As seems to be customary with all of our squad this summer, Craig Gardner was recently linked with a move away from the club. With the possibility of a return to the midlands to play for West Bromwich Albion touted. It seems as if the press are on a warpath to make Paolo Di Canio’s clear out look more like a car boot sale.
Whilst there are some of us would rue the loss of the ex-Birmingham and Villa man, others would rejoice as yet more 'dead wood' became cleared from Wearside. There are certain attributes which Gardner critically offers the team. His ability to cover a variety of positions came in handy throughout last season, his barnstorming shot power often proves a threat and his evident passion, although not a game change, cannot be discounted. However, certain frailties in the midfielder's game are cause for sighing and grief all too regularly.
First of all, there's his habitually reckless tackling. Gardner possessed the least admirable disciplinary record in the premier league last season - 10 yellow cards and a red - more than making up for Lee Cattermole's absence as the team's infamous 'hardman'. A tendency to tackle is by no means a bad aspect of one's play, but Gardner's timing undoubtedly leaves a lot to be desired. His challenge on Charlie Adam in the penultimate home game of the season, a vital match in our bid for survival, was both foolish and dangerous. It also came during a minute's applause to commemorate Ian Porterfield's legendary goal 40 years on from the 1973 cup final, embarrassing and shaming the club at what should've been a moment of pride and recognition.
Another lacklustre component of Gards' game is his passing. This table shows a comparison in the distribution department between our 5 most prominent players classed as viable central midfield options:
(stats taken from Squawka)
Cast adrift in this comparison, nothing would point to the fact that he is not meant for midfield. However, it must also be noted that he had the longest average pass length of the midfielders with 21 meters. The fact that he was playing at right back for 24 of his 33 games doesn't help, as he was regularly making speculative passes to the often lackadaisical Adam Johnson.
There's also no doubt that he drew many plaudits for his displays in a less than familiar defensive towards the start of the season. I for one would have no quarrels with Gardner being used as a utility player, covering both his natural midfield position and the right side of a back four. It is still imperative that Roberto De Fanti and Valentino Angeloni find a right back, Gino Peruzzi or not, and Gardner would provide adequate, solid back up. His penalty taking ability is also unprecedented at the club, as he is yet to miss a spot-kick in his career. His powerful shot combined with his ability to play the ball off the ground with ease make him a great choice from 12 yards.
There is, furthermore, his free kick taking. Although much less accurate than that of Larsson, Gards has the occasional screamer in his locker, and provides a good option outside the range of the Swede. Although it is ultimately footballing quality which is required from our players, the passion showed by Gardner - amidst the grumblings and criticisms of him - is important. Our club is well known as one in which the players can 'feed off' the passion of the fans and Gardner's celebration following his goal against Fulham was 100% genuine and stirred the crowd up with much needed vigour in a dull period. And, despite missing the game due to his ignorant discipline, Gardner's appearance in the crowd in the derby further enforced his love for the club and supporters. Perhaps we should collectively repay this love more?
With all things considered, Gardner is a reasonable right back and gives it his all every game. But is he a player that should remain on Wearside this summer? Please leave us a comment!
Thanks to Joe Walton @JWalton9 for the pic.