Mike Williamson – Long-Term Solution?
Can Mike Williamson be Newcastle’s long-term solution at centre-back? Ian Anderson investigates.
Brought back into the team because of other players’ failure/injury; results instantly improve. The team stops conceding goals. Why is he then not regarded as a long-term solution?
Williamson is perceived to be an unglamorous player. He was signed for very little, more as cover than anything else, and was never seriously expected to challenge Taylor for the assistant role at Centre Back. He’s a player who will never play for England and one who will never attract headlines.
However, he deserves as much recognition as any for our recent upturn in results. His positioning from opposition corners and free-kicks is superb. He is dominant in the air and has excellent defensive instincts when the ball is delivered between the goalkeeper and defence.
How often has he cleared from the front post during this run? Or beaten a forward to a dangerous ball in the 6 yard box?
As strong as certain parts of his game are, there are obvious weaknesses. Weaknesses that have brought the wrath of a vast majority of fans during several tricky periods in our recent history.
He is not mobile, at least not by modern day standards. He is often slow to turn and he cannot be relied on in a 1v1 situation. He appears to know that he can’t match most forwards for pace and dives in but often comes off second best.
These features of his game, however, are not the issue. These weaknesses do not prevent Williamson making the position his own in the long-term.
The problem is, that to be successful in today’s game, you need to have two centre backs who are comfortable in possession. Comfortable enough to step out of defence with the ball and carry the ball forward. Williamson must be (as Coloccini is) confident enough that when Tiote/Cabaye/Anita drop deep and pull an opposition midfielder out, he will move forward into that gap to initiate an attack.
Can Williamson do this? The answer, sadly, is no. He just doesn’t have the composure or technical skills at his disposal to be effective with anything less than 10 yards of space between him and the opposition. He panics, and plays the ball long, or goes straight back to Krul.
Now this isn’t perceived to be a dangerous tactic, as he is not directly losing possession. He will often find Shola/Remy/Cisse with a long ball, and will always find Krul with a pass back, but it is the next pass that then becomes an issue.
A long ball from any Goalkeeper is more likely to result in possession gained by the opposition; at best 50/50. And despite the improved ability of Remy and Shola receiving the ball with their back to goal, we are still more likely to lose possession by playing the ball in long to a target player, than by patient build-up play, or link-up play down the flanks.
Williamson is a defender, and a good one at that.
A strong, backs-to-the-wall defender.
He is consistent and is a player who is becoming more and more appealing by the game.
He is a player who we can rely on and a player who deserves a great deal of plaudits for his recent performances.
He is also a player who has limitations. These limitations will unfortunately prevent him ever being regarded as a long-term solution in our side. As long as we keep improving, and as we start controlling games more and more, we will need a player who can support our attacking play from the back.
Maybe he will see out the season; maybe even next, but it is likely to be only a matter of time before Pardew introduces a more technically accomplished defender (Yanga-Mbiwa?) in the side.
Until then, keep it up the good work Mike.
If you would like to feature on The Mag, submit your article to [email protected]