Friday, 18 May 2012

Steven Caulker - an appreciation.

I am a rock.

I've not previously been a great supporter of the loan system in Football, but this year has changed my perception, in a pleasant way, and it can't be argued that in the football pantheon, this year's pair of loanees have played a huge part in keeping Swansea City where we are.

Hey, it's where many of us Swans think we deserve to be.

The signing of Gylfi Sigurdsson in the January window undoubtedly made our team better, and one hopes that the Club can conclude some long term deal since he's expressed a preference to come back to the PL.

Our other loanee, the statuesque Steven Caulker from Tottenham Hotspur has been no less important in our quest for survival, and it can be argued that his has been the more important contribution which led us to an unprecedented 14 clean sheets throughout the season.

When my good friend Paul Smith of the estimable @spursodyssey website got in touch to ask for an approbation of SC's progress that he could pass on to his many and myriad Spurs supporters, I was genuinely enthused so to do. So this is it.

Prior to his arrival in SA1, I had, like many, done a little research on young Caulker, and had concluded that here was a young player getting better and better by the year.

He had spent the previous 2 seasons on loan at firstly Yeovil and secondly at Bristol City, and whilst there (at Bristol) I particularly remember being impressed by the youngster at the back who dominated all in the air and had mobility too, specifically when they played against us.

It's worth commentating here that whilst on loan to Yeovil he won 4 from 5 of the Club's end of season awards. That's the first point that needs to be remembered.

His subsequent season, along with his England U19 appearances, saw him loaned a Division upward, to Bristol City, where in his 30 game season (only cut short by injury) he again won the Club's Young Player of the Year award, with a nomination for the Senior Trophy also.

So, when he came to us, he came with a reputation for being an upwardly mobile youngster within the harsh world of the professional game.

I am delighted to say, that after a season long performance in the Barclays Premier League he has both survived, and thrived, adding both to our development as a Club, and his personal development as a player. So much so that on any sentient appreciation, this is a player we would be delighted to retain - on any basis.

His first games for us saw him tested both aerially and tactically/technically, and he showed up front that he was equal to both.

Our early season games saw him make the team immediately as our Club Captain, Gary Monk, was struggling with a foot injury, and he was more than equal to the task, coming out, as we did, with Home draws against Wigan and Sunderland (clean sheets both), and defeats to the Champions Man Citeh, and Arsenal at the Emirates.

He was an integral part of the side that was making its way into a decent attempt against Clubs of a higher profile, and his injury v Arsenal away was a direct result of his goal saving block where he subsequently crashed into the post. He bravely completed the game, but would then be out for a period.

After a break of some weeks, he returned to the side for a resume of his partnership with Ash Williams, and continued to perform such that his advancement and progression over the Club Captain Gary Monk was no longer debated by us fans - we'd learned that Caulker's performances were justified in keeping him ahead in the pecking order.

A word here for his style.

As I've said, his aerial prowess was indisputable, he was genuinely excellent in the air.

What got better by the week was his progression on his ground based game. From an out and out defender, at which he was obviously more than competent, what has been particularly pleasing has been his ever growing confidence in the constructive side of the game.

You Spurs fans will appreciate that, since, like us, you have a real attacking outlook on any game, looking for your superior footballing prowess being good enough to subdue any opponent. Tottenham, as a Club, have always had that progressive outlook, from your historic past to the illustrious present, and you discerning Spurs fans would accept no less, I know

The early season saw him confirm that he was a truly dominant aerial competitor - something we lacked - but as the weeks rolled on it became more noticeable that his ground based game, as said above, was advancing too. He had obviously been a capable footballer in all aspects, but what now became noticeable was that he was clearly capable of playing in the Swansea way.

What I mean about this is that whereas early in his days with the club he may well have sent a ball forward and long when pressurised, he'd now the confidence to turn back inside, retain possession, and build from there.

On the field, he continued to progress, and his excellent form mirrored the side's advance in continuing to pick up precious PL points.

