Charlie Wyke. If ever there was a player guaranteed to spark hours of debate amongst Sunderland fans, it’s Charlie.
Now into his third season at Sunderland – after signing from Bradford for an undisclosed fee, rumoured to be around half a million quid – Wyke has never shown the levels of performance that will make a regular impression on the scoresheet.
His consistent lack of form has – understandably – left the vast majority of fans questioning if he is actually up to the job of leading a promotion-targeting attack.
Or is it simply time to cut our losses?
Wyke made his first league start in the home game against Peterborough, a match in which Sunderland struggled to create any clear-cut openings.
Regardless of chances created, Charlie tuned in a performance of the type we’ve become very accustomed to.
He fought a losing battle against the opposition centre halves, invariably giving away fouls when he tried to challenge for the ball. He struggled to hold the ball up and bring others into play and, when high crosses were played into the area, he didn’t look to get across his man and challenge for the ball with any confidence or conviction.
Since his arrival at the Stadium of Light he’s been played as a target man, yet he’s scored only one headed goal in his Sunderland career.
The question is, is that his game?
At this point it would be easy to blame the player himself and attribute his underwhelming performances and record since joining the club to simply not being good enough.
But here’s the thing. And it may surprise you.
Charlie Wyke did score goals before he came to Sunderland.
Once he had regular first team football, his career stats read:
32 goals in 64 games in League 2 for Carlisle (2 games per goal)
22 goals in 54 games in League 1 for Bradford (2.5 games per goal)
This is a healthy return for his pre-Sunderland career, but once he joined us it reads:
9 goals in 58 games (6.4 games per goal).
I was actually surprised that he had scored so many for Sunderland, because it feels like he’s notched fewer.
However, as he scored regularly for his previous clubs, I believe that – just like Will Grigg – there is a goal scorer inside him that’s bursting to get out. His career stats indicate there is.
But why haven’t we seen it?
Here it becomes more theoretical.
As we have seen over the past two years under both Parkinson and Ross, Wyke – like Grigg – has largely been used as a lone centre forward.
And Wyke – like Will Grigg – does not look as if he can dominate teams in that role.
However, at his previous clubs it was a different story.
At Bradford, by all accounts, he played as part of a front two. Similarly, at Carlisle, where fans remember a player who was good with his feet.
And, at times, he does appear to be sharp with his feet. At others he trips over the ball trying to untangle his legs.
What he does not do – or do often enough for a big strong player – is win the ball in the air when it arrives in the box.
Just how big an ask is it then to play a forward who previously played as part of a front two upfront by himself? We can only debate.
No doubt some will say that as a professional footballer he should be able to adapt to whatever he is asked to do.
But there is the opinion of one ex pro that makes interesting listening.
Someone who has scored a boatload of goals and has been coaching ever since hanging up his boots.
When Super Kev came on the Roker Report Podcast in September he recalled his own experience of being asked to play as a lone striker.
I was brought up in a 4-4-2 and when you’re brought up that way you’re used to making certain runs. In a front two, one will go short and the other go long. When I played as a lone striker I didn’t know what I was doing, whether to come short or long.
Furthermore, he went on to make an observation of teams outside the Premier League.
If you look at the teams that have come up from the Championship over the last ten years, statistically most of them have played 4-4-2.
So here’s the argument. Wyke would be more suited to a front two and maybe, just maybe, he would also do better with balls played in on the deck around the box.
Sunderland have spent the past two years in League One largely playing one man up front. From the point of view of the striker, the only time it worked was when Josh Maja played there. A player who came up through our academy team in the Premier League days playing... 4-5-1.
Is it possible that, it’s simply a case of the wrong system, rather than the wrong players?