Date:Friday October 6 2006
In light of recent comments made by Benni McCarthy regarding Craig Bellamy and early season form it is important to determine how good McCarthy really is and if he has softened the blow of Bellamy`s departure?
A summer of top transfer targets were expected at Rovers, names like Eidur Gudjohnson were certainly feeding the imagination. However, Gudjohnson signed for Barcelona and all the talk was of top clubs poaching our stars. It`s funny how things never quite work out like that in football and reality is quick to slap you hard in the face.
Hughes had a real task of keeping hold of his five main stars; Craig Bellamy, Ryan Nelsen, Lucas Neill, Steven Reid and Morten Gamst Pedersen. It appeared our over-achievement was going to cost us.
Hughes did well though as only one left; Bellamy (although it looks like Neill may go too).
Rovers fans took a long time coming to terms with the loss of Bellamy whose whirlwind affair with the club and fans was unceremoniously brought to an end after Bellamy went back on his promises and headed off to Liverpool.
Many despaired and endured further anguish watching long-term target, Mido stretch out his decision whether or not to sign for the club. It felt like an eternity had passed before any kind of decision was reached, much like the continued Stephens inquiry, and even then nothing concrete was really said, or has been said.
Then joy all round as Rovers finally landed a star striker. Enter Benni McCarthy.
Rovers tried to sign him before along with every other English club, although I hear Accrington Stanley`s reported bid never materialised, but eventually Mark Hughes` perseverance paid off.
He was certainly delighted to have captured such a cultured striker. Indeed his goal scoring record was second to none, excluding a difficult period in Spain with Celta Vigo.
So is he our new goal scoring hero, can he turn a game on its head for us and, will he lead us to success?
I believe the only fair way to judge this, at such an early stage in his Rovers career, is to compare him to Bellamy, his predecessor, who at the end of last season answered that criterion.
McCarthy is acutely aware of Bellamy`s importance to Rovers last season. He told Skysports:
"Craig is a great player and did a fantastic job for Blackburn last season. He played his part in helping this club get to where they are now. I`m just trying to pick up the pieces from where he left off."
It is true Bellamy`s boots were going to be very hard to fill because we weren`t just losing a player we were also losing a style of play. There was no way Rovers could afford to replace him with a player of similar speed and tenacity. The only option was Nicolas Anelka, and we all know how much Bolton forked out for 'Le Sulk`.
So, after five goals in nine games how is Benni comparing against Bellamy?
He is without a doubt a more accomplished finisher. He is a striker where Bellamy was an attacker and he has a great sense of knowing where to be at the right time, only something that great strikers have. Also, he has started strongly; Bellamy took a considerable amount of time to find form and settle due to injuries.
Benni leads the line well because of his ability to hold the ball up and his strength. This was something that Bellamy never had. It wouldn`t have been possible to play Bellamy up-front alone; we have already seen this tactic used to success this season with Benni.
However, Bellamy had the pace to turn defence into attack within a few seconds, Benni doesn`t. Nevertheless, he has just as much skill as Bellamy and can, literally, turn a game on its head in an instant. His goal in the second leg against Salzburg is a great example of this.
McCarthy`s all round play invites more of the team forward as he is usually the fulcrum of all link-up play.
However, goals are the true measurement; so how does Benni stand up against Bellamy?
Bellamy played 27 times in the league for Rovers scoring 13 goals. That translates to about one every other game. McCarthy currently has 3 from 7 games, an identical ratio. Whereas Bellamy had injury problems, restricting the amount of games he featured in McCarthy has no such record. So with that in mind a full season from Benni should return roughly 17 league goals, a tally not reached by a Blackburn Rovers striker in the Premiership since Chris Sutton`s 18 in the 1998/1999 season.
This doesn`t take into consideration cup performances. McCarthy has scored two goals in two games in Europe where, as he states he is important:
"I`m now here to bring my experience over the past few seasons of playing in Europe to a team that is optimistic, that wants to go places and win things. That`s why I can play in the UEFA Cup, and people should appreciate that."
So, although it would appear McCarthy is a suitable replacement for Craig Bellamy it is unfair to assume that is all he is. His scoring record and playing style suggests he will be the player with the potential to provide Rovers with 20 goals a season.
His transfer was greeted with a muted response. I think everyone was pleased with the signing but there were concerns to whether he could be a star player or score enough goals. His start suggests he will and all Rovers fans are currently basking in the prospect of another bargain buy striker.
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Date:Friday October 6 2006
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