Comings and goings

A few years ago Hade and I visited the Czech Republic. It was in some ways a big trip, not least because it was while there that I decided to start writing this blog. But we had a terrific time in so many other ways.

One of the best nights was an evening spent watching Slavia Prague play, a cracking game played in a thunder storm in a small stadium that nevertheless contained an athletics track (it can be done). I really enjoyed the match, played by two teams of very skinny but technically excellent players. This lack of physicality has been a big part of Czech football in recent times. True, they’ve come up with ‘big’ players here and there, but your average Czech footballer is more Rosicky than Koller. Small, very good on the ball, pleasing to watch.

So I’ve always had a soft spot for the national team and for any players from that part of the world (I still have a ‘Sivok’ Sparta shirt – if he does sign for us as rumoured it’ll be on my back for the first game of the season). When we signed Marcel Gecov I was very happy. First impressions were that he conformed to type: neat, nimble, a good passer and team player.  Sadly he never really did get much time on the pitch, and as such it was difficult to get a feel for what he might become one way or another. It seems that he turned down a loan move to Sheffield Wednesday last year, which in retrospect might have been a mistake for him – game time is all important, after all.

Now he’s off to Belgium, where I’m sure he’ll do well enough. The way he plays I doubt we’ll hear too much more of him – that quiet, unobtrusive style means he’ll always be a ‘bubbling under’ type – but hopefully he’ll contribute and make himself useful.

My lasting memory of Gecov will, incidentally, be of him as a sub: we sit near the warming up area and nobody watched the game as intently as Gecov; he’d sit or kneel or whatever, zen-like, staring into space, perhaps wondering how we might unlock a tight defence; perhaps wondering what to make for dinner that evening.  In this way he very closely resembled a meerkat (see above).  I’ll miss him.

Not leaving us is famous right back Steve Kelly. Kelly – like almost every player who isn’t obviously very gifted, it seems – has had to win the crowd over, and in truth has been a bit unfortunate in this regard.  I don’t know what the benchmark for right-backs is but the skills many seem to expect of them are held by very few: “he doesn’t cross well” is one thing you hear, but if you can give me a pacy right back who is solid at the back and crosses well I’ll look at you and say “okay, but where are we going to find one of those?” (It feels like we have one on the left flank, but signing players of Riise’s pedigree is exceptional, not normal; usually we must accept some form of compromise.)  Kelly is not perfect, but the same might be said of any number of his teammates, past and present. What he did do is make massive contributions to our Europa League final run, something that the naysayers seem happy to overlook. Kelly seems to be one of those players that people wait on for a mistake. He can have a perfectly good game, but if, in the 54th minute he slices a cross into the stand, boom, there we are: proof of his ordinariness! Chris Baird had to deal with all this, Philippe Senderos, too. It’s the way things are.

As long as I’ve been playing and watching football, right backs have been quiet, reliable types, not prone to outbursts of any kind, just simple players who get on with it and don’t let you down. Stephen Kelly fits that description perfectly, is a good player to have about the place, and well deserves his extension.


Richard Allen founded this website in 2006. Here he is at a wedding last year.

6 thoughts on “Comings and goings

  1. In the George Cohen days Leeds had a Right Back called Paul Reaney(Who was born in Fulham), a very good player and because of George(and Jimmy Armfield) did not really get a look in for England. He fits the identikit Rich describes above.

  2. There was a time when Duncan Jupp seemed like he could turn around our fortunes on his own. But he most definitely was not “just simple players who get on with it and don’t let you down.” He stood out. The same could be said, later, of Finnan. We’ve long had good right backs from Cohen on down. And I maintain that we are losing an opportunity by not playing Baird there. He isn’t a traditional right-back by any means (does not stick to the touchline and cross). But the way he steps into midfield from that area and can play the quarterback role from there has in the past given us another dimension allowing us freedom elsewhere on the pitch. I genuinely believe he could be somewhat revolutionary there.

    1. I think Baird needed that deep holding role, a sort of third centre-back in front of the back four (it’s happened before, a sort of advanced sweeper). From there he’d be able to pick up the ball off less able defenders and – like Murphy – pick off a high defensive line, or merely switch play. We don’t know what’s been troubling him in recent seasons and ultimately i’m sure it’s more important than football, but it’s still a shame for those of us who’d have enjoyed seeing more of him out there.

      I’m curious about George Cohen, who many suggest wasn’t a great crosser either. The trick with him seems to have been that he had a great engine and by making these runs forced defences to adjust, whether he was then used or not. There’s value in that, but I wonder if, in this day and age, he’d be universally appreciated?

      1. From the documentary evidence available, it would seem that Alf Ramsey appreciated Cohen’s qualities more than many other observers of that period. While I’m sure you are right that his attacking runs would at least stretch the opposition, he was first and formost an outstanding defender.

        Bobby Charlton has gone on record to say that as a winger the last full-back you wanted to come up against was Cohen, such was the physical challenge he presented. He wasn’t dirty or vindictive, just very fast and powerful, read the game well and had a good temperament.

  3. Also a certain Mr.Best stated that George Cohen was the best full back he ever played against, high praise for a Fulham legend.

  4. I saw George play many times. One endearing quality he had was the occasional long distance, blistering shot which usually ended up in row.Z. But i did see him score once at the Hammersmith end. Can’t remember who against.

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