On Sunday, I wrote this piece about Jonathan Greening. Unfortunately, my internet broke before I could upload it. Now that it is mended, I have seen a plethora of articles about this very subject, including one from the ever-excellent CCN. Nevertheless, here is another take for those of you who haven’t tired of the Greening debate quite yet…..
We Fulham fans tend to be a fan of scapegoating individual players. Under Sanchez, first it was Steven Davis (a player who I think would do a very good job for us now, but that’s a different matter). Next, it was Chris Baird and then Bobby Zamora, both of whom have proven themselves to be very good players and have been key to our side in recent months. Now, it appears that attentions have been turned to Jonathan Greening.
His every (rare) mis-placed pass is greeting with groans and curses; when his passes do find their target, he is still bemoaned for rarely passing forward and venturing into the opposition half. That, combined with the fact that he gives away a few free-kicks (down to not being afraid to put his foot in) and the fee that the club have supposedly agreed with West Brom for him (not his fault) have led to him not exactly being a fans’ favourite at the Cottage.
There are, however, two things that I believe need to be looked at before we lambast Greening further for his performances.
Firstly, a closer look at the role Greening plays is vital.
Who are the dangermen in our side? The players that can create chances out of nothing? Well, the front two of Zamora and Johnson, although short on goals, are key in our forward play. Most of their service has come from the defenders (mainly Aaron Hughes) passing to their feet or into the corners for them to chase, where they then bring others into the game in attacking areas. Murphy occasionally plays a through-ball, but with all of our quick strikers out injured, this part of the game is ruled out at the moment. Murphy, of course, is our other main attacking player, but Greening doesn’t play with him, only as cover for him.
Our main attacking threat, however, comes from the wide players, Duff and Dempsey. The full-backs too like to come forward and join the attack – see how key Pantsil was in our two second-half goals against Blackburn. Greening’s passes are predominantly to these wide players. If he is not feeding the dangerous, flair players in our side, then he is keeping possession in tight spaces, before switching the direction of attack, spreading play to these players in more space, who in turn can stretch and run at the defence.
My previous article about Bobby Zamora highlighted how Zamora enables us to play in the attacking third of the pitch. Greening effectively does the same – he might not play defence-splitting passes, but more often than not, he enables the side to keep possession. Gabriele Marcotti agrees with this view, referring to Greening as “technically, at least, Fulham’s best player after Murphy”.
Secondly, it does seem to take a while for new signings to adjust to Hodgson’s system. We all know that Roy uses a very structured formation, especially in central midfield – hence his willingness to let Bullard go. He likes these players to constantly be in position, and not to shirk their defensive responsibilities. Chris Baird has stepped in and done an immediate job in the middle, but he has been training with Hodgson since he took over, and knows exactly what is required of him. It took the team some three or four months after Hodgson took over for them to understand what was required of them, although admittedly there were some severe mitigating circumstances.
Cast your minds back to Dickson Etuhu’s first performances for the club. He was signed in the end of August, was promptly injured, before beginning to play at the end of December, when Bullard was injured/went on strike. His opening performances were so poor that he was dubbed by many as a “badly injured Michael Mison”. Likewise, Greening missed all of pre-season and the first couple of games, meaning that he has had to learn his very precise role “on the go”, with other key players around him missing. Even Zoltan Gera, playing in the wide roles where there is a bit more license to roam and cut infield, has only just stared to operate at the high level that we all know he can.
Greening has been improving in a very demanding role. His opening performances weren’t great, and these were tough games against decent opposition (Aston Villa, Manchester City, and the European games, plus the occasional appearance as a substitute). The turning point for me was the home match against Roma. He was excellent in both of those games, and has been a constant since, in an injury-depleted side that has only been defeated twice during his run in the team – once unjustly (Roma away) and another (Birmingham away) in which his performance was highly praised by the manager. His set-pieces too have been dangerous, although haven’t quite had the reward that they deserve (a couple of glaring misses against Blackburn in particular come to mind).
I think part of the problem is that he is NOT a Danny Murphy type player – he is by no means a match-winning or a match-changing player. What he does do, however, is keep the side ticking over in midfield, often starting our attacking moves (our goal against Bolton originated from a good forward pass from Greening), and breaking up opposition moves.
I admit that when Murphy returns, he should take Greening’s place in the team, even though he wasn’t great this season before his injury. However , I am more than happy to have a player like Greening as an option on the bench – he is a proven Premiership player, and think how many of those we could call upon last season, when our only midfield option was Olivier Dacourt.
What we do now have is somebody who we can call upon to do a good job, one who will do better and better the more he gets accustomed to Roy’s system. It’s a sign of how far we have come under Hodgson when we can complain that somebody like Greening isn’t good enough – and perhaps also a testament to Chris Baird’s improvement and the potential that Hodgson has spotted in Kagisho Dikgacoi. Once we have a fully-fit side once again, our squad will look as strong as it has ever been in our time in the Premiership. And that can only be a good thing.