“Chavvy Alonso” Can Be A Real Hit With The Kop
Recent press speculation has questioned whether Charlie Adam will succeed at Liverpool, or how and where he will fit into the team. For Thierry Ennui, the debate is unnecessary, as common sense dictates that he will be a success. The evidence is there in plenty.
Michael Cox of Zonal Marking questions whether Adam can handle being a “small fish in a big pond” and whether he has the mentality to handle being less of a central figure in the Liverpool squad than he was at Blackpool. I would suggest that this reduced centrality works in Adam’s favour: where he was the focus-point of creativity in the Blackpool squad, he has reduced pressure of expectation at Anfield. Holloway said of Adam that “When he plays well, we play well”: such a burden on one man’s shoulders proves very heavy over an entire season. Wayne Rooney couldn’t sustain such form for a whole year in 2009-10, when at times his goals alone kept Manchester United in the title race, and similarly Adam began to look tired as Blackpool’s campaign drew on. His weary international performance against Brazil, complete with an injury scare in the later stages, spelled relegation trouble to Blackpool in Thierry Ennui’s mind – trouble that was proven correct at the season’s end. Cox suggests that Adam’s increasing inconsistency in the pass during 2011 was due to having “his head turned” by bigger clubs in the transfer window. This may well have been a factor, but I would suggest that the need to individually-generate goals to manufacture Blackpool’s survival forced Adam to become too ambitious with the ball.
However such vision, when stripped of desperation, is precisely what Liverpool need from Adam. Liverpool have not been the same squad since Xabi Alonso departed for Real Madrid – pundits have speculated about the fitness and form of Gerrard and Torres over the last couple of years, but it was Torres’ countryman, Alonso, whose presence has been most sorely missed. Kuyt and Suarez worked up a good partnership at the close of last season, and a fully-fit Carroll will exorcise El Nino’s ghost for good. Raul Meireles deputised for the injured Gerrard admirably, and Jordan Henderson will probably be moulded into Stevie-Gee-MkII. No, it is Xabi Alonso’s vision and range of passing that Liverpool have missed, and Adam will slot into a similar role very easily, as a Dundonian equivalent: a kind of “Chavvy Alonso”, if you will. As Cox points out, Alonso’s overall completion last season at Real Madrid was 85%, while Adam managed at best 81% in a game, and often less than that as the season wore on, averaging just 67%. Yet I would again suggest that fatigue and desperation were major factors. As the sole play-maker, Adam was trying increasingly unlikely passes to stave off the drop, with increasingly tired legs. Put him into the Liverpool squad, and the pressure is eased. Lucas Leiva has averaged an 83% pass completion rate, matching Alonso for the 2008-09 season, and Aquilani can be expected to provide similar support, while Jay Spearing racked up an impressive 83% rate in last season’s 1-1 draw with Arsenal that ended the title challenge from the Emirates. Yet their passing game is perhaps less Alonso’s vision and range, and more Mascherano’s possession recycling and short-distance safety.
There are two major factors that place Adam in a privileged position within the squad: set-pieces and his trademark diagonal passes to the flank. The latter will undoubtedly prove important, considering that Liverpool have just spent significant money on Stewart Downing, who provided the second-most crosses last season from open play (behind Leighton Baines). The former is significant for that other big-money buy, Andy Carroll. The big lad is virtually unplayable in the air on his day – he likely causes the collective Arsenal defence to wake up screaming some nights – and if Adam can put as many dangerous balls into the danger areas as he was capable of last season, in a squad that wasn’t particularly renowned for heading ability, then Liverpool will be up by about 10 goals at the end of the season. It is also interesting to notice that Adam assumed penalty-taking duties against Malaysia XI: something to add to his value if the gamesmanship of Luis Suarez comes to the fore.
So can Adam handle Anfield’s bigger pond? Well he started his career at Rangers, a club with a domestic pedigree that is arguably superior to Liverpool’s, and an overall history that is comparable; featuring European football, domestic titles, a packed trophy room, and demanding supporters. He wasn’t the centre of attention at Ibrox. He crafted a name for himself by giving Blackpool a fighting chance of survival with his cultured left foot. Now he finds himself in a talented, and increasingly youthful, British-based squad, which is clearly assembled with an emphasis on rotation, removed of the personal burden of supplying results on the solo. Furthermore, he is working under countryman Kenny Dalglish, who had already made headlines for his man-management skills in his nurturing of the previously-troubled Andy Carroll. Thierry Ennui confidently predicts that Adam will play a large part in a domestic season which will be one of Liverpool’s best in recent years.