From the SPL to the EPL

With the new SPL season kicking off last weekend; it seemed like perfect timing to write an article on my first love. Scottish football isn’t very highly seen around Europe, because – well put it this way, since I’ve been born I’ve only seen two clubs win the title. But despite this dominance, Scottish players have always been relatively successful in the EPL. Most recently, it’s been Dundee born former Rangers midfielder Charlie Adam who has taken Blackpool and now Liverpool by storm. Others in the current crop include Barry Ferguson and James McFadden at Birmingham last season, Craig Gordon at Sunderland, Alan Hutton at Tottenham and Steven Fletcher at Wolverhampton Wanderers. Since Adam and Fletcher are the two who will possibly have the biggest impact on the EPL next season, we’ll take a look at their stats.

Charlie Adam

Charlie Adam was never going to be a star at Rangers. Alex McLeish and Walter Smith were of the opinion that while he was good, he was a luxury player, not to be used in the important game where grit and determination were essential. Paul Le Guen disagreed, and that was perhaps his only decision most Rangers fans agreed with.

Adam won 62 of his 79 tackles this season, which isn’t a bad rate, but compared to top tackler of the season Lucas Leiva, who won 11 of his 172 tackler, maybe the grit isn’t completely there. He also won just over half of his possession duels, 281-275; while Lucas, while having slightly less overall duels, won a higher percentage – 57.7% to 50.5%. Adam’s passing ability has been sang to the high heavens, but with only a 67% pass completion rate, he falls behind many, including Silva of City on 83%, and for a fairer example, N’Zogbia of Wigan and Gardner of Birmingham – now Sunderland, on 72%.

A 12 goal return for a midfielder in a bottom 3 side is certainly not something to sniffed at – the most he scored in a season at Rangers was 11, while also scoring 16 in his second season at Blackpool in the championship. Not as impressive when you figure in that 8 of these were penalties. Compared to a similarly placed N’Zogbia at Wigan with 9, Gardner at Birmingham with 7 and Mulumbu at WBA with 6 all from open play, and from similar positions; then 4 goals from open play looks slightly less impressive. Adam did redeem himself slightly with 8 assists, with only Chris Brunt of a bottom 10 team racking up more assists.

Looking at Adam now, he is nothing like the player Rangers sold for £500k in August 2009. From the 19 year old I watched on his Rangers debut against Livingston in 2004, he’s matured beyond all belief. Although his stats may seem average, it’s not this 50% which is Adam’s strongest suit; it is his leadership, desire and passion which makes him one of the most sought after midfielders in the EPL. And is the reason why I’ll always rue the day Walter Smith decided it was time to get rid of him.

Steven Fletcher

He wasn’t supposed to be the stand out Hibernian striker of the past decade. That was supposed to be Derek Riordan or Garry O’Connor. But he managed to prove the Scottish media wrong with 10 goals in a struggling Wolves side, along with 2 assists. He scored 1 less than Rooney, and the same number as Gyan at Sunderland and £50million man Fernando Torres. But while Torres cost £50million for his one goal at Chelsea, Wolves paid £670k per goal for Fletcher – a bargain. Only in Fletcher’s final two seasons at Hibernian did he score more goals in a season, with 13 and 11.

With only 33 shots from 29 appearances, Fletcher has a much lower than average shots per game ratio than many strikers, but therefore a much higher shots per goal ratio – at 3.3, it’s better than Berbatov with 3.95 shots per goal, and much better than similarly placed Kenwyne Jones with a goal every 8.6 shots per goal. As with most strikers, Fletcher has a lower than average pass completion rate with 64%, while Torres has 66% and Gyan on 62%. Fletcher managed 2 assists, while Torres managed 4 and Gyan assisted 4 goals. Top ‘assister’ this season was Nani, with 14, while fellow Scot Adam, as mentioned above, managed 8.

Fletcher lost more than half of both his possession (62.1%) and aerial duels (52.8%), but for the big front man he is, only picked up an impressive one yellow card from the 36 fouls he gave away. Winning 66.6% of his 15 tackles, he also made one clearance off the line, but lost that respect when one of his defensive errors led directly to a goal. Only one of his goals came from a penalty, and as a little treat, he took 6 successful throw in’s out of 6 (100%).

Neither Adam nor Fletcher would be at the standard they are at now had they remained in the SPL. Adam would have been too stifled in Smith’s Rangers, while Fletcher would be a bit part at one half of the Old Firm if he hadn’t moved when he did.  There are examples of players who have reached their best in the SPL – Scott Brown of Celtic and Steven Naismith and Steven Whittaker of Rangers, but for a player to truly show their worth, a move to the EPL is must. But don’t write off the SPL for any reason.

Impassioned Scottish football fan, more precisely Rangers and Peterhead... The Stoke City writer around here... Although i'm more of a Fulham man. @ICG90 on twitter.
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