With El Abd Goes the Withdean Era

So the last time I posted it was a farewell to Bridcutt who hasn’t left yet. Never did I think I would be posting a goodbye to stalwart Adam El Abd. He goes with massive thanks.

Adam: Thanks for always giving every ounce of effort you had. Thanks for patting everyone you ever annoyed on the head. Thanks for “examining” Andy Carroll. Thanks for giving us one of my favourite ever football songs. Thanks for being one of us. Most of all thanks for appearing in that God Awful fly on the wall documentary. You were the only thing on it worth watching.

The club as I know it is dying a little. The final clear out of the Withdean era is upon us. With Dick Knight gently eased out and now Barnes and El Abd sold the club is unrecognisable even from the one that won League One under Poyet. The reserve goalies remain and, er, that’s about it. I bet they’re even trying to get Casper to give up smoking.

There is a choice to be had here. To want to succeed we have to try to go up. To be “Premier League Ready”. However much we as fans respect Adam could you see him as a first choice Centre Back in the Premier League when he’s third choice now? I have seen tweets claiming he was better than Greer and I despair at them. Being a fans’ favourite is one thing but you’re never going to displace the club captain, especially when he has a better range of passes. It’s a cliché I’ve seen many times in the last few hours but, at this stage in his career, Adam needs to play regularly.

Since the transfer that other Withdean stalwart Tommy Fraser has been on the wind up on twitter. Fishing trip it may be but there is a touch of bitterness. The sub text is “if only I could have played at the Amex.”

When I walk in to the West Upper on a match day I see a lot of fellow fans that I know or recognise. Most from the Goldstone. Many from Withdean. These faces have got older and filled out a bit but they have been part of the club since I started going. The fans will never change but the club has inexorably. Losing one of us may hurt but it reinforces the choice we have between the past and future.

I’m with the future. At the moment it’s a little like seeing a band you loved in a dark pub in front of twenty people have a number one album and start to play stadiums. You want to scream “sell out”. The papers that are Too Cool For School do scream “sell out”. But deep down you know it’s best all round, that new eras are inevitable, that it’s better to be successful than dead.

Reading, Bridcutt and Poyet

The general aim of this blog is to take a more light hearted view of the Albion. Anyone expecting this to be even vaguely amusing, however, should look away now.

Firstly a big congratulations to everyone involved in the Reading FA Cup game. A dominant performance spoiled only by repeatedly hitting the bar again, it ranks as one of my favourite days out at the Amex. Thanks to the reduced pricing I was able to take Boy and his mate and try out the West Lower for a change. The view was very different to my usual lofty one in the WSU and, while I missed the perspective, it was great seeing the  players so close up and them getting to hear us (and vice versa). Two of the best bits of skill of the game, first from Agustein, then Lua Lua , also took place right in front of us. It sent the boys home buzzing. Perhaps the only thing it was missing was a virtuoso string tugging performance by Liam Bridcutt. By last night I think we all knew why.

The facts as I understand them are this; Sunderland have lodged a transfer bid for Liam believed to be in the region of £2.5 million initially. So far no deal has been done or accepted. Therefore, last night, Bridcutt handed in a transfer request. Also he has the same agent as Gus Poyet.

I’m now going to try and make the difficult case that Sunderland should pay more than this but also that we don’t really need him anymore. Wish me luck.

They should pay more. Liam Bridcutt has been our player of the season for the last two seasons running and for good reason. He is the sort of player that is essential to the way a Poyet team sets up. If you are a Sunderland fan and reading this then understand that this is what you will be getting. The ball will come to your goalkeeper who will be expected to play a simple ball to one of the back four. They will spend the next five minutes (ok, maybe not literally but it will feel like it) passing the ball between themselves a la Ray Wilkins. The second this actually opens a gap in the opposition’s shape (and in the Premier League I fear this could take a very long time indeed) Bridcutt will make himself available at the base of the midfield. He’ll collect the pass and assess the situation. If the shape is still not there from the opposition he’ll find a telling ball to one of the more attacking midfielders or play it out in neat triangles. If the opposition have organised again he will play it back to the back four. And so it will go on.

Liam is really valuable when the opposition has it however. He can read and break up play and, for a little bloke, he wins his fair share of headers. Once he has won the ball back in this way he can set you going forwards again.

To use an American Football analogy he is both Quarterback and Strong Safety. He can dictate the play and break it up. A Chelsea trainee, he must have spent time watching Makélélé play even if it was just on video because that’s his role. £2.5 million for this is a bargain.

We don’t need him. Last season, losing Bridcutt would have sent me in to meltdown, so key was he to Poyet’s style, so few other players were there who could do that job. Under Oscar Garcia, however we really only need the Strong Safety element of his game. A quicker passing game that can bypass the base of midfield is what we are after and what we are increasingly playing. Furthermore we have Rohan Ince or Keith Andrews who can fill in to the midfield holding role. Neither reads the game as well and I am yet to be convinced by Andrews (though he was excellent against Reading) but the point is they can do a job, and that job is less critical. Bridcutt has been missing for most of the season and has not been himself when he’s returned. We lay seventh, equal on points with sixth placed Ipswich and in the fourth round of the cup. Losing Liam will no longer be the disaster it would have been.

So why the transfer request? Why has he not been the same player? The answer is simply Gus Poyet. Anyone who thought we were done when he quietly dropped his legal action were very mistaken. Gus has an ego the size of Uruguay and he was always going to try and strike back at Burke, Barber and Bloom or whoever it was he feels slighted by. Unsettling a player he regards as pivotal was the ideal opportunity to do just that. Of course it’s just possible that Liam hasn’t met the agent that they share since Gus took up the reigns at Sunderland. It’s just possible that , if he has, the prospect of playing up there has never even been mentioned. Perhaps they played golf and discussed the weather. But I don’t think so. The fact that Gus has also bid under the odds (at least in terms of us recouping our outlay) on the hamstrung Will Buckley, speaks volumes that what he is trying to do is unsettle our squad rather than make a purchase. There is simply no way I can see Bloom and Barber saying yes to either deal.

So what if he ups the offer? The irony is that, not only is Bridcutt less of a key man now, but Gus could be doing his career serious damage. At Christmas Sunderland were bottom. History tells us they are going down. There is every chance of us getting in to the playoffs. It is not fantasy land to suggest that we could swap places. It is not fantasy land to suggest that if Sunderland stay in trouble their fans will be on the team and manager’s back. It is not fantasy land to suggest Ellis Short has an itchy trigger finger.

Poyet has gone out of his way to unsettle a player who deserves Premier League football. The problem is he may not be able to give him very much of it.