Writer: Gary Johnson
Date:Thursday June 30 2011
1) How big of a loss will losing Wickham be to your squad?
Depends on which Town fans you talk to! For me, as much as I'd love to have seen Connor Wickham stay with us for one more season, I'm confident we can cope without him. There's been a sense that manager Paul Jewell has been preparing for this with the signings of Nathan Ellington and your old boy Michael Chopra, and now we've got them, we could probably afford to cash in on Connor without it being too damaging to our strikeforce.
Even so, I know I won't be alone in missing him. Aside from the fact that it would've been nice to have seen him and Chopra up front at Town, it's also a little sad for us to know that we've relinquished ownership of one of the most exciting young talents in the country. If Connor does indeed go on to great things, it will have been a privilege to know that we were the club to give him his break in professional football.
2) Were you expecting him to join Sunderland when other big clubs were linked to him before we made an official approach?
Truthfully? Not in the slightest! He was being linked with the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham... heck, even Juventus were reportedly keeping an eye on him at one stage. With the way Kenny Dalglish has been investing in young English talent (as you guys know all too well!), not to mention that Wickham grew up as a Liverpool fan, I honestly thought he'd end up at Anfield. The reports seemed to be pointing towards a bidding war between yourselves and Liverpool for some time, but where Steve Bruce jumped in and put his cards on the table, for some reason Kenny never did. Their loss, your gain, I'd say.
3) Do you feel as though he has made a good decision in coming to Steve Bruce's team for this new season?
It's an interesting choice, certainly. Whilst - with the deepest of respect - I think he could have joined a bigger club, coming to Sunderland might be the best move if he is to get the right transition into Premier League football. He's got a top mentor there in Bruce and I think he'll have more of a chance of first team football at the Stadium of Light than he would at the likes of Anfield or the Emirates. I would expect to see him getting a few appearances here and there, though don't expect him to jump straight into your starting XI.
4) What will he bring to our club?
Perhaps the best way to describe it would be a 'spark'. You haven't bought a top striker, but you've bought someone who with careful nurturing can be moulded into a real star of the future. What you've lost in Jordan Henderson, you've gained with Wickham - somebody that everyone will know is one of the likely England stars of the future whom you can enjoy the benefit of owning as they continue to grow. That sort of presence in the side can have far-reaching effects, and I think everyone associated with Sunderland should be very excited by what they've just acquired.
5) Is there any areas that he needs to improve on or has made you doubt his reviews and potential?
Well let's put it this way - the £8.1 million you've spent is certainly not a reflection of what Wickham's ability is worth right now. His finishing at Ipswich has been impressive for a 16-18 year old, but he's far from a clinical goalscorer just yet. One can remember a particularly bad howler in our match against Hull in February where he ran to meet a cross at the far post and somehow contrived to bundle it wide from 6 yards. For every moment like that though, you also get the kind of dazzling goals he scored for us against Reading or Sheffield United - if you haven't seen those goals already, I'm sure you will be seeing clips of them at some point!
In other words, his lack of experience shows in his inconsistency at the moment. That doesn't make me doubt his potential as such, but it does mean your fans might have to wait to understand why his price tag was so big. Patience will be the key - for the player, the manager and the fans.
6) What is his best asset?
Probably his physical attributes. Wickham is only 18 but he's already 6ft 3, and that gives him an obvious advantage in the air which we've benefited from when playing the long ball. He's pretty pacy for that height though, and he also has remarkable strength for his age. That's only going to improve as he continues to grow.
His skill with the ball isn't to be sniffed at either. He's not the sort to lash one in from 30 yards, but we've seen him go on some delightful runs from time to time (not least the aforementioned goal against Sheffield United) and his willingness to run at people means he can generate attacking momentum from nowhere.
7) Will he be a forward who will get us goals a plenty or does he play a more mature role like Rooney?
I'm not sure he's an out-and-out goalscorer, but he's not bad. We were all wondering whether he was going to rattle in 20 for us last season but he picked up an injury that ruled him out for the first month or so and it took him a while to get back to his best. When he did though, he rattled in 9 within half a season. We've yet to see what he can do in a full season at full fitness, but you never know.
For the moment though, in his first season in Premier League football, I can't see him being your top scorer by any means - maybe he'll chip in with about 5 but I'd expect him to take time to adapt to that level of the game and will probably find his opportunities more limited than they were at Portman Road. (Then again, I said that when Jon Walters left us for Stoke last summer, and look what happened there...!)
In my opinion though, Wickham's not about all-out goalscoring. Jewell spent much of the latter part of the season trying him out on the wide left of a 4-3-3 (or 4-5-1 depending on your outlook!) and that demonstrated other areas of his game. In those ways, he does remind me a bit of Rooney - I was surprised how often we'd be defending and Connor would come back down the wing to win the ball back in his own half before using his attacking strengths to start play moving forward again. His physical attributes certainly aid in that defensive capacity too. In short, I'd say you're getting so much more than just a striker.
8) Can you see him forming a good partnership with Gyan or is he not a suitable partner?
That's a tough one. I don't think Connor's ever played alongside anybody quite like Gyan up to now, and he is a very different player. That could be a good thing though - so often it is the case that a good partnership can be formed by players whose differences compliment each other.
To begin with, it might be the case that Connor would be best utilised playing behind Gyan; Wickham's got the physical strength to hold the ball up for Gyan to feed off of, and he's got the creativity to supply his partner with plenty of opportunities as well. Mind you, I'd be astonished if Bruce has him lining up with Gyan on anything like a regular basis for some time. As I've said before, in my opinion, you haven't bought someone who will simply jump straight into your starting lineup.
Still, I'm sure even now, the pair of them couldn't do any worse than playing Stephane Sessegnon as a lone striker...(!)
9) Can you see Connor developing into an English force in the future or is it all just over the top hype?
I've found all this 'next Wayne Rooney' stuff rather fanciful from the very beginning and it'll take a lot to convince me that it isn't all hype. Connor's got fantastic potential, and for his age, he's also done a brilliant job keeping his feet on the ground and avoiding letting it go to his head. He's got a monumental amount of work ahead of him to become the player people are tipping him to be though. Nonetheless, from the looks of it, there's no reason why he can't be an England regular in the future - watching your old friend Danny Welbeck and the England U21s didn't do a lot to inspire me that Wickham will have much competition!
The best way to sum it up would be this - Bruce has gone and bought himself a rough diamond. It's gonna take a great deal of polishing, but if you can get him to shine, he'll be worth every single penny.
Best of luck!
Date:Thursday June 30 2011
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