Premier League’s Premier Wingers: Returning From The Wilderness To Shape The Season

It’s not always easy to fit into a new club, new environment, new traditions and new routines and certainly not easy to adapt to a different league altogether; but such is the life of a professional footballer that the challenge has to be taken up. When an athelete moves one step further to the next level, he enters the ‘big league’; a league where mediocrity stands no chance, a league where time is of the essence and a league where supporter’s patience is often non-existent.

Deliver or perish, explode or implode, an immortal hero or an eternal villain – fans love and adore their players like gods but they can be just as fickle as a fox and turn their backs when the performances are not as per their expectations. The biggest ignominy for a professional football player would undoubtedly be the day his followers boo him off the field.

However, little patience and time can go a long way in bringing the best out of a player and extra support can fuel the confidence of a player till no end. After a disappointing or an unpopular beginning, there are some which lose the plot and fade into non-existence and there are others who fight back harder to re-earn their lost respect.

Barclay’s Premier League 2009/10 has been a story of the revival of three left-wingers who have pushed their side to greater things. While one French winger is on the verge of winning his club the league, another Portuguese wingman is responsible for keeping his club in the hunt for the title. A Welshman, on the other hand, has played a key role in securing Champions’ League football for the first time at his club. These three wingers have been one of the stories of the English season.

We call them TheHardTackle’s right left-wingers...

Florent Malouda – The renaissance

A French national team regular, who had ‘done it all’ in his home league was looking for a fresh new challenge when opportunity came knocking on the door. The Russian mafia from London were too big to be turned down. Though Liverpool were also in the fray but Chelsea had the lure of recent premier league success.

Malouda made his competitive debut for Chelsea against Manchester United in the 2007 FA Community Shield on 5 August 2007 in a 1-1 draw. Despite Chelsea going on to lose on penalties, he scored in what was an impressive display. However, that was as good as it got for a long time and he ended a dismal and disappointing first season with just two goals and one assist in the league. He was confined to the bench for large periods of the season. The Blues’ supporters had lost their faith as his shooting had become a matter of ridicule, his runs lacked penetration and his brain looked short of ideas.

Football - Aston Villa v Chelsea FA Cup Semi Final

Malouda has found the ‘fire’ which was lacking so far

Ironically, for a player initially wanted by Liverpool, Malouda’s turning point came at Anfield. At Europe’s biggest stage, Malouda played one of his best games for Chelsea in a thumping 3-1 Champions League quarter-final win against Liverpool. He supplied pin-point crosses, off which Branislav Ivanovic scored a double and then delivered a wonderful ball across the face of goal which Didier Drogba tapped-in.

The next season was certainly better than his debut season but still failed to match the dizzy heights of his Lyon days. At the end of the 2008-09 campaign, there were murmurs from some quarters of London that Malouda had played his last game in a Chelsea shirt, but contrary to all reports, Malouda signed a four year contract with Chelsea. He finally won the faith of the supporters and since then, he has gone on to win their hearts with a series of world-class displays down Chelsea’s left wing which have sent shivers down the spine of many right backs across the country.

His second coming has been so impressive that there have been calls among Chelsea supporters for his nomination for the end of season award ahead of ‘The Drog’ and ‘Super Frank’. Malouda’s tally of 15 goals in all competitions this season is outstanding and well deserving of all the accolades that he is getting.

Malouda has recently been voted the ‘Players’ Player of the Season’ at Chelsea. They say ‘the great pleasure in life is doing what people believe you can’t do’, and Malouda is experiencing that joy and satisfaction.

Nani –  From mostly frustrating to mostly brilliant

“He can’t pass” said one, “He can barely shoot” said another and “He doesn’t have the bottle for a fight” said the third – the fans had made up their mind that Nani wasn’t deserving of wearing a United shirt and he was one of Sir Alex’s failed signings. Today, things are slightly different.

After an encouraging first season, when he showed flashes of his abundant talent and raised the hopes at OT it was clear that the boy lost his way; possibly overshadowed by Ronaldo. While his compatriot reached great heights, Nani’s career was in the doldrums. His ability was never in doubt but his attitude certainly wasn’t winning him any admirers.

With Ronaldo leaving, it was up to Nani to carry the flag this season. He started off brilliantly against Chelsea in the community shield but then injury struck and the young Portuguese winger lost his place in the starting eleven. With December on the horizon, Nani’s United career was on the brink of extinction. Reports suggested that Nani was on his way out of Old Trafford as soon as the January transfer window opened.

