Archive | June, 2014

How do you solve a problem like Gonzalo?

29 Jun

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Part of me was so proud to see Gonzo plying his trade at the highest level against the likes of Neymar and lining up alongside Sanchez. After all, he was one of ours and it mattered not that the commentary teams employed seemed oblivious to the fact that we released him this summer: the fact remained that we had a Nottingham Forest player as an integral cog in in a well oiled machine who gained as many plaudits as current press darlings Southampton.

Of course, there was a flip side.

Gonzalo Jara Reyes was beyond poor after Christmas: he couldn’t find a red shirt with a pass if his life depended on it and his body language stank the place out. Would the real Gonzo please stand up?

It was with a rubbernecking interest that I, perhaps like most Trickies, watched Chile make hard work of Australia. Despite a few misplaced passes, he excelled on the left of a back 3, (occasionally, dangerously close to a back 2) industrious in his closing down and comfortable on the ball, trusted with it enough to be a vital outlet to initiate many of Chile’s fast forays down the left side. Admittedly, La Roja were occasionally found wanting at the back due to a lack of height – a tactic exploited by Brazil in that epic knock out game – with Gonzo pressured into an own goal by David Luiz (no matter what FIFA may declare). But to apportion blame to Gonzo for this would be harsh even for his most vindictive antagonist. His lack of height is not his fault (unless he is to be held accountable for his distinct lack of eating of his greens as a child) and Chile’s goals against record in this World Cup stands up to anyone’s. And if you want to point the finger at him for missing a penalty then you have a fat black heart as cold as a Magnum with a slice of ice arrowing through its centre.

So why then is he no longer one of ours and currently flying home or a well earned rest before turning up for duty for pre season training facing a certain Stuart Pearce wielding a clipboard with a plan marked (in comic sans) ‘build a brave back 3 around Hobbs, Wilson and the small dude who played at the World Cup’?

After all, cast your mind back pre-Bramall Lane and Gonzo was quite a player: his pocketing of Jamie Ward very early in his career on Trentside under McLeish, his outstanding pass completion rate in key games around Christmas time when he and Reid bossed the midfield like…well…totally unlike Gerrard and Henderson in Brazil.

OK. Ok. I am glossing over his performances after this in which he matched Billy Bob Thornton for his performance as ‘The Man Who Wasn’t There’. But then again, he wouldn’t be alone in that would he?

Perhaps Billy Davies simply couldn’t work out what to do with this scurrying little fella. He tried him at right back and as part of a holding midfield pair but still we only saw glimpses of the Chilean shiny cog. It would have been, and would be, a brave man who built a whole defence around him to accommodate such a small player in the hurly burly occasionally very direct world of the Championship with its bustling Sam Vokes and Leonardo Ulloa. And even Billy’s most staunch defender (if there are any left out there) would have to admit that tactically, he ain’t everyone’s favourite James Richardson lookalike Jorge Sampaoli.

Maybe Billy was on a sticky wicket with him anyway. Although this is utterly unsubstantiated, he struck me as a man with few friends at the City Ground: not reviled but simply distant from his teammates. Respected without being liked. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that but if you throw in his apparent lack of effort from February onwards then maybe there’s little to support the argument that Billy could’ve handled him better and got more from him. But that’s difficult to do if said player is playing within himself or saving himself for the bigger fish in the shape of Hulk (see what I did there?) with whom he has to fry.

The Chilean team is clearly one that operates in a distinctive style in which each player performs a specific role, whether they play that same position at club level or not. As far as Sampaoli is concerned, Gonzo knows his specialized role and performs it admirably for him. Here’s a thought: if only certain other national teams put the collective above individuals and their supposed ‘right to play’ or employed a specific style of play that suited them rather than tinkering in order to nullify opponent’s threats or, accepted their limitations and focused on a system that maximized their capacity, regardless of personnel. But perhaps that debate has already happened and besides, I haven’t got the stomach or the enthusiasm for it.

As far as the Great Gonzo is concerned though, no doubt he’ll end up at some hipster of a football club such as Southampton or, more likely, Fiorentina or Napoli and establish himself as a top flight harrying defender. He certainly isn’t the first to save himself for a World Cup (step forward Oscar) and he won’t be the last. Nor is he the sole reason why our season disintegrated into a thousand shattered pieces post February. In many ways, he mirrors Billy’s second stint in that he was impressive at first but gave way to not giving a toss towards the end.

Does he deserve our vitriol? No. I for one wish him all the best and can now see what I suspected but was never quite sure of: he is a talented player who, given the right deployment, can be an asset to a team, even at the very highest level. ‘The Great Gonzo’? Not quite, but certainly ‘The Very Competent Gonzo’.