Michael Farrow's sports blog

A collection of new and old writings

…on Marlon Harewood and the perceptions about players

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Looks like a beluga whale, has about the same heading ability

Football is not naturally a game for statistics.  Safe haven bat-and-ball games like cricket and baseball are built on statistics.  In Kevin Costner schlockfest “For The Love Of The Game”, baseball is summed up in a simple line of dialogue; “We count everything”.

It is hard to get simple, meaningful quantifiable data that everybody can easily grasp  There is no ERA in any game of football.  The number of goals scored or assists laid tell you only so much about a player’s worth, whereas increasingly complicated stats tell you so much about a baseball player that some teams based their whole structure around it.  No matter if the ball is round or pointy, no game of football can really quantify a player’s worth through.  People have tried, from the OPTA Index to ProZone.  However, the key judge is how a player is perceived.  Numbers cannot tell us that.

ProZone can tell you where a player has made a run, it will not tell you how the crowd will react and how that run is perceived.  A player may make several probing intelligent runs but if he’s 6’3” tall, people may expect him to stop and try to flick the ball on for others.  Toronto FC fans may love Danny Dichio for his unselfish, intelligent play but his lack of goals saw him get a rocky ride from the Deepdale faithful whilst playing for Preston.

However, for my money, no player in the last few years has had his game less understood than Marlon Harewood.  Harewood was a key player for West Ham across two-and-a-half seasons, which saw West Ham get to two playoff finals, the second of which was successful, an FA Cup final and a top 10 finish.   However, very few Hammers fans will suggest he is missed at the Boleyn Ground.  In West Ham’s first season back in the Premier League in 2005/2006, Harewood became a key part of the settled spine to the team, alongside Danny Gabbidon and Hayden Mullins.  However, he was tagged as lazy and technically poor.  The problem always remains that fans often focus on what a player doesn’t have, rather than what he does.

At 6’1” and 13st (182 lbs/82.6 kg), it was always expected that he be a line leading centre forward, getting his head on the ball and throwing his weight around.  Whilst playing alongside Teddy Sheringham, he looked difficult to partner.  However, looking at his game, he played more as a second striker.  He needs to play alongside somebody, as playing alongside Sheringham is like playing as a lone striker.   He started his career with Nottingham Forest and they saw the best out of him when they gave him somebody to play up alongside. This allows him to play with his front or side to the goal rather than his back. Be it David Johnson or be it Gareth Taylor.  So long as he had a partner, he could contribute goals and assists.

He doesn’t play like a big man.  He is a good player. Skillful, quick, influential, hard-working and even creative. The perception problem is, as I earlier stated, that he’s relatively tall but has none of the attributes of a tall player. He’s not a line-leader, he’s not good in the air, he’s not brilliant with his back to goal and thus people got annoyed, as they see that as laziness. Players who play smaller than they are get a bum rap.  Harewood is 6’1″ but he plays like he’s 5’9″.  He likes to get on the ball, he likes to dribble and get involved in support play and he likes to pull wide.  If he were 5’9”, nobody would bat an eyelid.  However, still you read junk in newspapers describing him as a “targetman”, despite him never having been one!

And this is the sad thing.  Players are completely judged by perception because they don’t do things that their body shape suggests they can do.  Shame really!  Newcastle could have signed the loan signing of the Championship season if they realise he’s not as the papers bill him.

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Written by Michael Farrow

October 10, 2009 at 10:10 pm

Posted in Football

Tagged with ,

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