Squad Overview: Forwards

Having scored 83 goals over the season it probably doesn't make too much sense that we're in such a rush to give our frontline such an overhaul. Indeed 58 league strikes was the highest outside of the Big Four. By the sounds of it, though, we'll be seeing at least one big-name forward arrive this summer, and although the stats don't really back it up, i think we need it.

At the season's start we were all rather excited about our new big-money Brazilian forward. Little did we know he'd look like he couldn't hit a cow's arse with a banjo in his first dozen or so starts, fall down the pecking order and spend the latter part of the season on loan at a club who would quite comfortably finish above us. Like other Youtube world-beaters we've signed in the past, Jo didn't seem able to transform his occasional greatness in a poorer league into anything vaguely resembling form in the Premier League. Now, i don't think he's an awful footballer and to be fair to him, lots of players have needed much longer than a third of a season to make an impact, but i don't see where he's going to fit in here. He's neither the out-and-out centre-forward we need, nor good enough to play over Robinho.

The signing itself was quite a peculiar one. Whether it was tied up before Eriksson left, okayed by Shinawatra or Hughes had any final say, we don't really know, but it's safe to say that we overpaid, massively overpaid, let's not be funny. Something else we're not sure about, of course, is what we paid, even roughly. Sources generally seem to suggest it was between £17m & £19m, but others have said higher, some have even suggested a significant part of the deal might be in the form of add-ons based on appearances, goals, European qualification and silverware. Whatever the truth, we're at a point where we have a highly-paid, big-name forward on our books who seems nowhere near our first team, in the manager's plans, or more importantly, sellable.

For most of us i'm sure even knowing we have Robinho is still quite dizzying. I think he's done quite well. People will point to the goal drought he suffered after the New Year, or the fact that he went missing in some, no most of our away fixtures, but i'm not sure that's all his fault. He's moved to a new country, a new league, has had to adapt to a new style of play in a team which isn't all that great and not awash with Spanish or Portuguese speakers. We've also been lacking a real targetman for him to play off. Nearly a goal a game in new league, i'm not sure we could have realistically expected too much more. We're going mainly off the stats here, too, he's shown skill i've rarely seen by players of this club, he's exceptional, he really is. He can finish, he links up extremely well with Ireland especially, but others too, he makes passes and runs before 99.9% of footballers would even think of them. I'm already quite giddy about the thought of him linking up with a better calibre of player next season, bearing in mind that his one-in-two was achieved playing alongside the likes of Felipe Caicedo!

Talking of 'Big Fel', well, a player who certainly splits opinion. I don't mind him, to be honest. He's extremely raw, sometimes looks like a bit of a donkey, but he's physical, fearless and strikes me as the type of player that will improve with games. He's already come on significantly this season, a year ago i'd have never even thought him worthy of being anywhere near the first-team. I'd be tempted to hang onto him, as unlikely as it might be that he'll start many games. He could be a useful squad member, handy from the bench.

Rumour has it that Craig Bellamy has already started some extra training for the off-season in the hope of getting his place back for the next campaign. He certainly added something when he came in, and we know what we're going to get with him. Him and Robinho, despite alleged words, started linking up quite well, and he scored some vital goals. He also showed that at home especially he can drift into a number of positions, out to the flanks, drop deep, play the role of the assistor or finisher, i enjoyed watching him. With targets said to be on their way, mind, i'm not sure just where he fits into the jigsaw. Over a season a club will need a couple of players for every position, and i think he'll get chances, but moreso as a replacement for Robinho, or Tevez should he sign. He's proven at this level, we shouldn't forget, it's just unfortunate that he picks up knocks so frequently. There was probably, no disrespect to the lad, a certain amount of panic in the signing, Hughes was after all fighting for his job for a while, but i think £10m (as confirmed by Hughes, not the £14m reported by the press) represents fair value. We need four or five good forwards, and i'm more than happy for him to be one.

