It has been said by a few this season that the best signing of the whole host hasn’t been one of the more flashy expensive signings. The likes of Billy Sharp or Simon Cox, or one of the guys in the positions we had to fill, like any defenders, but more Simon Gillett. A player in a position we had and have a whole range of options.
Possibly the most under stated of the signings, a free transfer from Doncaster, no-one really took much note he had signed. He was one of O’Driscoll's men from Doncaster, someone he trusted but let’s be honest surely we wouldn’t play much. Wrong.
Gillett hasn’t quite had the side built round him that would be wrong, but integral to the way O’Driscoll wants to play he knew he needed a man for that role. The Paul McKenna deep lying midfielder role. The role Didier Deschamps made famous in 1998, aand one Andrea Pirlo has brought to the forefront again.
This isn’t a role Guy Moussi can play, let’s face it his distribution is shaky at best. Moussi is someone to carry it forward, or to break up play. Gillett is there to create play, but not like a play maker, but more to start the move, that first opening to start a more attack minded midfielder to start getting forward and build the move from there.
In 1998 it was known as the water carrier, after Eric Cantona derided Deschamps as such. He suggested that his role to give the ball to his more talented colleagues who could do more skilful things with the ball. But this is to misunderstand the role. Cantona I am sure recognised the part he played, and maybe he was being his usual impish self in describing Deschamps role, but it is a common mis conception because of the none glitzy element of the role. This player barely ever scores or gets forward, they don’t even often get the assist.
Paul McKenna was a divisive figure with Forest fans. Those who recognised what he did and those who didn’t understand complained he passed backwards or sideways. In fact over the last few years these players have often fallen down here, Sammy Clingan was nicknamed sideways Sammy. But these people often cite a desired midfield in those days of Anderson, Majewski, McGugan Cohen. Which is to not recognise someone needs to sit deep?
When we have recognised that role for a deep sitter, people love the destroyer. The midfielder who breaks up play and starts a new attack. However it is all too rare at this level to find the vision of a ball player with someone who does that. Moussi doesn’t, but fans like him because, well a) he has a name we can do a funny shout too, and b, he charges in often with reckless abandon, and fans love someone winning a full blooded challenge. Paul Evans was in this mould too.
But finally that fan's seem to recognise the role, because in part they see the team set up differently to try and get the best out of this role. With McKenna, in a 4-4-2 he often had one or two outlets at best, or to pass it back to the defence. With the narrower 3 in front of Gillett, there are often 3 passes on to make, o r the defensive back pass. This makes him seem to be taking a forward option more, when really it’s just the same kind of play. McKenna would have revelled in this role too. Then of course the calibre of the creative central midfielders is better too. So attacks start quicker, and it looks like he set these wheels in motion. What also helps ins Cohen and Guedioura being the box to box midfielders who make sure there are players getting forward, whereas McKenna often had McGugan as his sole outlet and if he was on a lazy day, then it all fell down.
So yes, it’s possible to say that because of his relative cheapness he has been a glorious signing. He has performed well on the whole, to the point he was being linked with being poached from us. But there are these players elsewhere, we haven’t unearthered a diamond. SoD knew about Gillett and knew he was a reliable man for this role. Managers often know they have players they can turn to in a role. A trusted general who he knows he can trust to play the role.
Jenas as he gets older is possibly falling into this role too, so the two of them often trip over each other when they started against Wednesday, restricting those forward outlet options. Maybe Jenas would be an upgrade but a pricey upgrade. That’s why you see this midfielders drop deeper into these roles later in careers. Because it isn’t as high octane as charging box to box. But it requires vision, and awareness, two basics in most midfielders game.
But is nice to see Forest fans also as a whole recognising the role that the water carrier plays in the team. For too long it’s been a misunderstood position, people always demanding forward play at all costs. Sometimes it’s just about the simplest pass, play it in the direction you are facing, and keeping possession. Yes we all applaud a great cross field ball, but that over complicates the game. Gillett keeps it simple. And it works.