Tuesday, 15 December 2009
Seyi Olofinjana could yet prove to be a fine signing for Hull City. However, right now there is still doubt as to exactly what type of central midfielder he is expected to be.
Such midfielders can usually be pigeonholed. There are the creators, the forward thinkers, like Jimmy Bullard. There are the hard-running, maligned box to box players, like Dean Marney. There are what recent trends have monikered as the holding players, those who provide a protective screen for the defence and only venture far beyond halfway if in actual possession of the ball, like George Boateng.
Then there's Olofinjana. Some days he looks like he can do all of these things. Other days he looks like he can do none of them.
The Nigerian made a tremendous debut for the Tigers on the opening day of the campaign at Chelsea, robbing his opponent of time on the ball and, very often, possession of it. He was a nuisance midfielder, strong and composed and utterly brilliant. Yet he has not played even close to that level since.
Although he cuts a brooding, imposing figure, Olofinjana seems to be a confidence player like most others. This is particularly visible when he finds himself in a shooting position, and on at least two occasions this season he has found himself with a glorious goalscoring opportunity but has chosen each time to try to set up someone else. Whether this is passing the buck, a feeling that he somehow has no right to try scoring goals when others are selected to do that, or just general lack of self-esteem is not clear. But boy is it frustrating.
The first of those opportunities came in the second half at Burnley, when he tried to give Kamel Ghilas the chance when the Algerian was in a wider and less promising shooting position. The chance went begging. The second was against Stoke City, in the first half, when he cut into the penalty area and tried to lay the ball back to someone when only the keeper stood before him.
Of course, he complicated the issue further by scoring later in the same game from a crazy position. It was a turn and shot of real quality, and within the celebration of what was a crucial equaliser was a sense of further bewilderment as to why he should keep choosing not to attempt to score when we'd just seen spectacular evidence that he could do it.
But beyond all this, Olofinjana seems a complex figure. Evidently he is both hard and skilful, and yet has occasions whereby his brains and feet both seem to desert him. His appearance as a substitute against Blackburn Rovers at the weekend provided the latest evidence of this as he failed to clear a dangerous ball, dallied in his own area and lost possession as the visitors went for a late winner. He does do this a bit, it seems. Maybe he is as uncomfortable being a defender as he is being an attacker. If he could sit in the midfield and merely stop and spread the play without all the offensive or defensive tasks that come with the job, he might be okay. But football can't carry passengers.
Olofinjana left the field against Stoke a hero, went off to play for Nigeria and promptly did a hamstring. He has only just returned to fitness and although Marney was underwhelming against Blackburn, it seems unlikely that Olofinjana will return to the starting line-up at Arsenal. If Nigeria get their selfish way and drag Olofinjana away for the African Nations Cup on December 27th (a whole, ludicrous two weeks before the competition begins) then not playing him now might be a good idea, as we'd certainly need to be used to life without him by the time he boards his plane to serve his country.
It's all a bit unfortunate for player and club, but the club comes first and so the head-turning goal against Stoke may prove to be the last telling contribution Olofinjana makes for quite a long time.
Posted by Boyhood Dreams