Shane Long: Why the Irishman Can Be a £12m Striker for Southampton

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Shane Long: Why the Irishman Can Be a £12m Striker for Southampton
Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Southampton’s decision to pay a reported £12 million to sign the Republic of Ireland striker, Shane Long, from Hull City last week raised more than a few eyebrows in the British media.

The majority of the press and Twitter reaction was of the opinion that the Saints had overspent on a mediocre striker. The fact that Long missed a good opportunity to score on his debut at Anfield on Sunday did little to alleviate the media outrage that the move provoked.

Long himself admitted that he did not see the switch coming.

The Tipperary native joined Saints just seven months after swapping West Bromwich Albion for Hull City for £7 million in January.

The Daily Mirror’s Alex Crook quoted Long as stating that “this one came out of the blue” as he posed next to his new manager, Ronald Koeman, on Thursday.

Some commentators suggested that spending big on mid-level strikers is the inevitable consequence of a club selling all of its best players at enormous profit only to enter the market late in order to replace talent that has already departed.

The fact that potential sellers know Saints are cash-rich and under pressure to replenish a depleted squad before the window closes means that clubs like Hull City are well placed to charge a premium for any asset that might attract Koeman’s interest.

The Irishman has not scored more than 10 goals in a single Premier League campaign since he moved to the Hawthorns from Reading in the summer of 2011. Long managed to net eight times in his debut season in the top-flight and another eight league goals followed in 2012/13.

Last season, meanwhile, Long netted three times for WBA before joining Hull where he contributed four goals in 17 appearances, making him a very lucrative prospect for a wager on sites like Sportsbetting-Sites.com.

The numbers are hardly ground-breaking; but a more detailed study of Long’s Premier League career gives meaningful expression to the old adage that there are “lies, dammed lies and statistics.”

Analysis of Long’s transfer has placed far too heavy an emphasis on his scoring record.

Long has never been an out-and-out goalscorer. He began his career at senior level on the right wing and was moved into a more central berth only when his countryman, Kevin Doyle, left Reading for Wolves in 2009.

Granted Long netted 28 in all competitions during Reading’s 2010/11 Championship campaign; however, the Irishman’s real strengths as an attacker lay in his physicality and work rate.

Long is an exceptional athlete. He possesses blistering pace and deceptive upper-body strength. His playing-style has the effect of making those around him look good.

The Irishman’s tireless and intelligent running consistently stretches and fatigues opposition defences. Long inevitably creates space for team-mates to capitalize on in attacking contexts.

We saw this during the striker’s most impressive campaign in the top-flight in 2012/13 where he and Romelu Lukaku fired WBA to a record eighth place finish in the Premier League.

Though Long’s tally of eight goals paled in comparison to Lukaku’s 17; when fit, the Irishman was a more frequent starter for Steve Clarke than the Belgian loanee. It was often Long’s hard running over 70-80 minutes which created the stretched conditions that Lukaku took such good advantage of when sprung from the bench.

We saw something similar when Lukaku’s performance as a substitute against the USA fired Belgium into the World Cup quarter-finals. In that case it was Liverpool’s new-boy, Divock Origi, who ran the Long-type hard yards and wore the American back line out before extra time.

Long can be effectively employed as a lone striker or with a partner in attack. This versatility was undoubtedly a key consideration in his purchase.

One can envisage Long interacting dangerously with an attacking midfield duo of Dusan Tadic and a fully-fit Jay Rodriguez for Saints. Similarly, the Irishman’s dynamic running game could foil very well with the more direct approach of Graziano Pelle.

The Long-Pelle axis would mirror the type of attacking partnership that Long shared with Nikica Jelavic at Hull. The duo’s arrival in January was seen as seminal to the Tigers' mid-table finish.

It is notable, too, that Jelavic managed no more goals than Long did in his 17 games with Hull last season. Jelavic, though, has received nowhere near the same amount of media scrutiny as the Irishman has in the past week.

Granted, no club is willing to pay £12 million for Jelavic (a fact that is telling in itself), but the size of the fee that Southampton have paid for Long should not shape our opinion of the player.

In a free-market economy, footballers are like any other commercial entity. Supply and demand dictate price; a player is worth however much another club is willing to pay for his signature.

And in a market where Hull are being quoted £10 million for Troy Deeney (unproven at Premier League level) to replace Long, per John Percy of The Telegraph, £2 million extra for a proven Premier League performer in the prime of his career does not look a bad bit of business.

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