Past experience should teach us to just sit tight and wait
£8.2 million is lot of money to spend on a 27-year-old that had never regularly scored at a ratio over a goal every three games. It is even more to spend when it breaks a club’s transfer record, more than the club spent on Nicolas Anelka. But none of this is the fault of Johan Elmander.
The Swede became something of a calamity figure in his first season at Bolton, scoring just three league goals in 25 games after a move from French club Toulouse. He was written off as another foreign import that had failed in the Premier League. However this season Elmander already has five goals and two assists in nine appearances.
But Elmander’s story is nothing new, and some of the top performers in Premier League history have received derision from both fans and media, only to respond impressively.
The primary example of this is Cristiano Ronaldo. Now arguably the second best player on the planet, it was not always so. Upon his arrival at Old Trafford for £12million, Ronaldo flattered to deceive for much of his first season, and was seen by the tabloid media as a one trick show-pony, with stepovers but no end product.
The renovation is as famous as it was dramatic. Ronaldo revolutionised English football’s idea of the complete footballer, and in the last three seasons at United scored 91 goals and provided 36 assists. He broadened the horizons of the Premier League and extended our expectations of a footballing superstar.
No less remarkable was the transformation of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, the Argentinian duo that signed for West Ham United before the 2006/7 season. It is too easy to forget just how poor the two Argentinians were for West Ham. Mascherano played just five league games, and although Tevez ended the season emphatically to ensure the Hammers’ survival, he scored took twenty games to find the net.
Since then, the pair have accumulated in excess of £65million in transfer fees, and have established themselves as stars on the world stage.
Whereas some players take three months to settle into English football (Dennis Bergkamp famously failed to impress in his early Arsenal career), USA keeper Brad Friedel took three years. Signed by Liverpool in December 1997 for £1.7million, Brad was expected to be the natural successor to David James. So it appeared, with the American making high profile errors before being relegated to the bench for three seasons, principally behind Sander Westerveld.
It took a move to Blackburn Rovers for Friedel to ignite his career in England. In the eight years he spent at Ewood Park he became one of the most reliable goalkeepers in Europe, and was named by Andy Gray as Premier League Goalkeeper of the Decade in 2009.
This list is not exhaustive, and Thierry Henry and Frank Lampard could easily have featured. So what is the answer? Patience, quite simply put.
In our everyday lives, the more money we spend on a product, whether it be car or computer, the quicker and more efficient we expect it to be. We anticipate taking said product out of the packaging and it performing perfectly immediately. And when a player is signed for a large transfer fee, we treat them the same. We reduce the human element to mechanical status simply because of a monetary value placed upon a player’s head.
The illogicality of such a stance is evident. Many of the examples above are young men, often moving abroad leaving families behind. They are habitually expected to live alone or with a new team mate, regularly dealing with homesickness at a time of great upheaval. Add to this the problems of language and growing accustomed to new tactics and formations, and our impatience seems even more unreasonable.
There are players that have settled in instantly (Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Fernando Torres to name but two), but surely this merely highlights the unpredictability and diversity of human nature? It is easy to retort with the argument that these are men “paid thousands of pounds just to kick a ball around”, but whilst money can rule countless aspects of our life, emotional constitution is exempt from its influence.
Nothing will change, this much is clear. Our analysis and coverage of footballers is so in-depth and microscopic that patience is a long lost virtue. Instead, the only respite is if more footballers like Johan Elmander get the chance to instigate a new form of ‘second season syndrome’. No-one is suggesting that Elmander will now become a new Tevez or Bergkamp, but we may at least see him at his best, and that is all Bolton fans can really ask for.