Saturday, 6 March 2010

The forgotten man

With all the discussion of Jimmy Bullard's impending return to action this weekend, it seems that the dual rehabilitation of Geovanni has been completely forgotten.

It seems bizarre to consider the brilliant Brazilian to be a forgotten man. But that's just what he is. He has not been on a teamsheet since warming the bench for the whole 1-1 draw with Chelsea, and last appeared on a pitch at Manchester United. In the four days between the Chelsea game and the win over Manchester City, he somehow hurt a knee and has been recovering from it ever since.

He is now ready to play again, but this piece of news has become entirely incidental, as if his availability does not have the bearing on selection and tactics. When one considers just how crucial he was last season, this is a remarkable turn of events.

The problem for Geovanni is three-fold. Firstly, in half of the games he missed, City did extremely well - the aforementioned home games with Chelsea and Manchester City. Subsequent defeats against Blackburn Rovers and West Ham United were both of a type that meant his dash of unpredictability would have been pointless. The referee's outlandish decision to send off George Boateng did for one, the general incompetence of the team and Craig Fagan's imbecilic dismissal the other.

Secondly, the Brazilian has had little influence this season when he has featured. It comes from a mixture of his own muted form, that of the team, pessimistic tactics and the knowledge opponents now have of him. Therefore, when he did leave the picture for a while, it was difficult to notice.

Thirdly, there is the Bullard issue. Both players are similarly skilled and visionary, but in entirely different ways. Geovanni is, of course, a brilliant individual, yet that's the problem. He isn't a team player, despite efforts this season to turn him as much into an off-ball worker as an on-ball craftsman, and our best memories of him since his arrival have been of things he has created for himself. Bullard, however, uses his immense gifts to create for others, to bring the best out of those wearing the same colours. He is a leader and a figurehead and ultimately the team and the supporters raise their expectations when he is around. Nobody, even last season, has ever done that with Geovanni. When we think about the glorious autumnal spell of 2008, Geovanni was merely the best player in a fine team. He didn't win games on his own - his scoring of the only goal at Tottenham is merely a quarter of the story - and he didn't pick up the majority of plaudits after each match.

None of this is designed to devalue Geovanni. He is a superb footballer and the Tigers remain fortunate to have him. But, at the most, the bench beckons for him tomorrow, especially with Bullard around. It's hard enough to accommodate both of them when each are match fit, never mind do so when both are on the comeback trail. And ultimately, the player everyone is demanding tomorrow is Bullard.