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Brendan Galloway: Just what exactly is his best position?

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Are Galloway’s early season woes down to being played out of position?

Sunderland v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Darkness fell, thoughts became scarce and the mind ceased working.

This was my reaction to the one constant platitude that has been adduced to Brendan Galloway’s start to the season as my mate says,“he isn’t playing in his natural position.” He continued to claim the Zimbabwean-born defender is in actuality a central defender. I replied nonchalantly, with a simple “he isn’t.” I refused to be drawn into a debate; by this point I simply couldn’t be arsed after hearing or reading the same response over, and over again.

This is a myth. Brendan Galloway *is* a left-back, or at least he has played there nearly all of his career up until this date.

Before the Carlisle match on Tuesday night, Galloway had been our first choice left-back since his loan signing from Everton. He was arguably directly at fault for goals on his competitive debut at home to Derby, and then again on our return to the Stadium of Light for the Leeds match. Nevertheless, I have been hesitant to write the youngster off merely five games into his Sunderland career. The fucking transfer window hasn’t even closed yet and many around me in the South Stand rebuked, reprimanded and reviled him for the majority of the 90 minutes against Leeds.

First, it must be said that he is positionally about as aware as Iain Wright with his head stuck up Alan Shearer’s arse every time he appears on Match of the Day, and has the keen ability to look constantly lost on the pitch in an almost Titus Bramble-esque manner. It probably was one of the worst performances from a left-back at the Stadium in a long while. Please, Brendan, no more positioning like this anymore:

Many may not have heard of the impressive Ezgjan Alioski and Samu Sáiz who clearly targeted the full-back and constantly overloaded his side along with Luke Ayling. Yet the former two are exciting and effervescent players at this level; they registered 29 goals and 23 assists between them last season for Lugano and Huesca respectively, mainly from midfield. Certainly a handful for any Championship defender.

To already write Galloway off will do him no favours when he’s going to be here until May, and will more than likely play again. There are numerous excuses for as to why he has underperformed thus far: an injury disrupted preseason, his lack of experience at Championship level, or his slender build in a country dominated by physically overwhelming players. Yet, we have to hope he will come good, just look at how Simon Grayson has already improved a raft of players having been at the club for just under two months. Grayson himself admitted Galloway had a difficult afternoon but did offer somewhat of an explanation why;

It is never easy in the Championship and Brendan has done alright for us. He found it difficult against a difficult player. We know with Aiden McGeady that side he will give you loads going forward - and you want him too - and sometimes you have to sacrifice his defensive duties. It is a learning curve for everybody when you lose a game. You analyse it, don't get too down because we have been winning games over the past week. Players have worked extremely hard over this schedule - nobody else in the Championship has had the schedule we have or against the level of opposition.

Grayson’s comments regarding McGeady’s lack of defensive protection were evident midway through the first half when he switched the Irishman to the right and moved George Honeyman over to the left, but this still did not aid matters.

Grayson’s comments are very shrewd, he does not prescribe to the David Moyes handbook of negativity, nor the Paolo Di Canio guide to hanging your players out to dry. Instead, Grayson has acknowledged publicly Galloway’s shortcomings and offered both an explanation and a remedy to the problem. Although the immediate fix has to be starting Bryan Oviedo in his place.

This is neither an apology for Galloway’s poor performances, nor an investigation, but simply a message that Galloway is indeed a left-back, and is “playing in his natural position.

In 2015/16 at Roberto Martinez’s Everton team, he started the season well, breaking through to the first-team and started at left back in all but four of Everton’s Premier League games in 2015. In November, Martinez had nought but praise for the young defender;

He is a first-team player, he is not a young player anymore. With what he has done this season he has earned the right to be considered a starter. I don’t consider Brendan as a teenager who is just filling a role in the first team. He has earned the right of being an important player in the first team and that’s the way I see it.

However, by the turn of the year, Galloway found himself behind Bryan Oviedo in the pecking order, appearing on the bench only three times in 2016, and didn’t play at all on the pitch. In the short-term, Galloway is ironically finding himself in an all too familiar position. Oviedo competed with Leighton Baines for the starting berth, and the Costa Rican international will likely start against Barnsley this weekend, taking Galloway’s place in the Starting XI, again.

Crystal Palace v Sunderland - Premier League
Oviedo looks set to take his former teammate’s place in the starting XI
Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Brendan Galloway has played at left back for 59 of his 75 appearances thus far in his career, both at full team and U23 level. How can any player be denoted as a central defender when 79% of his appearances have been at fullback? He has only really spent one season as a central defender; in 2014/15 for Everton U23’s which led to his breakthrough into the Everton first team.

Galloway actually made his professional debut at MK Dons as a defensive midfielder, and flitted between the three positions during his youth career, though did favour himself as a central defender, holding players such as Rio Ferdinand as his icons. Despite this, Galloway has subsequently barely played in the position and has now been all but converted to a full-back.

Galloway can play efficiently in central defence, having appeared there fifteen times in his career, chiefly for Everton’s U23 side in the Premier League 2 (then named the U21 Premier League). He started once for boyhood team MK Dons in the position, and came on for John Stones in a League Cup Third Round Tie, playing on the left of a back three. The Premier League 2, however, is a far sight from full competitive football - just look at how Joel Asoro struggled both physically and for space and time on the ball against Carlisle, and he’s spent the last two years tearing apart U23 defences.

Galloway simply does not have the physical stature nor height to play long-term at central defence in neither the Premier League nor the Championship – and on the evidence thus far this season he doesn’t require the requisite ability to read or anticipate the game either. If he does get a chance in a back three, I’d wager it would be on the left-hand-side of a three-man defence, with a trio of Galloway-Koné-Browning much more appealing and attractive than allowing human-lamppost Papy Djilobodji back into the side.

In either position, hopefully Galloway can live up to his early promise, enough which convinced then MK Dons manager Karl Robinson to give him his senior debut at the age of fifteen, becoming the youngest first-team player in MK Don's history as a 79th minute substitute against Nantwich Town in an FA Cup first round tie in November, 2011.

Expect to see more of Brendan Galloway in the Sunderland side, and barring a monumental injury crisis, expect it to be from left-back, his reformed position.