How good is Grant Holt?

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The fans at Norwich loved Grant Holt. They did not want him to leave.

Owen Coyle’s signing of the big centre forward in July looked like the bargain buy of the summer. But why had Holt left a Premier League club where he was idolised to join an outfit that had been relegated to the Championship? Why were Norwich willing to accept a fee reported to be less than £2m for a player who had been so successful with them?

A couple of months ago most Latics supporters were excited about Holt’s signing. He had scored 78 goals in 168 appearances for the Canaries, helping them get back to back promotions. He was the goal-scoring, bustling centre forward who had come up the hard way, through the lower leagues. If anybody was going to get goals for Wigan Athletic in the fast and physical environment of the Championship division then it was Holt.

How times change. Already some are questioning his ability. At times Holt can look slow and cumbersome, more willing to get into physical tussles with defenders than focus on the footballing side of the game.

Some compare Holt with Arouna Kone, who sadly for the Latics faithful, departed to Everton for a fee well below his true market value.  Kone too was a big and strong central striker, but he was also mobile and skilful. Last season Kone started in 32 league games, scoring 11 goals, conceding 39 fouls and suffering 29. In comparison Holt started 28 times, getting 8 goals, whilst conceding 82 fouls and suffering 65.

The statistics emphasise the differing styles of the two central strikers. However, it would be a mistake to condemn Holt as merely a battering-ram centre forward. The big Cumbrian has a good football brain and can put delightful passes through for teammates. The style with which he dispatched the penalty against Middlesbrough – after Marc-Antoine Fortune has been pulled down in the box – was the hallmark of a player who has the technique to match his brawn.

Holt got off to a good start in the opening game at Barnsley, opportunistically deflecting a loose ball into the net. Up to this point he has scored two goals in four league games. He has been inches away from scoring more goals on several occasions. Although often double -marked he uses his strength and technique to hold up long balls until teammates arrive. Holt has already been denied at least three penalty decisions that a referee might have awarded were he not the player brought to the ground. At times his reputation as a physical player can act against him as far as refereeing decisions are concerned.

So why did Holt leave Norwich for Wigan? Although 32 years old, he joined Wigan on a three year contract. On signing for Latics he told BBC Radio Cumbria that “The Europa League was a massive pull for me. It’s something I’ve never done in my career and I’m hoping we can have a good spell in that.” Moreover Chris Hughton had adapted the direct style of play typical during Paul Lambert’s time  at Norwich.

Having a centre forward like Holt in your team is a double-edged sword. He certainly unsettles defences and does a superb job in holding up the ball, taking the pressure of his team. At the same time having him there as a target can tempt defenders into launching long balls, by-passing the midfield where Latics have so many technically-gifted players.

At 32 years of age Holt has almost certainly passed his peak. However, he is still going to score goals, especially if Latics play with two wide players. With Holt in the middle, Callum McManaman on the right and James McLean or Jean Beausejour on the left, Wigan have a well-balanced front three that will cause headaches for Championship defences.

Holt is a players’ player, who frequently sacrifices himself for the benefit of the team. It is this attribute, along with his goals, that helped him endear himself with the fans at Norwich. In March 2009 the FourFour Two magazine revealed that Holt covered an average of 4.8 km per match, more than any other player in Leagues 1 and 2.

The season has a long way to go. Holt is injured at the moment and Wigan are short in the area of central strikers, with only Marc-Antoine Fortune available in his absence. Given the physical nature of his game Holt is frequently going to pick up knocks. However, he managed to steer clear of major injuries in his three years at Norwich, appearing on a regular basis, largely in the starting lineup, sometimes coming on from the bench.

Providing he receives the necessary service and stays clear of major injuries, Grant Holt‘s name is going to regularly appear on the score sheet. He is physically and mentally resilient and his determination to succeed is going to rub off on his teammates.

Holt’s goals could well take Wigan Athletic back to the Premier League.

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