Football - Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur Barclays Premier League

Ability, confidence and composure – all in one goal versus Spurs

While people were calling for his head, Nani was given one last chance. Since then, Nani’s world has turned upside down. The last four months have seen his most consistent performance, often bordering on Ronaldo-esque brilliance. His first half salvos at the Emirates against the Gunners and at Old Trafford against Bayern have made every one sit up and applaud his genius. Nani also popped with a brilliant chip over Gomes at Old Trafford at a crucial time – a sign of the confidence and talent of the young United winger.

With such performances, his relationship with fans has taken a complete U-turn. Nani has since then talked about his love for the club and wanting to play for United for years to come. His biggest drawback had always been his decision making ability – when to shoot? when to pass?. His inconsistent crosses were a source of frustration as well.

But things are looking up now, and with his better days still ahead of him, Nani could play a crucial rule in the new empire which is soon to be built at Old Trafford.

Gareth Bale – Putting the jinx to bed

Gareth Bale signed for Tottenham from Southampton after some eye-catching displays in the Championship. He won the Carwyn James Award for the BBC Wales Young Sports Personality of the Year. To cap his first full season as a professional footballer, Bale was named the Football League Young Player of the Year. But rather surprisingly, the step up to the premier league seemed too steep for his liking and a horrid run saw him completely out of first team reckoning. The injury he suffered did not help matters much either; he was sidelined for more than six months that saw him miss the remainder of the season.

That, however, would only be the beginning of his misery at White Hart Lane. Bale was now looked upon as a curse for the club – illogical maybe, but fans do believe in higher powers. The Welshman played a record 24 Premier League games for Spurs without being on the winning side. Two years had passed in North London without him tasting any sort of success. Lack of self-belief and doubts about his own ability must have crept into the player himself.

Tottenham Hotspurs vs Chelsea FC

After toiling for two years, Bale is taking it all in!

But nothing has ever been ordinary in the life of Gareth Bale; football career at least has always been topsy-turvy. Bale has fought the adversities he faced in his career and has come back a better player than ever before. His season has gone from good to brilliant to outstanding in a matter of months.

He has passed the biggest tests that have come his way and passed them with distinction. His goals against Arsenal and Chelsea in a Champions’ League place winning season has written him in Tottenham folklore.

His resurgence has been so impressive that there have been rumours of a possible move to the English champions. Though Gareth Bale remains a Spurs player for now and one to look out for the bigger clubs around Europe. From the lower divisions to champions’ league football next season; greater adventures beckon for the Welshmen..

  • wonderful read!! :)

  • we need 1 too :(

  • Kripky

    @gooner: We have one, he has really nice sideburns and he runs really fast, what more do you want from a right-winger? 😐

  • Sounak

    @Nipun: Excellent article there man.

    Interesting you have Bale over there, I bel he barely played 20 odd matches in the season. I think I’ll give credit to Harry to change him from Wing Back (where he was a bit aweful and also a curse for ’em) to a very decent winger.
    Well, he is on a high and he did win ’em the North London Derby! So fair deal.
    Malouda and Nani have been revelations, so thumbs up.
    Young, Downing, Bentley, Theo and the others have a lot to do to prove ’emselves now to get into that England side! 😀

    ..and finally…one name that was missed here…brilliant over the first half, missing on injury in the second half of the season -> Aaron Lennon.

  • @sounak: thanks mate :) , and regarding the Aaron Lennon thing just wait for the second part of the series 😉

  • sarad

    Well written Nipun. Me too waiting for the 2nd part. Because Valencia, Lenon and Pineear do need a mention.

    If we are looking at an overall contribution for the season from a winger, here goes my list in that order.
    1) Malouda 2) Pineear 3) Lenon 4)Valencia/Nani 5) Gera 6) A johnson/SWP 7) Ethrington/Lee Yung

    Bale is a dubious selection. Was good only in few games towards the end. His overall contribution to Spurs has not been of their top 3/4 players. Was a disaster in LB for large part of the season.

  • Darren fletcher

    @sarad: fair enugh, but his contribution has been season defining from spurs point of view. plus the theme also mentions all 3 of them almost coming back from the dead.

  • Ketan

    A very good read.

    Malouda impressed me the most from the lot. He always had the potential but wasn’t able to make the most of it. But this season his journey has been superb.

    Nani had a horrible first half, which was nothing unusual for him & then came the news that he might be leaving the club. The second half however saw some changes in his game for the good. However I still feel he hasn’t been as consistent on the left side as he should have. He came into his own when he played at the right wing(where Valencia’s position had to be compromised) but at the left side he still looks clueless many times. But still he has delivered much better in the second half than was expected of him after his performances in the first half.

    Gareth Bale, well he delivered when it was required the most. The two derby matches will only add confidence in him which will further help him to improve his game. He looks ready to eb a star. Now just hoping that Spurs qualify for the UCL.

    Regards,
    K-10