Date: 3rd December 2009 at 9:07pm
Written by:

Forget Christmas. Forget the recession. Forget Tiger Woods. There’s seemingly only one thing on the lips and minds of Blackpool fans at the moment, and that’s Ben Burgess.

He appears to have become the human equivalent of Marmite, with ‘Pool fans seemingly devoting blood, sweat and tears to either defending him or criticising him.

Some of the arguments about him remind me of the pantomine scenes you often see during Prime Minister’s questions; grown men and women regressing back to children, cheering or jeering every statement in turn.

As such, it comes as little surprise when I say that the debate surrounding the big man has gone nowhere fast.

I’ve had my say on Ben, but never in the form of an article. However, with Ian Holloway publically backing the striker, and urging fans to cut him some flack, it seemed an ample time to broach the subject with some editorial.

The principle issue concerning the whole Burgess debate is that of nigh on everyone’s failure to realise and accept the middle ground; because some fans criticise Burgess so severely, fans of his feel the need to over-praise him to restore the balace. The result is polar opposites, and thus Marmite.

The reality is that Burgess is a middle ground player, hence the debate. He’s hit and miss, it really is that simple.

It can be argued that as supporters of the club, we should do precisely that: always support the club. I disagree.

When you support something, football club or otherwise, you don’t neccessarily support everything about it, nor is it a requirement to.

Returning to theme of MPs, an MP may be a member of a party and have been for years, but even then they may disagree on a certain policy or decision.

At this point, a crossroads is reached: you can either make the best out of a bad situation, throw your toys out of the pram and go on a rant, or you can criticise constructively.

Seeing as football is a constant debate, I prefer the latter. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a massive supporter of this club (as those who know me will testify), but I’m not going to be so blinkered as to gloss over anything ‘bad’ that happens e.g. whilst I’m obviously delighted that the South Stand is finally being built, I’m very unhappy about how the whole saga has unfolded from start to finish.

Yes, sometimes I shout negative stuff from the stands or something similar in the heat of battle, but the vast majority of the time I can completely justify why, and after all, I’ve paid my money, so why shouldn’t I voice my opinion?

I accept some criticise the club et al willy nilly and in a moronic manner, and I totally disassociate myself from those people. However, I don’t accept that by criticising Ben Burgess, in this case, that I’m blinkered. Indeed, it is those that think that that are blinkered, and because of this the debate rages on with everyone getting just a little dizzy.

Until more people converge upon the middle ground and consider both Burgess’ skills and his flaws, no one will get anywhere. Some of those that criticise him need to realise that he’s no Chris Malkin, whereas some of those that praise him need to realise that he’s no world beater.

Sadly nothing is perfect in life, and Burgess is perhaps the perfect example of that right now.

With Burgess, when he does something well I applaud him. However, when he makes horrific errors (as I’m afraid to say that he is prone to do), of course I criticise him, but I do so constructively (as I hope the length of this piece illustrates).

I also want to point out that I’m not one of these people that dislike ‘ugly’ players. I loved John Murphy and I love Keith Southern. I want to love Ben Burgess. Indeed, I couldn’t care less if he played rubbish for 89 minutes every week but then popped up with the winner in the 90th. It’s what Ruud van Nistelrooy used to do after all.

This is no defamation of the lad though; he does do some things well. But what exactly?

Firstly, you can see from the players’ reaction to the criticism that Ben has attracted that he is a key member of the squad. The players constantly say what a nice and funny guy he is, and the spirit of our squad has undoubtedly been a key factor in our success in recent times.

Secondly, he has the capacity to produce little pieces of magic. His goals against Charlton and Doncaster to name but two show what he is capable of.

Thirdly, when he gets it right, he can link the play brilliantly. With our new formation, this has perhaps never been so crucial.

However, there is a flipside.

As funny and as nice as Ben is, that Ben Burgess needs to be left in the locker room. Come game time, he needs to use his physicality to his advantage.

I’ve met Ben and he’s huge, but he doesn’t use his ‘hugeness’ enough for me. People harp on about how he’s a target man, but for me, target men are like Darius Henderson; strikers who’ll bully the centre half.

Yes Henderson gives away freekicks et al for fouls against centre halves, but at least he roughs them up, unsettles them and puts doubt in the back of their minds. When do you think Burgess last did that? I honestly wouldn’t care if Burgess gave the odd freekick away because I’d see that he was putting himself about and that sooner rather than later it’d pay off.

To cross over to cricket momentarily, look at Ryan Sidebottom. Off the pitch he’s a lovely guy, on it he finds some aggression and channels it to unsettle the opposition, finding an extra gear to perform in almost, and it works a treat. That’s what Ben needs to be like.

I know in some matches he wins a lot in the air, but in most games he lets himself be bullied by the centre half. Hell, sometimes he doesn’t even contest headers! With his size, he should be doing his upmost to put defenders under pressure; when he does, he’ll quite often win a throw in or make the opposition concede possession.

Furthermore, a target man’s job is to link play. Yes, he gets it right at times, but most of the time he doesn’t. People say that his team mates should read his flick ons and that’s true to an extent, but how many times have we seen him head the ball straight through to the opposition keeper? A simple quick scan of where his team mates are before he flicks the ball on would improve this.

One last thing on the target man issue: when was the last time Ben scored with his head? He’s rubbish at attacking the ball with his head in the area. And as for those who say he’s good defensively, I refer you to Coventry away last season.

Steve Canavan said the other day in his webchat that Ben has never been an out and out striker. What tosh. He’s played as a striker all his life and bagged 20+ one season for Hull… how is that not an out and out striker.

Hell, he’s our top scorer this season and was last season and possibly the season before if memory serves me correctly! That doesn’t mean that he should be immune from criticism of his finishing however…

His finishing on Monday night was dire. It wasn’t just a one off either; he misses chances like those fairly regularly, but then, (to rather crudely compare) like Zlatan Ibrahimovich, he’ll somehow score a peach.

I think his main problem when it comes to finishing (bar his confidence), is that he gets caught flat footed in the penalty area. All too often he is sauntering around in the wrong position when a cross comes in, instead of being on his toes looking to pounce. He’s no fox in the box, sure, but there’s no excuse for not being there to bang home some of the crosses that do come in.

I feel a bit bad now having written all those negative points about Ben, but on the flipside I hope that he goes on to prove me and others wrong. I want each and every Blackpool player to succeed – if they do, then we’re going to win more than we lose.

However, the reality is that Ben’s place in the side is under threat despite Ollie defending him (then again, he was hardly going to criticise him publically was he?); the fact that Ollie very nearly re-signed DJ Campbell last week and is on the lookout for a striker after previously denying that we needed one shows that he has concerns about that position as a whole and not just with Ben.

The criticism has obviously got to Burgess and perhaps this piece won’t help, I don’t know. What I do know is that I’ll have a hell of a lot of respect for him if he takes this criticism on the chin and sets out to prove us all wrong. It’s what the best players do, and hopefully Ben can show that he’s in that category.