Not since Harry Redknapp signed Wilson Palacios in January of 2009 have Spurs had a tough tackling midfielder to compliment the creativity and flair in their midfield ranks. That was the case until Redknapp persuaded Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy to part with £5 million for West Ham United and England’s Scott Parker.
Parker’s arrival late in the summer transfer window of 2011 coincided with a turnaround in Tottenham’s fortune following an embarrassing opening pair of defeats at the hands of the two Manchester clubs. His simple passing game combined with his ability to make interceptions at vital times, his persistence in winning the ball back and his overall leadership saw him earn plaudits from even the most pessimistic of Spurs supporters. His arrival at White Hart Lane wasn’t approved by all the Tottenham faithful, but his robust style and winning attitude won over doubters almost as quickly as Parker himself could close down his next opponent.
While Parker battled his way into the hearts of many a Spurs fan, another midfielder with a similar style was struggling with injury. When he returned to fitness, he found playing time hard to come by, such was the form being shown by Parker.
Sandro Raniere Guimarães Cordeiro, or just Sandro to you and me, was the player in question. Signed for a significant fee from Tottenham’s Brazilian club partners Internacional he arrived with a growing reputation throughout the world having already made his debut for the full Brazil side.
Sandro’s Tottenham career didn’t get off to the best start, as he played alongside Jake Livermore in central midfield during Tottenham’s 1-4 home defeat by Arsenal in the Carling Cup in September 2010. He went on to make 26 appearances in 2010/11, starring in the Champions League Last 16 ties against AC Milan and scored his first goal for the club against Chelsea from all of 35 yards.
|Total Minutes||Goals conceded per game||Ground 50-50’s||Ground 50-50’s win %||Tackles||Tackle success %||Minutes per tackle||Interceptions|
The table above highlights the key defensive stats from both players from season 2011/12. While Scott Parker saw a lot more game time than Sandro, the Brazilian was still able to out-do his English team mate in several areas.
The general consensus is that Parker and Sandro are similar players, perhaps too similar to play in the same team without making that team too negative. It’s been said that this could be a smart selection for games away from home, where Spurs won’t enjoy their usual long spells of possession, but our stats here show that, while both being capable defensively, they are in fact very different players.
Parker leads the way in ground 50-50’s, tackles and interceptions, down in no small part to having been on the pitch a lot longer than Sandro. With Parker in the team Spurs also conceded fewer goals, but Sandro shines through in his execution of said skills.
He won a massive 14% more of his ground 50-50’s and also had a greater tackle success percentage and made a tackle 6 minutes more often than Parker, despite being on the pitch a lot less.
The table below looks at Parker and Sandro’s contribution to Tottenham’s attacking game last season.
|Passes||Pass completion %||Successful dribbles||Successful dribbles per game||Shooting accuracy %||Minutes per shot|
While neither player managed to trouble the score sheet last season and in truth they only had 7 shots on target between them all season; both were integral in launching Tottenham’s attacks, if not finishing them off. Passing football is becoming common place in the Premier League in recent times, however not many could compete with Spurs last season in terms of the tempo and fluidity with which they moved the ball from back to front. Although Luka Modric, Gareth Bale and Rafael van der Vaart may have taken the headlines, it was often Parker or Sandro receiving the ball from the back four, before feeding a more creative team mate and letting them work their magic.
Both players have impressive pass completion percentages with Parker coming out on top, managing more than double the passes of Sandro. This is our first real sign that the two are more different than most imagine. While Parker is keen to recycle the ball quickly, often to the side or backwards, Sandro was often seen turning and moving with the ball, before attempting a pass.
This is reinforced by Sandro’s dribbling statistics, as well as his shooting stats, demonstrating that he is more likely to find himself up field getting into areas to attempt a shot. In contrast Parker was often seen holding his position in the middle of pitch, making sure Spurs had a solid buffer should possession be lost and their opponents attempt a counter attack.
Parker’s extra experience goes a long way to deciding his average position on the field, and not because he doesn’t have the energy to go from box-to-box any more. As Parker has improved and matured as a footballer he has discovered that he must pick his moments to support his team’s attacks, as well as knowing when to hold his position in midfield and provide extra security.