Off the field there was a schism - but the way both he and the club handled it is testament to the sense and sensibility of both parties.

At the end of the day we, as fans, are sometimes loath to remember that these are young, impressionable men who are earning large amounts of money so to see them sometimes step off the "righteous" path shouldn't be quite such a surprise.

In one of Swansea's more salubrious night-spots, Wind St, young Steven, out celebrating with team mates, made a mistake that many young males have done before and since - namely to assume that he could cut corners when searching for a Toilet. He was caught, by the local law enforcers, in flagrante delicato as some would say. And didn't he just take some stick!

Local tabloids feasted, as they will, on the "SWANS STAR CAUGHT SHORT" type headlines, but, fortunately, Brendan Rodgers and Swansea management made sure it remained just a small and understandable aberration.

Steven was fined internally by the Club, with a sensible directive from BR to not be so foolish in future, and that was the end of that.

His performances continued to advance, much to our delight, and I can say truthfully that we were a lesser side when he was not available for one reason or another.

I'd point to the games where he didn't play as classic examples.

The nasty injury when he crashed against the post at the Emirates whilst saving a goal concession kept him out for 10 games, and whilst Gary Monk performed manfully for us, he nowadays lacks Steven Caulker's athleticism and aggressive dominance.

What you have in young Caulker is someone who will go toe to toe with the Andy Carrolls of the PL, whilst retaining the capability to compete with the Sergio Aguerro types on a technical basis. That's how good this boy/man has got.

On his return to the side , against Fulham in a 2-0 win in December, he then played every game to season's end, excluding the fixture at White Hart Lane, since, as your player he was not allowed to play.

He also  proceeded to demonstrate to us Swans that we'd got a realistic, dominant, PL Centre Back, who will undoubtedly go on to have an excellent career at both this level and higher.

My estimation is that this is a player who can progress from his already awarded U-21 Cap status to the Senior England Team. Of that I have no doubt.

I'd like to give those of you who haven't seen him play a hint of what he's like in terms of style, but that's difficult. I'll try, none the less.

If you imagine a player with Michael Dawson's passion, and aggressive commitment, with a touch more of a Ledley King type footballing brain, I would think you know you've got a genuine good 'un. This is a big CB who is both capable of mixing it and standing off to de-construct and defend, following that, moreover, with a want and need to set his team onto an attacking path.

At set pieces he has been inevitably for us the first to commit in a defensive situation, and the first to attack aerially when we are testing the opposition from incoming high free kicks. He has been unlucky only in that he has hit both bar and post from our set pieces, otherwise he'd have a PL goal or two to his tally.

Here's a link to Swansea's highlights of the season, and you'll notice he figures in several key moments, including a chipped pass to Gylfi Sigurdsson that set up our first goal in the win , 2-0, to Wigan away.

The talk within the dressing room is that this is a popular and contributing team-mate.

I have talked to several of our Staff and Players, and all say that his off field and collegiate temperament is first class. Similarly, on field, he has represented our Club with both passion and good grace, style as well, rarely being drawn into any "wound up" controversy but always capable of giving as good as he gets.

As the season has progressed, it's been both a privilege and pleasure to see his confidence on field grow - even as far as playing as the right sided member of a back 3 of a 3-4-3 against Wolves when Brendan Rodgers experimented in a crazy 4-4 draw.

He got an almighty chasing from Matt Jarvis, the excellent Wolves winger, but was exposed by our Midfielder in the 4 not giving him any protection whatsoever by doubling up.

No matter, he fought on, and followed it up by subduing the supposedly rampant Andy Carroll in our next Home game (and win) 1-0 against the now departed King Kenny. He didn't give Carroll  a sniff, and if Roy Hodgson chose Carroll for England at the Euros, he did it from performances against John Terry and Chelsea, because Caulker showed how to handle him - technical superiority, greater aggression, with advances with the ball toward the opposition that helped us win.