Those that i'm really not all that enthusiastic about are Benjani, Daruis Vassell & Ched Evans, for differing reasons. Let's get the easiest out of the way first, Vassell. To be fair to him, he did come in at a very difficult time for the club, and for a while him and Andy Cole did form quite a fruitful partnership, but, and it's a big but, he's bobbins. He's a striker, only he doesn't score goals, so we play him on the wing, but he can't cross, is deceptively slow and easy knocked off the ball. He can't pass, tackle, see runs, beat a man over a few yards, he's no use whatsoever. He's a player who might struggle to get into even a promoted side's strongest eleven, and knowing how things go, he'll probably join one and come back to haunt us.

Benjani's not much better. It frustrates me even talking about the man. It's been reported that we may have promised Portsmouth up to £8.5m for him, albeit some paid over appearances that he'll hopefully never get the opportunity to make. He can, if i'm completely honest, occasionally give defenders a bit of a tough time, chase and harry, physically get the better of some, create chances, but he can't finish and i think we need to accept that he was yet another stop-gap signing, ship him out and move on. In the past it may have been good enough for players to perhaps lack ability but put in a shift, not so much now. If i see his cheesy face grinning loudly after flashing another shot twenty yards wide i'll go mental.

Ched Evans has shown that he can cut it in the Championship, and the lad puts himself about and rarely goes missing, but i'm not sure he's going to make it at this level. If we can get a couple of million for him it's probably best for all parties if he moves on, but he'll do so with our regards. I could imagine him scoring goals by dropping a division, maybe even in the SPL. Another Academy product, Danny Sturridge, i'll talk about in more depth later, but needless to say it looks like he'll be leaving. It's a shame, i really think he's got all the attributes to be a top player, but if he's not got games over the last three years (only twelve starts) then i'm not sure he will over the next few when we've more resources and won't really be able to give youngsters as much time to grow into the first-team as before. I hope he goes to a club where he'll get games, maybe Fulham, West Ham or Blackburn. I'm not sure he will, of course, but not doing so would probably only fuel the rumours of him leaving for a significant payrise.

That leaves 'The Boj', seemingly one of the unluckiest players in football. The first injury came out of the blue, the second was bloody frustrating, rumours of him looking to return to Italy after the club have spent two years supporting him whilst he's sat on his arse, well, a little annoying. I like him. He's got that edge to him that endears players to fans, he looks strong, full of spirit and technically quite sound. I'd really love to see him get a run of games under his belt. He was, understandably i guess, a bit hit and miss during his cameo appearances this term, but there were really encouraging flashes. He'll need time to build up his confidence again, but i'm sure we're all hoping he can. He might not start as first-choice next year, but over a season we'll need cover, and until he's proven himself fully fit i'm not sure he could have any qualms with not playing a more regular role.

Regards those coming in then, well, we seem quite down the line with the Santa Cruz deal, at long last. I don't have strong opinions either way against he potential arrival. He looked brilliant in his first season at Blackburn, a world-beater, but he's struggled with injuries this year and his attitude has appeared a little off ever since we registered an interest. I appreciate that we need a targetman, and he has a lot of the attributes a good forward might need, but we need players to come in and be fit enough to play a full season, and his career's been littered with knocks. It will be a relief to see us a bit more commanding in the air, and having someone who the likes of Robinho & Ireland can play off, but i'm not sure he's done enough to justify the fee we're paying. I'd have maybe been tempted to look elsewhere, but at the same time i'm quite excited about his arrival, and trust the manager's judgement.

We've spoke about Carlos Tevez recently, but to recap, it would be a huge statement of intent. We need to be building a squad which enables us to never field teams with weak links. He's proven, perhaps not a natural goalscorer but a scorer of important goals. He'll also, should he arrive, bring with him an engine, a work-rate that perhaps we've lacked in some areas. The thought of him and Robinho playing off Santa Cruz is extremely exciting, we couldn't have dreamt of options like these just a couple of years ago as Pearce's side was boring us rigid. With Bellamy, Bojinov and maybe Caicedo (though the £6m/£7m bids being mooted would probably represent good business for us) to push the potential front three, the times ahead might be pretty bloody exciting.

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