Friday, 22 July 2011

Craig Dawson - Can he be the answer to our defensive problem?

As any Albion fan will admit, our defence is simply not good enough and has struggled for the past three years or so. This is despite having a number of established international defenders competing for a place in our back four, such as Steven Reid, Jonas Olsson and Gabriel Tamas.

The area of the defence where we are particularly light is at centre-back, with three players trying (but unfortunately failing) to impress either Roberto Di Matteo or Roy Hodgson last season when played alongside the impressive Olsson at the heart of our back four.

This has led to various sources linking us with moves for countless central defenders this summer, one of whom arrived in the shape of Gareth McAuley on a free transfer from Ipswich Town.

However, one player whose arrival seems to have been ignored by Albion fans is that of young centre-back Craig Dawson from Rochdale. Admittedly, this may be because we actually signed Dawson on deadline day last summer, before sending him back to the League One club on a season-long loan deal. With all the talk about potential new defenders, could the answer to our defensive problem actually currently be at the club, waiting for his chance to impress?

Dawson began his career playing for Non-League club Radcliffe Borough as a 17-year-old, where he played 75 games in just two seasons. During this time, he scored 15 goals, with his impressive goalscoring record being an attribute which he was able to take into the Football League with him after joining Rochdale in 2009.

As well as the offer made to Dawson by Rochdale, Bury, Crewe Alexandra, Port Vale and Northwich Victoria were also rumoured to have made offers for the young defender at the time.

When you consider that Spurs, Blackburn Rovers and Middlesborough all allegedly sent scouts to Radcliffe Borough games to watch Dawson, it is clear just how highly-rated he was after just two seasons playing Non-League football.

During one season with Rochdale, he played 46 games and scored a very impressive ten goals as they clinched promotion to League One. His solid defensive displays and goalscoring ability led to him being selected in the League Two Team of the Year, as well as winning the League Two Player of the Year award.

This led to a host of clubs showing an interest in him, but Albion eventually completed the signing of Dawson on August 31st 2010. Almost as soon as his arrival was confirmed, we sent him straight back to Rochdale on a season-long loan deal so he could continue his development at a higher level than he had previously been used to.

Craig Dawson was unveiled as an Albion player on deadline day of the summer 2010 transfer window.

Dawson once again played a key role for Rochdale, playing 41 games and scoring nine goals as the newly-promoted side finished a very impressive ninth, just three points off the play-offs, in a division containing some of the best sides to play in the third tier of English football for many years.

He returned to Albion at the end of last season and was included in the squad which has played three friendlies in the USA this pre-season as well, a sign that Roy Hodgson wants to give Dawson as much of a chance as possible to impress and show what he is capable of.

Most Albion fans have so far only had very brief highlights of matches and the occasional comment from a Rochdale fan on an Albion messageboard to form an opinion on Dawson, so here is the view of Dawson from a Rochdale fan to improve your knowledge of him as a player and what he would bring to the squad.

With this in mind, I decided to appeal for a Rochdale fan on Twitter to provide us with a reason why Dawson was so highly-rated whilst playing for them. Here is the response I got from a Rochdale fan called Sarah, who can be followed on Twitter @GirlOnATerrace and whose blog  is well worth a read!

Craig Dawson is the type of player everyone wants in their team, management and fans, and you just cannot not like him. He's the epitome of what every young lad wants to achieve, starting off playing football locally before signing for Radcliffe Borough, and eventually joining up with us in 2009. When the news of his move to West Brom came about, although we were obviously gutted, we were also so pleased for him because he deserves everything that he's worked so hard for and a lot more. We were also very happy that we were allowed to have him back on loan for the season before he left us to move onto bigger and better things.

It's clear from watching Craig play that he's not a lower league footballer, there's something different about him and he was always a class above our team. He's tall and slender yet powerful and determined, and despite his young age he always had a cool and composed head and very rarely gave us any wobbly moments. I think one thing that puts him in a better class is his eye for the goal too, he was always coming up for corners and contributed 10 goals to our 09/10 campaign. 

My last memory of Dawson at Rochdale is one that encompasses him entirely as a person and a footballer. After our final home game last season when the players came back out to applaud the fans, Craig headed off in the opposite direct and proceeded to spend the next 30 minutes walking around the entire ground shaking hands, giving hugs and signing items for every fan who wanted it and made a point of thanking everyone individually for their support at Rochdale. That night was our end of season awards and once again he stayed right until the end of the night with the fans rather than the other players, I think he probably made a lot of fans very happy that day without realising...including me as I made sure I got a good few hugs in there too...!

