Saturday, August 27, 2011

What To Do With a Player Like Roman Pavlyuchenko?

Roman Pavlyuchenko - 'Super SuperPav!'

Roman Pavlyuchenko
On reflection, you've got to fell sympathy for Birmingham City - that Tottenham's inconsistent, unpredictable striker, Roman Pavlyuchenko would choose that afternoon, the final day of the 2010 - 11 season to score two stunning goals which would play their part in the club's relegation.
The Russian signed for Tottenham from Spartak Moscow in September, 2008 for £14 million but he had first come to the notice of fans in England a year earlier when he scored the two goals, past Paul Robinson, for Russia in the qualifying game against England for Euro 2008.  He then scored three goals and produced some worthy performances in the Finals as Russia progressed to the semi-finals before losing to eventual winners, Spain.

Early Difficulties
So when Tottenham signed him, they were recruiting a player with international experience who had scored goals at the highest level of international competition.  However, Pavluchenko found it difficult to settle into the demands of Premier League football.  He scored his first goal in a Carling Cup win over Newcastle United in late September and his first league goal was against Bolton Wanderers at the end of October, Harry Redknapp's first game in charge.  A week later he scored a late, unexpected winner against Liverpool at White Hart Lane to end the visitors undefeated start to the season.  He continued to score in Cup games and was at his best against Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup 3rd Round game.  He scored twice and he showed a level of performance not previously seen from him during the early months of his time at Tottenham.  His link up play and distribution was good and it seemed that finally Spurs fans were seeing the true player in Pavlyuchenko.  They responded with their 'Super, Super Pav, Super, Super Pav, Super, Super Pav, Super Pavlyuchenko' song from the stands.

However, it was not to last and his inconsistency became apparent as he only scored another five goals before the end of the season, two in League games and three Cup goals.  Which was the true Pavlyuchenko?  Harry Redknapp seemed confused and uncertain.

The following season Pavlyuchenko had difficulty getting into the team with Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe and Robbie Keane appearing to be selected ahead of him for the striker's positions.  In the first half of the season he was restricted to appearances mainly in Cup games but was given an opportunity as a substitute against Wigan Athletic in February.  He scored twice and scored again in subsequent games over the next few weeks which helped Spurs to end the season in fourth.  Many fans regarded him as the best striker at the club but the management still had issues over his overall contribution.  He had again only scored 5 League goals from 16 appearances with another 5 from 8 Cup appearances.  At each transfer window there was talk of him leaving the club and returning to Russia but nothing materialised.

With Tottenham's strikers have a collective difficulty with finding the net in season 2010 -11, Pavlyuchenko produced his best League return with 10 goals from 28 appearances and another 4 goals in Champions League games.  However, he was never certain of his position in the team with Crouch preferred in the European games and Defoe and Pavlyuchenko vying for a starting place in the team alongside Rafael Van der Vaart who had signed from Real Madrid at the end of August.  This signing brought a change in formation, as Van der Vaart was more suited to playing a support role to a lone striker rather than with two strikers, the system which Spurs had previously employed.

Striking Partnerships
Pavlyuchenko seemed unsuited for this role as his link up play was poor and he often looked lazy through an apparent lack of effort.  He is very much his own player and while other strikers have developed understandings with those around them, this was alien to the Russian and at no time has he developed such an understanding with another striker at Spurs.  Keane linked well with Dimitar Berbatov and Defoe, Crouch and Defoe had worked well at Portsmouth and Spurs' history is littered with examples of a striking partnership which was mutually beneficial - Bobby Smith and Les Allen in the 'Double' team, Jimmy Greaves and Smith, Greaves and Alan Gilzean, Gilzean and Martin Chivers, Steve Archibald and Garth Crooks, Teddy Sheringham and Jurgen Klinsmann were all fine examples of how the team prospered with two strikers working together.  In the current squad Cruoch seemed to quickly develop and understanding with Van der Vaart and many of the Dutch man's goals are due to Crouch heading the ball down to him to finish off.  This lack of understanding with those around him in the team has made it difficult for Pavlyuchenko to get a regular starting position in the team.

Europa League 2011 - 12
This has proved to be the same again this year as he appears to remain fourth choice.  Even with Keane having left and Crouch injured, Defoe and Van der Vaart have been entrusted with the strikers role.  Pavlychenko in pre-season games was described by commentators as being 'disinterested' and in the Europa League game at home to Hearts when he started with young Academy player, Harry Kane, he proved less than successful.  His best effort which brought an early save from the Hearts keeper, came after good work by Kane.  It was mostly downhill from that point - he did little to support the young player making his debut - Kane actually created more for him than he did for the youngster.  His first touch was so poor it was like playing to a barn door.  His link up play with team mates was poor and little understanding has been developed with them as to where to move for a pass.  His shooting was wayward.  When he gets the ball near goal he has only one thought, a shot, but on these occasions the fans high up in the stands were in greater danger than the Hearts goalkeeper.  Or, as on one occasion in the second half, the shot was so poor and was sliced so wide that it became an excellent pass to Ryan Fredericks on the right wing.  It was not a good night for Pavlyuchenko and with the signing of Emmanuel Adebayor announced, it will be even more difficult for him to claim a starting place in the team.

Making the Most of Pavlyuchenko's talent
Pavlyuchenko is player with talent but it is so rarely seen that he is often on the fringes of the team to be used as third or fourth choice.  Throughout his time at Tottenham, Harry Redknapp has been unable to find a way of using his ability to best purpose and the club has constantly been looking to sign new strikers over the past two seasons - a search which continues.  In contrast, Guus Hiddink, during his time as manager of the Russia football team, appeared to coax or cajole Pavlyuchenko into producing his best performances in international football.  

So as another season commences the Tottenham manager is left asking the same question, 'What to do with a player like Roman Pavlyuchenko?' and going on the evidence of past times, it'll be more  of the same - the occasional flash of the player he can be, shown by a stunning strike for goal, surrounded with mediocrity of poor passing, limited link up play and the impression of being disinterested.  Confidence in Pavlychenko's ability to produce regularly is low at Tottenham and so the player's confidence has taken a knock which never helps in these situations.  Fans have tried with their 'SuperPav' song but it's not made any lasting impression on Pavlyuchenko's performances.


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