George Saville - Boro's latest boo boy needs time to prove his worth
A relatively new Middlesbrough player getting stick from his own fans – hardly breaking news is it?
But whether it’s a regular occurrence or not, it still doesn’t rankle with me any less than if it was the first of such an instance.
Now of course, we’ve seen players getting hammered by fans on social media BEFORE they’ve even signed on the dotted line. Talk about a warm welcome, eh?
Yet when a player signs, no matter what your thoughts are on them, isn’t it only fair you give them a chance? Well, if you’re thinking straight then you’ll know the answer to that.
The latest focus of a section of Boro fans for some less than deserved ire is former Millwall midfield man, George Saville.
Bright start, but then comes the stick
Curiously he was welcomed with quiet, but positive noises. After all, in The Lions’ over achieving campaign last time out he was a vital cog. His midfield partner Jed Wallace was also a reported Boro target, and the two of them together were instrumental in the way Neil Harris’ side almost gate-crashed the top six (their hopes dashed at The Riverside in the seasons penultimate game).
Despite the apparent efforts from Boro to bring them both to Teesside, we instead had to settle for one half of the dynamic duo – and it started pretty well.
In only his second game following his loan, with more than a view to a permanent signing, move he bagged the only goal of the game in the home win over Bolton, a smart finish too.
Overall he looked neat and tidy, buzzed about and got involved.
Now you might think that would be the minimum requirement for any player in a midfield role, and you’d be right, but it was his first outing and he seemed to have settled in nicely.
He proceeded to start the following four games, completing the full 90 in three of them, including the win away at Ipswich. Yet, already the doubts were creeping in from fans.
“Poor man’s Barry Robson”
“Millwall have had our eyes out”
And other less than humorous (or original) references to a receipt that may or may not be lost.
Since the last of those full ninety games (the home defeat to Nottingham Forest) he’s failed to make a start, only appearing from the bench in four, totalling just 57 minutes. His detractors would say it’s because he’s not good enough, but you can’t write someone off that quickly.
No matter what the fee, no matter how experienced you are, coming to a new Club in a completely different area to what you’re accustomed to, playing with players you’ve never played with, as well as adapting to a new manager all means that you’re likely to need time to find your feet.
Not that some are going to sympathise with such matters it would seem.
Instant gratification is the world we live in today, no sooner is a player signed they’re on the scrapheap and ready for the knackers yard if he’s not lit up the crowd within a couple of weeks.
On the flipside however, a player can be seen as some sort of God if they manage to achieve that. It’s the fickle nature of football I guess.
We’ve seen it so many times with Boro signings, slow starts or groans before they’ve kicked a ball, only for the player in question to go on to be relatively successful.
In recent times there’s been George Friend, Ryan Shotton, Darren Randolph, Jonny Howson and Adama Traore. Grant Leadbitter got his fair share, though I wonder how much that might’ve been down to his Sunderland connections.
That’s just to name a few.
You’d think those who are quick to cast doubt would actually learn, but no, we still see it week in week out. The nonsense spouted, heckles in the Twittersphere ringing loud and clear – he’s just not good enough.
Well, perhaps it’s time someone made a case for George Saville.
Last season, as mentioned earlier, Saville was highly influential in what was a stellar season for the boys down at The New Den. Tipped by many as relegation fodder they proved all doubters wrong (proof further you should never write off anyone, or anything too soon), finishing 8th, just falling at the final stages when form prior to that suggested they might just make the play-offs.
Bagging ten goals and two assists in the league, the Northern Island International (yes, he plays at the highest level too, capped nine times) contributed to almost a fifth of his teams goals. No mean feat.
In fact, his stats in those areas amounted to the same contributed by FIVE Boro midfielders last season. Regulars in Leadbitter, Howson, Adam Clayton and later Mo Besic could only muster up seven goals and four assists between them. Lewis Baker, who dropped off the radar early on in his fruitless loan spell, got just one goal to make up the twelve goal total in the league.
Saville featured in all but two games for The Lions, one of those ironically coming against Boro in that 2-0 defeat in April, and on only two occasions he failed to complete the 90 minutes (both coincidentally coming against Norwich where he still managed 83 & 84 minutes).
It’s fair to say that they wouldn’t have finished where they did without him.
Nomadic Saville thrives on confidence
In his relatively short career Saville has moved about a bit. Another of the Chelsea loan brigade, much like former Boro man Patrick Bamford, he failed to make a first team appearance for The Blues before moving on to Wolves. By that time he’d seen out loan moves at Millwall and Brentford (where he played a big role in their promotion from League One).
Without ever really getting a proper run under his felt at Molineux he left on loan twice more, Bristol City and Millwall (again) before making his permanent and ultimately successful switch to The New Den.
However, he’s shown that in his time as a professional, be it at The Bees or indeed last season with Millwall, that he can be a key player when he’s not masquerading as a nomad.
He scores goals, he can pick a pass, has a low centre of gravity that can see him spin his way out of tight spots. He’s a player who clearly thrives on confidence, and right now he’s likely low on that due to his time on the bench.
He’ll know what he’s got to offer, so does Pulis who felt it necessary to commit the Club to an £8m transfer upon his loan concluding in May 2019. It was a big purchase for The Welshman to make, especially given his well-publicised comments about being careful with Steve Gibson’s money.
We’ve got to trust Pulis’ faith, have patience in the player. It’s impossible to pass judgement on someone so soon.
I tweeted earlier this week that Howson last season was on the receiving end of similar barracking, often from the stands embarrassingly (for the fans booing him, not the player), and now look at him. He’s seen as a vital member of the first team.
There are parallels, given the decent money paid out for both as well as their performances at other clubs before rocking up at Boro.
I wouldn’t bet against the parallel stretching further when we evaluate Saville this time next season, hopefully thriving in the heart of The Boro midfield.
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