Saturday, 13 December 2008

A Striking Problem

In two of the last three transfer windows, Gareth Southgate has made late and expensive moves for strikers. Unless Boro's difficulties up front start to clear up, we may well be stopping up late on January 31st again. Despite the odd bit of tabloid tittle tattle, its highly unlikely Tuncay will be going anywhere. But the Turk will be much more effective given license to drop off a main striker and bring the midfield into play. He may run around like a demented rooster, but the Turk should still be more artist than warrior.

The problems with Mido and Afonso Alves are very different. Mido seems a more complex character than many give him credit for. Its not hard to see why he's been labelled a mercenary. In a professional career that is not yet ten years old, he'd already played for El-Zamalek, K.A.A. Gent, Ajax, Celta Vigo, Marseille, Roma and Tottenham before signing for Boro last year. His time at Ajax was fruitful on the pitch but fraught off it, the most noticeable indiscretion being an alleged scissor-chucking incident involving team-mate Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The recent Boksic-esque run of suspiciously late injuries before games, particularly away from home, does not help in this regard.

It would be a little harsh to brand Mido in the same way. The Croatian was the classic hired hand, unmoved in defeat or victory, with scant motivation beyond self-interest. In admittedly rare moments of fitness during his Boro career, Mido has shown a surprising capacity to inspire team-mates and fans alike. Its the story of his career – at his best, he's a hard-working, technically sound and physically imposing target man. Getting 'his best' out of Mido remains an enigma.

Articulate and intelligent (for a footballer anyway), Mido still seems to be his own worst enemy. “I have made mistakes in my career with some of my moves. I didn't stay and fight for my position," he said in September. "Now I have to learn from the past and think that it is not always an option to go somewhere else when I am not in the team.” You have to wonder how many more European clubs will be prepared to give him a chance if his time at Boro ends in all too familiar frustration with a wasted talent.

If many feared such issues with Mido, its fair to say the record signing of Afonso Alves in January met with something a lot closer to universal approval. Gareth Southgate's faith in the Brazilian remains strong but the doubters are growing in number and volume. A patchy start could be explained away with talk of time needed to adapt and achieve full fitness. A superb brace against Manchester United and a last-day hat trick in the 8-1 humping of City assuaged many concerns.

Instead of flowing, the goals have dried up this term – three in total and just the one from open play. Alves cuts an increasingly fraught figure, struggling to come to terms with the physical side of Premier League defenders and bereft of confidence in the penalty area. The harder he tries, the worse things seem to get. His insistence on retaining free kick duty against Newcastle was brave but the results were embarrassing. Fans in the upper rows behind the goal cowered in a fashion not seen since Stewart Downing last limbered up to take a penalty.

The £20m spent on these two dwarfs the investment made in other areas but its hardly new for expensive strikers to turn into injury-riddled, jelly-legged flops as soon as they arrive on Teesside. We can only hope that if the chequebook has to come out, the curse of Davenport doesn't strike again.

From Fly Me To The Moon 432 (Boro v Arsenal)

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