Why Ricky van Wolfswinkel Will Be a Premier League Flop with Norwich
It was a good Premier League debut for Dutch striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel by all accounts.
The new Norwich City No. 9, signed from Sporting Lisbon this summer for a club-record fee, showed his predatory instincts with a fabulous header to salvage a point for the Canaries in their opening-day draw against Everton. Van Wolfswinkel's 71st-minute goal meant that along with a new season came a new scoring hero to celebrate for the Carrow Road faithful.
Nonetheless, here comes the caveat.
For while van Wolfswinkel may well have hit the ground running, I will willingly stick my neck on the line and predict it to not last for too long. Whilst I admire some of the signings made by Chris Hughton this summer—in particular the dynamic Dutch international midfielder Leroy Fer and young, fleet-footed winger Nathan Redmond—the signing of van Wolfswinkel is one that I believe was unnecessary and makes the Dutchman somewhat overvalued.
At £8.8 million, according to Transfermarkt, "The Wolf" arrived this summer for a considerable outlay, charged with taking over from cult hero Grant Holt, who was moved on to recently relegated Wigan, despite having been a key component in the Canaries lineup during their two years in the Premier League. Strong and uncompromising, Holt led the line well under both Paul Lambert and later Hughton.
So there is no doubt that Norwich did need to sign a replacement. I just have grave reservations about whether van Wolswinkel was the right man for the job.
Much has been made of his opening-day goal in the draw with Everton, but aside from that and the rather positive highlights on Match of the Day, where van Wolfswinkel was eulogised over, his overall game left little to the imagination.
For the large part, in spite of his goal, Norwich's expensive new acquisition was unnoticeable. Perhaps Canaries fans will see that as unfair, but snuffed out by Everton's defensive pairing of Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin, he barely had a kick. That he made only seven passes during his 90 minutes on the pitch (according to FourFourTwo StatsZone), one of which came from kickoff, is telling.
There were some signs of intelligent movement and a first touch which was decent, if not great, but little of the joie de vivre or panache one expects to see from a new striker on his debut at a new club, especially one costing such a princely sum. Whilst a willing runner, there is little of Holt's aggression, nor his willingness to get involved physically with defenders. Little edge.
In truth, Roberto Martinez's side were untroubled for the large part by Norwich's new man, and his inability to suitably hold on to possession allowed Everton to win the ball back on more than a couple of occasions, indirectly playing its part in the Toffees' registering more passes than any other side on the opening weekend—before Manchester City's 4-0 win over Newcastle on Monday evening.
Yes he scored. Perhaps that's the sign of a good striker, scoring whilst doing very little. But Norwich, a side for whom a mediocre season could see them relegated, need more than that. They need an outlet, someone to play up to who can hold the ball and give the defence some respite while maybe beating a man once every so often. On Saturday, van Wolfswinkel showed rarely that he would give them that, attempting just one take-on, and being tackled in the process.
Which begs the question as to whether or not goals will be enough.
For a striker who needs chances to be created for him and who offers little in the buildup, you need to see a sizeable return. In a striker costing as much as he has to a club like Norwich, even more so.
And whilst van Wolfswinkel's career figures aren't bad in Holland and Portugal, you have to take into account the relative strength of those leagues. Thus, while tallies in his last five seasons of eight, 11, 15, 14 and 14 (league goals) for Vitesse Arnhem, Utrecht and Sporting Lisbon are by no means bad, they're hardly prolific. Throw in his penchant for penalty-taking, which boosts the aforementioned totals, and does his penalty-box prowess override that which he lacks outside the box?
Finally—and this is my big worry for Norwich this season—in both he and fellow new signing Gary Hooper, Hughton has put many of his eggs in the same basket, purchasing a new strike partnership for a team which looked more accomplished playing 4-5-1 last season.
Moreover, with the likes of Wes Hoolahan, Robert Snodgrass, Anthony Pilkington, Johnny Howson, Alexander Tettey, Bradley Johnson, Elliott Bennett, and the aforementioned Fer and Redmond, their current playing staff seems better equipped to playing that way again.
Thus, does Hughton set about changing to a 4-4-2 formation and pairing his two poachers, or will they be vying for a single spot? If it's the former, expect the Canaries to be more open and for their relative obdurateness to diminish.
If it's the latter, then surely he has overspent on his forward line.
Additionally, if they do end up sticking with 4-5-1, I'd back Hooper, a player whose lowest league total in the last five years stands at 19 and who has that bit more bite to his game both inside and outside the penalty area to supplant van Wolfswinkel as first choice.
As I've mentioned previously, I think Norwich have done good business this summer with some of their signings—I cannot overstate how much of a coup I reckon Fer to be—and Chris Hughton is a decent manager with enough at his disposal to secure a mid-table finish once again.
However, despite his goalscoring debut, at £8.5 million Ricky van Wolfswinkel was overpriced, and his lack of an all-round game could hinder Norwich as the season ticks by.
Therefore, don't be surprised if he flounders as the 2013-14 Premier League season continues.
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