Craig was a big part of our team at Rochdale, a local lad done good, what's not to like? He's always come across as a genuinely lovely lad who appreciates everything that he's been blessed with and is the model professional too. Even his parents came onto our messageboard to thank the fans for all the support we've given him during his time with us! I'd expect his move was a big decision for Craig as he seems like a real family lad, but I think this is just the start of something amazing for him, I just hope he remembers some of the memories from his time with us when he's turning out for England...! ;)

Dawson celebrating one of his numerous goals for Rochdale.

I hope this blog has proved to be an informative read for Albion fans hoping to find out a bit more about Dawson and whether he can genuinely be the answer to our defensive problem.

Feel free to share your opinions by leaving a comment below. 

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Albion's transfer activity

After just over a month of very little to talk about in terms of football, the transfer window opened on July 1st and supporters like myself who were missing our fix of football-related news to discuss finally had something to talk about.

In fairness, Albion had been one of the busier clubs before the transfer window opened, with Gianni Zuiverloon, Abdoulaye Meite, Giles Barnes and Marcus Haber all being released. On top of this, we were able to strengthen our squad with the additions of Gareth McAuley from Ipswich Town and Billy Jones from Preston North End on free transfers At the time of writing this, we are reportedly close to completing the signing of former Albion favourite Zoltan Gera on a free transfer after his release from Fulham.

Abdoulaye Meite is one of four Albion players who were released at the start of the summer.

This apparent policy of signing players on free transfers has led to criticism from some Albion fans, as they believe that we should be spending vast sums of money on players who may be no better than the signings we had made thus far. I have often thought during transfer windows that we need to spend more money than we have done, but when you look at our two record signings - Borja Valero and Luke Moore - it is clear that spending money does not necessarily guarantee that a player is going to make an impact.

However, this criticism will continue following the departures of Scott Carson and Valero to Bursaspor and Villarreal respectively, both for undisclosed fees. Although the amount of money Albion received for these two players is not known, it is fair to say that it would probably be enough to add at least one or two quality players to the squad over the summer.

My opinion on our transfer activity so far is that we are essentially replacing the players who we released with more consistent, experienced players.

McAuley has made over 25 appearances for Northern Ireland and has a wealth of experience in The Championship with Ipswich Town and Leicester City. He has also been playing football at a reasonable standard for 15 years since his career began in Northern Ireland with Linfield and so will know exactly what is required to deal with some of the attacking players he is going to come up against in the Premier League, despite it being a higher standard. Due to the fact that he is a solid, old-fashioned central defender, he is a very good replacement for Meite.

Jones is another player with a lot of experience, albeit at a lower level. He came through the youth system at Crewe Alexandra, which should lead to him being a very good footballer and also means that he should have a lot of confidence on the ball. Despite only being 24, he has already played nearly 300 career games and was also rumoured to have attracted the interest of Manchester City back in 2007 after a series of impressive performances for Crewe in League One. He is a right-back by trade, but can also play in midfield. With this in mind, he is an ideal replacement for Zuiverloon.

Although we have yet to officially confirm the signing of Gera, it seems as though the deal is fairly close to completion. He is a player who needs very little introduction to Albion fans, having spent four years at the club and making a massive impact in the process. His habit of scoring goals against Wolves was always going to make him a popular player among the supporters, with his exuberant celebrations and outstanding work ethic increasing his popularity further. If he does sign, he is a natural replacement for Barnes and is a player who can provide back-up to the first team, as well as genuinely challenge for a starting place if he impresses during pre-season. 

I am sure there are more signings in the pipeline, especially up front, where we undoubtedly need to sign a goalscorer to try and take some of the pressure off of Peter Odemwingie. A goalkeeper is also going to be a priority now Carson's departure has been confirmed, with the likes of Steve Harper, Robert Green and Tomasz Kuszczak all being linked with us. If we are able to add players in these two key areas as well as possibly strengthen other areas of the squad should quality players become available, then I think we will be in a very good position to push on next season and build on our outstanding finish to the season last time out.

This is a time of the year when there are a number of rumours going around and supporters become frustrated with an apparent lack of transfer activity, but based on the vast majority of our additions over the last few years, I believe we can really trust Roy Hodgson, Dan Ashworth and the scouting department to ensure that we bring in enough players with the ability to improve our squad ahead of the forthcoming season.