Making The Case For Creativity...

Roker Report has welcomed some additional writers to the team. Here's the first of many quality contributions from Michael Graham. His subject today, is the development of Jordan Henderson...

Look at just about any club in the Premier League and you are likely to hear their fans express the view that it is crucial they add the almost mythical "creative" central midfield player to their team. Sunderland fans are no different, and the excitement shown at the suggestion that Stephane Sessegnon is a transfer target is testament to that. However, are Sunderland one club who are able to look inwardly for such a player, rather than outwardly?

The days of Jordan Henderson being one of the Premier League’s best kept secrets are long gone. But the question must be asked whether Henderson’s rise to prominence this season has been simply a result of him being in the right place at the right time to ride the post-World Cup wave of criticism for England’s established stars (and subsequent clamour for fresh new talent to be called upon), or is there something more tangible behind it? The statistics certainly suggest the latter.

The comparison above shows plenty of improvement in Henderson from last season. It depicts a player not only maturing and taking more responsibility on the ball, but also using it more efficiently and creatively. His current total of 48 key passes, that is to say passes which open up a defence and result in an attack on the opposition’s goal, can only be bettered by 3 players in the Premier League this season – none of them central midfield players. Henderson is cutting a more mature figure without the ball this season too and, although not committing to any more tackles, he is winning more of them and giving away fewer free kicks. The point must be made, however, that one of the biggest criticisms laid at the feet of Jordan Henderson is that he often seems reluctant to commit to tackles, an accusation which appears vindicated looking at the figures above, and it is tough to disagree with those who claim developing a more physical edge to his game would be hugely beneficial to the player.

So where does all this leave Henderson in relation to his midfield contemporaries around the Premier League? Let’s see by comparing him to three players who would certainly fit the bill for most when discussing creative central midfield players – Luka Modric of Tottenham, Everton’s Mikel Arteta, Arsenal’s Jack Wilshire.

Direct comparisons here can obviously be problematic, but what is apparent is that Henderson does not look out of place in company of this calibre. At least not on paper, anyway. In fact, in terms of producing the pass that opens up a defence, Henderson is streets ahead of all of them this season. Whilst he makes less passes than the players above, and with less accuracy, the passes he makes are more penetrative. This efficiency in the usage of the ball clearly hasn’t gone unnoticed. On the eve of handing him his England debut last November, Fabio Capello commented "He is a really interesting player. He has one or two touches maximum and when he has the ball he switches it quickly".

Whether or not Henderson is at the level of the likes of Modric, Arteta, and Wilshire is very much up for debate. No one here is claiming statistics prove anything. Statistics are an aid to debates, not an end to them. That said, there would appear to be two very strong conclusions that we can draw from this. Firstly, Jordan Henderson has shown remarkable and very tangible development since his debut season. Clearly it would be folly to suggest that this improvement is the only reason for the team’s vastly improved league position, but it would surely be naive to dismiss it as simple coincidence. It is certainly not a stretch to conclude it to be a considerable contributing factor, anyway. Secondly, Henderson has emerged as a player who is absolutely pivotal to the system that Sunderland play and by far the most likely player to create attacks on goal. In fact, only Steed Malbranque (seen by many as the squad’s premier source of creativity) in the Sunderland ranks can get even close to him this season in terms of how often he produces a defence-opening pass (25 key passes from 1298 minutes on the pitch).

This study is not going to stop the cries from Sunderland fans for more creative players to be added to the team, and nor should it. But perhaps it will encourage some to reassess the kind of creativity we are lacking. Henderson is not only capable of creating attacks from a central position, but he is doing it, and doing it with great regularity.

Statistics provided by The Telegraph Online

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Look at just about any club in the Premier League and you are likely to hear their fans express the view that it is crucial they add the almost mythical "creative" central midfield player to their team. Sunderland fans are no different, and the excitement shown at the suggestion that Stephane Sessegnon is a transfer target is testament to that. However, are Sunderland one club who are able to look inwardly for such a player, rather than outwardly?

The days of Jordan Henderson being one of the Premier League’s best kept secrets are long gone. But the question must be asked whether Henderson’s rise to prominence this season has been simply a result of him being in the right place at the right time to ride the post-World Cup wave of criticism for England’s established stars (and subsequent clamour for fresh new talent to be called upon), or is there something more tangible behind it? The statistics certainly suggest the latter.

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