I can’t remember the last time I was so excited about a transfer deadline day signing as I was when it was announced that the final piece had been secured in the quickly assembled summer jigsaw of the new look Nottingham Forest. I thought it at the time, and I still think it now; Billy Sharp will be the man to fire Forest to the Premier League.
Some may view this opinion as odd for a player who so far has failed to find the net and only managed to gain a starting place in the last couple of games due to the suspension of others, but a striker is only as good as the service that is provided by rest of the team. It is no coincidence that Billy Sharp has looked something approaching his better form in the short time he has spent on the field with a midfield combination of Jermaine Jenas and Radi Majewski supplying the ammunition, rather than the more direct approach that Lewis McGugan provides.
I liken Sharp’s current situation to the scenario that Fernando Torres found himself in at Chelsea. Chelsea signed Torres as part of a longer term strategy to evolve the team’s style of play from a direct approach with Didier Drogba as the focal point to a more fluid short passing game, with the likes of Mata, Oscar and Hazard now buzzing around a confident, goal scoring Torres. Torres didn’t become a bad player overnight, and it was just a case of being patient and finding a system to suit and to get the best out of him.
Forest are having to go through a similar evolution (or revolution!) from the style of play endured under Steve Cotterill last season, to the ‘Total Football’ that Sean O’Driscoll craves. As some of the players have struggled to come to terms with the new style demanded, and as confidence has dipped due to a blip in results, some of the players have reverted to type and opted for the longer ball with Blackstock operating in the ‘Drogba’ role as a focal point. This style of play and service will never get the best out of Billy Sharp.
Many people say that good players should be able to adapt to whatever system they are put into. Critics say that at £35m, Andy Carroll should be able to fit into whatever system Liverpool want him to play in. I say you don’t buy a Porsche and use it as a family saloon. Goalscoring is the most difficult art in football, so if you’ve got a player who is good at it, you play in a way to get the best out of them.
As much as I like Dexter Blackstock, I think his suspension could be the best thing to happen to Forest in the long run this season. Without the ‘get-out’ ball of a lump up to the big man in the last two games, the short game has returned and we look more dangerous again. It has allowed Sharp to finally get a full ninety minutes under his belt in a red shirt, and with every minute that passes he has looked more like the player that has scored so many goals in the Championship over the past few seasons. With more match fitness and sharpness, he could easily have grabbed a brace at Peterborough on Saturday.
Southampton needed Sharp to get over the line last season, and as part of a team playing football the right way, he scored 9 goals in just 15 games. His league goalscoring record at Doncaster (40 in 82) and Scunthorpe (53 in 82) highlight what a quality striker he is when he is given the right service, averaging a goal every 1.75 games. However, his record in a team renowned for playing direct, at Sheffield United, shows him averaging a goal every 6.4 games. These stats alone show the importance of playing the right way to get the best out of Sharp. If Forest can do that, then the Premier League may still yet be calling come May.