The wasp & the water carrier
by Martin Bull
Bristol Rovers do not have the best squad in League One.
Bristol Rovers may not even have one of the best 15 squads in League One.
However, our manager, Darrell Clarke, pulls us several places up the table, and just like Gerry Francis did, often has a knack of spotting how, where and when to best utilise a player.
Yes there are times when you do wonder what possessed him to send out THAT team at Charlton Athletic, and why it took so long to get an old fashioned alpha male centre back in the squad (and rather like waiting for a bus, it seems like two – Sweeney and Burn – have come along at once), but there are many days where he and his backroom staff can pull a tactical masterstroke out of the bag, such as giving Stuart Sinclair the ‘wasp at a picnic’ role against Swindon Town; a license to harass the hell out of the Barcelona football that our West Country cousins, 20th in the third tier, are world famous for.
There were large sections of that match where Sinclair was like the incongruous bearded angel on top of the 4-3-2-1 Christmas Tree formation, operating beyond even the strikers, hunting down the increasingly uncomfortable Swindon backline and their lackadaisical keeper.
Excuse my sarcasm and cynicism but if anyone says ‘at least Swindon tried to play proper football’ I will have to politely remove myself from the room, climb to the summit of the nearest mountain and scream at the top of my voice once I get there. It’s either that or I throttle someone.
Whilst I like to see attractive passing football, Swindon’s alleged version of it is exceptionally boring, and became increasingly comical. As Rovers put a basketball-style ‘full court press’ on them they could hardly get out of their back third – yet they refused to change strategy. Whilst the analysts ‘rules’ of football may decree that you can only score if you have the ball, surely the caveat should be that you can’t score from behind the half-way line, so a large amount of increasingly itchy possession in your own half is utterly inane, especially when losing and needing to create your own openings.
Football fans can probably forgive a manager for being totally out thought, as Luke Williams or whoever did their tactics was, but what they won’t accept is a complete refusal to then change, adapt and counteract the other team.
I’d much prefer to watch football the way we play, mixing it up with different styles, amending tactics when necessary, and playing fast and committed in all positions. Like a dog with three legs means we certainly make the most of what we’ve got. Give me a Lines surging run any day over a couple of little triangles, give me a crunching Ollie Clarke tackle and the athleticism of Leadbitter, Brown and Sinclair over some lightweight Chelsea loanees, and give me a moment of Bodin magic ahead of any probing ball that your new colleague will probably not anticipate.
A photo from the 2016 pre-season shows the Beard leading the players in what seems to be the traditional, and highly feared, pre-season long run, with his exquisite owl tattoo flitting and flying off his ultra-lean chest. Behind him is Daniel Leadbitter, the ex-400m athlete and the man generally considered to be the fastest at the club. That picture, and the Swindon performance, just about sums up the stamina and fitness of Sinclair.
I’m not suggesting that we need ten Sinclair’s out there, but I do get despondent when people can’t recognise that we often need a Sinclair or two in the team doing a role they are TOLD to play. A football game is a performance just like an actors is, and sometimes supporters need to try to divorce the vision of the footballer themselves from the role they are asked to play on the green grass for the good of the team. When I sent this view to my brother he said it reminded him of people who used to confront John Altman (who played ‘Nasty’ Nick Cotton in Eastenders) on the tube and tell him what a vile man he is.
In this era when infantile footballers like Dmitri Payet and Leonardo Ulloa go ‘on strike’ to force a move that is purely in their interests surely the team loyalty and conformity that Sinclair shows is extremely positive and should be quietly celebrated.
I used to snigger along with Eric Cantona when hearing of his derision of Didier Deschamps as the ‘water carrier’, but as I’ve developed I no longer do. Balance is vital to football teams and finding that balance for different games is a real art, so comparing Sinclair to Lines just because they are both midfielders is meaningless, just as comparing an elephant to a pigeon would be just because they are both grey and possess a tail.
And as for wasps at a picnic? Well, I just usually put up a sign that reads ‘No wasps allowed’. It works for me.