Wednesday, 7 January 2009
Cousin, once removed
Daniel Cousin has become an enigmatic figure during his short period with Hull City. Undoubtedly a competent and proficient centre forward, he seems to have divided opinion among the Tiger Nation while also getting the goat of the very man who snapped him up on the last day of the previous transfer window.
Glasgow Rangers fans will tell you that Cousin is fantastic on the big occasions but goes missing when lesser opponents nullify his motivation. This is an unprofessional approach from Cousin, if accurate, but part of the skill in management these days, as players get more rich and more powerful, is maintaining their interest, their focus and their intensity of performance.
Phil Brown got good stuff out of Cousin after purchasing him. The Gabonese striker was suspended for the win at Newcastle - the first fixture following his arrival - but he settled in efficiently without tree-pulling when debuting against Everton, then earned his first bit of lifelong City legend when he battered that fantastic meaty header past Manuel Almunia to give us the season-defining 2-1 victory at Arsenal. Big occasion player? Maybe.
The issue of 'big occasions' is, of course, open to interpretation. For the Tiger Nation, they're all big occasions because we've never supported our team in the Premier League before. For the manager, and a good chunk of his players (Ian Ashbee, Boaz Myhill, Andy Dawson, Sam Ricketts, Michael Turner, Peter Halmosi), they're all big occasions because they've never managed or played in the Premier League before. Some of our players (Dean Marney, Nick Barmby, Bernard Mendy, Caleb Folan, Craig Fagan) have played in the Premier League before but were either unsuccessful or allowed to leave their clubs at the time, and therefore have something to prove. But for the newer arrivals, the chaps who would laugh in Hull City's face at any other level, only the games against Arsenal and their like are big occasions. Cousin's personality may make him rise to the occasion when we go to the Emirates but Brown's communication skills really matter when it's Fulham or Wigan Athletic players who line up on the other side.
Cousin's second goal for City came at Manchester United, identical to his Arsenal strike in that it was another header from another Dawson set-piece. Beyond his early goalscoring prowess, his workrate was clearly good and his partnership with Marlon King - himself not introverted and not a classically natural goalscorer - was blossoming. King's touch and vision was ideal for Cousin's strength, off-ball location of room and ability to win flicks and second balls.
It was looking good. Cousin capitalised on a defensive howler to get his first goal at the KC in the 2-2 draw with Manchester City, having been unlucky not to score against Chelsea - big occasion player? - when his low shot from distance beat Petr Cech and struck the post. A goal would have made it 1-1 and perhaps, just perhaps, the situation at 90 minutes could have been very different to the 3-0 avalanche in Chelsea's favour it ultimately became.
So where did it start going wrong for Cousin - indeed, has it actually gone wrong at all? For a long time, Brown favoured the 4-3-3 formation which was launched so brazenly at Arsenal and collected further wins at Tottenham Hotspur, West Bromwich Albion and home to West Ham United. Cousin and King provided contrasting but complementary outlets up front - together they had touch, strength, pace, vision and bravery - but when the wheels began to come off (figuratively, with three consecutive draws), Cousin's role was brought up for debate. Word spread that Cousin's approach to training wasn't to Brown's liking, and the famed ruthlessness of the manager made the decision to remove him rather easy.
At Portsmouth he had next to no chance in front of goal but the graft was evident. At Stoke, however, he was the victim as Brown, possibly due as much to Cousin's off-field disposition as his on-field achievement, finally opted for a tactical change. He only played the final 12 minutes and from then until Boxing Day has been peripheral, only visible from the bench. Even when he has started our last Premier League game against Aston Villa, he was unable to garner the previous goodwill from the masses, and this game saw him take some frighteningly unjust stick.
The accusation against Cousin is that he has a poor attitude. He lacks motivation and this makes him look lazy. My belief when he started against Villa - as a lone striker, let's not forget - was that he was so obviously struggling for support in the earlier stages when he did chase the channelled balls, that he began to saunter rather than the sprint on the semi-forgivable platform that so far his effort had been largely futile. Harder to forgive this, but easier to understand, as he was plainly isolated at times.
City have had their share of lazy strikers down the years - all clubs have - but every boneidle centre forward can be cut some slack if, ultimately, he introduces ball to net when the opportunities come his way. For all the question marks about Cousin's attitude and sense of incentive, if he can begin to find the goal the insignificance of these doubts will become obvious.
Cousin started the FA Cup tie against Newcastle and was again rather isolated as he waited for the wider attackers to provide assistance. At Everton this weekend, any starting role for Cousin surely should include a re-acquaintance with King. Their familiarity up front was as big a part of City's autumnal emergence as the saviours of Premier League football as any other, and it may be the making of Cousin as the Premier League marksman he so wants to be, as long as he realises that every one of these Premier League occasions are more than big enough for him to partake in.
Posted by Boyhood Dreams