Most fans will recognise that we Swans have had a decent season. Indeed, our Home game against you Spurs was amongst the better examples of two decent teams going for a win, and I remain convinced that had Steven Caulker been available to us at the Lane when you won comfortably, Adebayor would have had a much much harder day.

That's how important he's been for us.

Swansea City, as a Club, are currently in negotiation with Hoffenheim to sign permanently the excellent Gylfi Sigurdsson. With regard to Steven, all we fans know that if there were a possibility to sign him either again on a loan, or (and I know it's not possible) permanently, we would do so in a heartbeat.

What you have is a top class PL CentreBack, right here, right now.

I honestly believe he will be among your 4 CB's in next year's PL squad. If he's not, I'll be astounded.

He made 26 from 38 Appearances for us in the League, was booked only twice despite being in the front line as he is as a CB, and has been a major part in the retention of our PL status, and we Swans will genuinely miss him.

It only remains to say thank you.

Thank you Steven for your wholehearted and classy effort. Thank you Tottenham for allowing us to use a top class player, and best wishes and regards to both SCFC and THFC in the coming season.

See you next year

Onward Tottenham Hotspur, Onward Swansea City.


spud said...

An interesting read, Pierre. As a Spurs fan we have very high hopes for Caulker, and it is encouraging that he has shown such quality and progress in his year with you.

I would also like to say that I thoroughly enjoyed watching Swansea last season. I am delighted that you defied the predictions by staying in the PL and look forward to seeing your cultured football for many seasons to come.

Anonymous said...

Very good article. I personally think it's 50/50 whether he is included in the initial Spurs squad come the summer. His progress at Swansea must make Harry very tempted to keep him there and learn even more. It may well depend on our search for another centre back in th TM, with Jan Vertonghen being our number 1 target.

One thing I would like to ask about is the style of Swansea's play. I've been saying what a great manager Rodgers would be at Spurs (sorry) But the point is some people give Martinez the credit for introducing the free flowing, passing game you have there, though I don't see Wigan playing the posession game quite so much. Would you say Swansea's style and success is more down to Martinez or Rodgers???

pierre91 said...

...although the style was introduced by Martinez initially, I think it's fair to say it's been both advanced and refined by Rodgers.

In between the 2, Sousa made us more defensively resilient, but at the expense of attacking- the clean sheet was all. What Rodgers has done is to encourage more adventure, and keeping the ball is now ALL important. That, allied with the high fast press are the 2 major changes I think.

Most of us love it, but we still get the occasional cry of "send it" or "shoot". Sigurdsson was the key to solving that problem, as he can score regularly, and from distance too.

Looking forward to playing you next year, well done on a fantastic season and good luck.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reply Pierre, good luck for next season.

Gonzo said...

Hi Pierre,

Thats a very good article with the rumoured imminent arrival of Vertoghen Caulker may find himself on loan again next season only time will tell.

Im glad he has done well at Swansea and its nice to read such a detailed account of how he played and his actions on and off the pitch.

All the best for the coming season Swansea are a very good team to watch and Rodgers has done a very good job.

pierre91 said...

...thank you all for the kind comments, it's genuinely encouraging to get the feedback.


Anonymous said...

Excellent article, Pierre.
As a Tottenham fan I've been hugely encouraged by Caulker's performances over the season, and hope that he'll get the chance to play a significant role at White Hart Lane next season.

I'd also like to say what a pleasure it has been to watch Swansea play football in the Premier League. Your win at home against Arsenal was particularly impressive. I'd never seen a team play the ball out from the back with such confidence, incredible to see. Total football.

Best of luck for the coming season, your team are a credit to the game.

Anonymous said...

It's great that you have taken the time to write such an eloquent post on a loanee. As a Spurs fan i'll see that as both a sign of the impact Caulker has made, and the good nature of Swans fans.

You've got a good thing going there, hope you keep progressing.

Thanks for this.