Throughout Sandro’s first two seasons with Spurs, then Spurs manager Harry Redknapp was often seen communicating directly with the Brazilian, asking him to hold his position, and not make so many runs forward or follow the ball around the pitch. This was highlighted when Sandro scored his first goal for the club against Chelsea and ran to the dugout to celebrate with the coaching staff, only to be pulled aside by Redknapp and seemingly told not to shirk his defensive responsibilities again.
While Sandro has clearly got an incredible amount of stamina and has the ability to go from box-to-box in that manner, it remains to be seen where new Spurs Head Coach André Villas-Boas will see his future. While Villas-Boas has been prepping his team for the new season, Sandro was playing for Brazil at the Olympic Games in London, and missed the entire pre-season, only reporting back to training two days before Spurs’ season opener at Newcastle United.
With Parker a likely candidate for the captaincy at Spurs, Sandro is likely to find himself competing directly with the England international, or playing a role different from the one he has fulfilled for Spurs and Brazil in the early parts of his career.
Tottenham have incredible depth in the centre of midfield, Tom Huddlestone, Jake Livermore, Jermaine Jenas, Tom Carroll, Rafa’ van der Vaart and new signing Gylfi Sigurðsson will all be competing with Parker and Sandro for starting roles this season in Villas-Boas’ expected three-man midfield. There is also yet to be a solution to the Luka Modric transfer saga, although he is still expected to join Real Madrid before the transfer window closes. If Modric does leave, Villas-Boas has already made it clear he would like to bring in a replacement of the same ilk as the Croatian schemer. Such strength in-depth can only motivate each player to make the most of any playing time they receive, which bodes well ahead of the new season for Spurs.
While Parker and Sandro have been labelled similar players, the stats have shown that they both excel in different areas and could easily be used alongside each other with a move creative player ahead of them. An injury to Scott Parker will keep him out until mid-September, meaning Sandro is likely to carry extra defensive responsibilities this season. A starting place could beckon against Newcastle but after just two days training, it would be understandable to see Sandro miss out on a place in the XI.
Having players in the mould of Parker and Sandro means that the creative flair that Spurs base their game around can flourish knowing that there is a metaphorical safety net behind them in the guise of their defensive midfielders. Spurs are praised for the number of attacking and creative options open to them, but those players would be the first to praise the likes of Parker, Sandro and Jake Livermore, who all excelled last season when called upon, for making their jobs so much easier.
While Parker is entering the twilight of his career, the sky is the limit for Sandro. Playing alongside the likes of Scott Parker can only serve as an excellent learning exercise for the young Brazilian and he couldn’t ask for a better mentor in fulfilling that defensive midfield role than Parker. If his know-how and years of experience can rub off on Sandro, Spurs fans will be looking at one hell of a player once he has reached full maturity as a player.
It’s difficult to make a definitive choice between the two after discovering just how different they are. While Parker would almost certainly be the most defensive of the two, and is likely to play in that role this season for Spurs and England; Sandro is capable of being effective further up the pitch, as well as contributing defensively. Neither are ever likely to be prolific in front of goal, and when playing in Villas-Boas’ preferred formation with only one striker this could be what ultimately makes it a choice between the two midfielders. Spurs will be looking for goals to come from all areas of the pitch this season to help ease the burden on their lone front man. Gareth Bale has shown in the past few seasons he is more than capable of reaching double figures with his finishing while Aaron Lennon has improved his final product too. Sigurðsson and Van der Vaart are both seen as goal scoring midfielders while Tom Huddlestone has always been a threat with his powerful long range shooting ability.
If Villas-Boas does see it as a case of one or the other, I would hope Sandro would be given the nod ahead of Parker in general. I’ve watched many midfielders at White Hart Lane and few have excited me the way Sandro has; in my eyes he truly has the potential to be world-class. André Villas-Boas may be keen to take a leaf from Sir Alex Ferguson’s book and carefully select which games he uses the aging Parker in, much in the way Manchester United use Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes. Parker’s experience is truly invaluable and playing alongside or instead of Sandro in big games could prove to make all the difference for Tottenham Hotspur this season.