By Greg Sykes
Is there any finer sight in football than a winger in full flight? At a juncture where the ‘art of tackling’ within the Barclays Premier League is shrouded in controversy, it is also a time to reflect on the joy provided by some of the men referees are trying to protect.
The merest glance at the squads on show highlights both the quantity and quality of wingers for the discerning football purist to feast upon. Granted, the likes of Gareth Bale usually (and rightly) take the plaudits, but across the land there are explosive, skilful, attack-minded wide-men that are integral to their team’s chances of success, drawing their followers to the edge of their seats in anticipatory awe.
Wolves have Matt Jarvis, a goal poacher’s dream of a winger who drives toward the by-line with purpose before delivering the cut-backs that strikers crave. In Scott Sinclair and Nathan Dyer, Swansea have a pair of flanksmen that can trouble full-backs of the highest quality, as highlighted by Ashley Cole recently revealing his implosive side for the first time in many a season.
Whilst a lot of the focus on Stoke name-checks Mr Delap and his long throw, a doff of the cap should also be given to Matthew Etherington and Jermaine Pennant who provide a healthy portion of The Potter’s goals from wide areas, using their blend of creativity and fine technique, honed by bags of experience at the top level.
The top flight in England is also being bolstered by quality from lower leagues, as if providing proof that the flying winger still carries an air of gravitas worthy of transcending divisions. Norwich acquired Anthony Pilkington from League One side Huddersfield in the summer and he has rewarded Paul Lambert’s faith with displays of real panache that have surely caught Giovanni Trappatoni’s eye ahead of Euro 2012.
As members of the old wing squadron like Ryan Giggs refine their styles to prolong their career, a new generation of wingers are marauding down the same flanks as their idols, with the same devastating effect. At Arsenal, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is currently impressing all with his own brand of youthful exuberance and a footballing awareness that belies his eighteen years. At the other end of the country James McClean is combining an abundance of power and pace with the raw endeavour that typifies Sunderland under Martin O’Neil. Both look set for bright futures as the spearheads of a new wing movement, one rejuvenated by a Welsh left-back in North London…
It would be somewhat remiss to not acknowledge the ability, and moreover the newly found consistency of Gareth Bale. There doesn’t seem to be a week that passes without another show of jaw-dropping skill, strength and high quality from the Spurs attacker, all done at breathtaking speed. As the eternal ‘best league in the world’ debate rumbles on, it is Bale and his wing comrades that continue to soar and transport the Barclays Premier League to the forefront of any argument.