn’t the first black player to play for Watford or for England.  One of the first though.  And for me, with Luther already in the team and with the likes of Charlie Palmer and David Johnson on the fringes it was just normal.  It wasn’t even a thing.  The likes of Barnes, but Barnes in particular, were role models for black kids, sure, but for everyone they started to create a picture where race didn’t even come into it, a detail.

Not irrelevant though.  How could it be.  Liverpool as a city surely had no more or less of a racism problem than anywhere else at the time;  he wasn’t the first black player to play for Liverpool either but he was the first to be a star for either of the big Liverpool clubs.  My wife is African;  I’ve been in environments in Africa where I’ve been the only white face in a crowded black environment.  Never hostile, I didn’t have to cope with anything more challenging than curious kids or enthusiastic beggars but it was daunting anyway.  Being different, visibly different, is daunting.  It’s impossible to imagine what Barnes had to cope with throughout his career.  For being black, for being successful.  Raheem Sterling still gets it now, imagine if you were amongst the first?  We’ve all seen the picture of him backheeling the banana off the pitch, that wouldn’t have been an isolated incident.  Hell, he’s still getting it now on Twitter, fuelled by the poisonous current climate, by the cowardly, the stupid, those ignorant of or with a very selective understanding of history and incapable of empathy.  And he’s dealing with it head on, as ever.

But had he been white he’d still have been top of this list.   Not just one in a generation.  One in several lifetimes.


Right.  Enough of that. Will try to get strikers done before it all kicks off, and maybe managers at some point…  wingers/wide midfielders quiz is here.  Every central midfielders to have appeared in competitive action for the ‘orns since the start of 1979/80…  to reiterate, I get to decide who’s a central midfielder and who isn’t .  Central midfielders to have appeared in friendlies only are hidden bonus answers – some of them.

Wingers / Wide Midfielders Quiz


1. Paul Morris - 14/06/2020

No Scullie? Shows your age you young whippersnapper!

2. James - 14/06/2020

I’ve never understood Ashley Young’s lack of popularity. Obviously a great player for us. I’ve never met him, but he seemed like a nice enough bloke in interviews. Is he an idiot on social media or something? I don’t follow any of that so I wouldn’t know.
He’s number two on my list, right behind Smith. (Barnes was before my time)

Matt Rowson - 14/06/2020

Personally don’t dislike Young. Was keen when it looked like he might come back and he’d clearly be top 10 in terms of ability. But I never warmed to him particularly. I know that some have an issue with the gracelessness with which he celebrated his goals against us a couple of years back. I couldn’t possibly take sides there for fear of alienating one or other side of a heated discussion I enjoyed at Old Trafford last season…

Will - 15/06/2020


3. Harefield Hornet - 15/06/2020

Nepotism- for loyalty and scoring the fastest goal and one of the most unusual goals at the Vic. Way before your time – my hero Brian Owen!!

4. Old Git - 15/06/2020

Ah Brian Owen! Scores after 12 seconds against Barnsley and still we managed to lose 2-1. But of course we beat Tranmere with the amazing in-off-the-floodlights goal back in 1969 that nobody who was there will forget. With Roy Sinclair playing for Tranmere alongside Lancashire pace bowler Jimmy Cumbes.
Great choice of midfielders Matt and I know the rules (YOUR favourites, nobody else’s) but Cally down at number 6? Have you taken leave of your senses? However, on account of your relative youth at the time, I will say no more about it.

5. Big Al - 21/06/2020

At last, someone else happy to prosletise about Anya’s role in the Leicester goal. It’s missed in the original footage, understandably focusing on the heroic keeper and crestfallen diver. But, rather like Hogg’s run, it’s when you see the goal in landscape that you appreciate what a thing of beauty it is. Outrageous skill. But that’s also the gift of THAT GOAL – you can watch it over and over, disregarding that it led to a poor Wembley display, and take both joy and something new from it every time (see, for example, Schmeichel’s Kung Fu when the crowd invades).

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