LISTEN hard enough and you might just have heard a few cries of ‘if only’ at the weekend.
‘If only’ Sheffield Wednesday’s mercurial code-breaker Fernando Forestieri had been fit for most of 2017-18 instead of being crocked for the overwhelming majority of it.
‘If only’ Leeds United’s similarly gifted, but tempestuous play-maker Samuel Saiz could rid himself of those annoying and needless bouts of petulance which have pockmarked his maiden season in the Championship which has lurched from the sublime to the ridiculous.
‘If only’ Hull City had managed to have star-in-the-making Harry Wilson on deck for the whole of the season and not just half of it.
And ‘if only’ Middlesbrough had invested the necessary faith, belief and time into harnessing the turbo-charged formidable power of Adama Traore from August instead of January onwards.
If only Barnsley could defend consistently and if only Sheffield United had spent a little bit more on some proven Championship-ready signings in January. If only ... if only ... the list goes on.
And is Forestieri playing with a sense of unfinished business for self or club? These gushing love-ins have been frequent before, only for events to change course.Leon Wobschall
The sight of Forestieri in the mood and tormenting and harassing a brow-beaten Reading side on Saturday was a doff of the cap to the old on an afternoon of pure, unadulterated nostalgia at Hillsborough.
More’s the pity it was displayed in a dead rubber game against a toiler in the Royals at the fag end of a forgettable season in which his artistry has been badly missed and the pleasure has been fleeting for Wednesdayites.
Will those talents be seen next season with Wednesday no doubt conscious of retrenchment and Financial Fair Play implications and the need to cut some cloth in the summer? Who knows.
And is Forestieri playing with a sense of unfinished business for self or club? These gushing love-ins have been frequent before, only for events to change course.
Like Forestieri, Saiz is a high-maintenance player who, when he is happy and his mind is not clouded by doubts and self-pity, can bring many gifts to the Championship.
Unfortunately, the second half of 2017-18 has been flaky, temperamental and unsatisfactory in a division which ultimately always exposes the strong characters from the weaker ones over the course of the nine-month marathon.
From the nadir of that indefensible spitting episode at Newport to petulance following his substitution against Barnsley on Saturday; those beguiling, silky Saiz moments of early-season are starting to become a distant memory.
A footballing talent, of that there is no doubt. But a player with plainly a lot to learn on the mentality front, with his suspect temperament ensuring that he cannot be bracketed among the top echelon of Championship players. The full Championship package, he is not.
People may not have agreed with Paul Heckingbottom’s recent decision to start him from the bench in recent weeks. Given Saturday’s histrionics, maybe some might understand a little bit more. Team before self, surely.
Which brings us neatly to Traore. Viewed as a maverick, self-indulgent figure who was plainly not trusted to conform to the team ethic by Garry Monk, the former Barcelona winger has been handed responsibility and flowered beautifully under Tony Pulis, whose street-smart, canny management is getting the best out of a player whose arsenal of attacking weapons constitutes a severe Championship threat.
Pulis has focused on what Traore can do as opposed to what he cannot. A winger who has torn up several defences this year after copping bench splinters for much of the first half of the season. Boro should enjoy him while they can.