Issue When giants walked the Earth

As told by Michael Wood

You could hardly escape Andy Carroll this weekend. He was on the front page of The News of the World on Sunday morning when someone mixed up the phrases “In the public interest” and “interesting to the public” and by the next morning he was on the back too.

The target man Newcastle United forward is expected to feature in Fabio Capello’s England squad for the friendly with France which represents something of an “uppy downy” kind of time for the forward who quiet out shined opposite attacker Marouane Chamakh.

The French forward Chamakh is a strange sight. Tall and strong but able to take the ball into his body the 26 year old is something of a French Alan Shearer – we have heard that phrase before – and is there to add a bit of muscle to Arsene’s Arsenal.

Meanwhile, at Valley Parade, we have James Hanson who scored twice in the weekend cup defeat having come back from an injury which hampered the start of the season with a point to prove. Hanson is able in the air and gives defenders little chance to settle – his red card was rescinded after the Burton Albion win but he was in the think of the action all afternoon – but his hammered strike against Cheltenham showed his talents.

One has to wonder what Huddersfield Town – the club he was associated with as a youngster – did not see in Hanson although City’s neighbours have passed up on previous Bantam forwards. They had seven games out of Bobby Campbell and got three goals out of him.

Bobby Campbell was a centreforward more of legend than fact but looking past the stories for a second – and only a second because the stories are wonderful – then Campbell was a muscle striker who could hit a ball with what seemed to be immeasurable power.

Legend has it that Campbell’s time at Huddersfield was ended when he took the junior squad for a jog as a part of a punishment in training and – in true Campbell style – that jog included each player getting into the driver’s side of the manager’s Ford Anglia and dragging muddy boots out of the passenger side.

One doubts Hanson was involved in anything such as that before his time in the Co-op between The Terriers and The Bantams and obviously when City came to offer a second chance he took that with two hands but one doubts his style of play has changed. It has, one might say, come back into fashion.

Ten years ago football’s forward lines seemed to have lost their big men. Dean Windass – City’s forward of the day – had Campbell’s gruffness but not his style of play and he was partnered with the slight Benito Carbone. The Premier League was won by Dwight Yorke and Andrew Cole and there was not a target man in sight. Niall Quinn went out to pasture at Sunderland and Kevin Phillips new partner was a more able footballer, and certainly not a big fella.

The big forward at the top level had dropped out of fashion. Of course there were Jon Mackins, Drew Broughtons and Shequi Kuqis wandering around the game but often they were considered classless – Broughton still is – and soon dropped in favour of a forward with a little more guile. Naturally a big lad who has that guile prospers but how many Didier Drogbas are there? Not enough for everyone to have one although in League Two every team seemed to have someone who was six foot eight and it took the Bantams some time to realise that a Matthew Clarke or a Luke Oliver was needed to keep the defensive line strong.

So defenders became used not to battles in the air and trying to win the ball but to trying to anticipate and steal by stealth. Defending at the top level – and further down – has become a more intelligent affair about second guessing the path of play and about anticipation.

Enter Hanson, enter Carroll, enter Chamakh. They play a game that says to defenders “you know where the ball is going, I know where the ball is going, now lets see who gets it” and because – in words that would be used in comparison to Bobby Campbell – defenders have gone soft the cannot defend against the new generation of target man.

Hanson battles the beefiest of League Two defenders and comes out on top which Carroll will be facing the French back four soon. For a time these target men rip through defences like giants stalking the Earth.

As for the progress of James Hanson, Bobby Campbell would be impressed, and so am I.