I like the Matt Smith signing. I remember watching him a couple of times when he was at Oldham. They played Liverpool and Everton in the cup and for some reason I had access to the TV.
What struck me about Smith was that he had this transcendental power. Power that – if harnessed – any team will struggle to defend.
High balls into the area are a great leveller. Sam Allardyce understands this and so does Tony Pulis. I don’t care if you’re Ferdinand and Vidic or Puyols and Pique, if the ball’s crossed with some accuracy, technical ability goes out of the window. If you want to defend it you have to compete physically. This is partly how Graham Taylor was able to get Watford promoted from division four to division one in short order in the 80s.
While researching my book on Roy Hodgson I talked to Richard Latham, a reporter in Bristol, who remembered briefings with Roy and Bob Houghton:
“He and Bob both spoke the language football wise, both very technical, very committed, and Bob had the press in with a blackboard explaining how Bristol City were supposed to be playing. I do remember something had just emerged, the POMO zone. Bob reasoned that every time the ball went into the POMO zone it was a chance, somebody should really have got on the end of it. He’d come out of games saying how many chances they’d had, but the goalkeeper hadn’t had to make a save. His reasoning was that the ball was in an area where they should’ve got to it, but nobody did. So I’ll always remember the POMO zone and I imagine Roy was into that sort of thing too. They were very technical coaches and sang from the same hymn sheet, but very different personalities.”
The point of all this was, simply, to get the ball into the danger area, to cause chaos, and to take advantage when the ball fell to the right man. (the background to all this was some dodgy but detailed analysis by Wing Commander Charles Reep, which Charles Hughes took on and made a central part of the FA coaching programme at the time. The analysis might have been suspect, but the long ball game it encouraged did work to a degree).
Now, this may not be what the puritans of SW6 want for their club, but it’s a legitimate approach and one that, dare we say it, has its uses in the Championship where as best we can tell, pretty football doesn’t seem to prevail as we might hope.
And Matt Smith seems to be the real deal if this is an option you want to take. He’s huge, but that alone doesn’t help if you can’t use this size, if you can’t compete, if you can’t put the fear of god into defenders every time the ball’s in the area. As best I can tell, Smith has all this in his locker. It’s too easy to write him off as a big lump: that won’t do in today’s game. The Championship is still a remarkably strong league. If Smith was just a big man up front he wouldn’t have stuck at Leeds, wouldn’t have scored the goals he has.
It raises other questions, not least how we’re going to provide the kind of wing play he’ll need, but on the surface this feels like a smashing signing to me.
(And dare we say it: if Magath was the embodiment of evil, wouldn’t Ross McCormack have warned Smith off?)