In Liverpool and beyond, David Fairclough is known as “super-sub”. It’s an affectionate term and an accurate one too.
David’s career at Anfield was defined by his habit of starting games on the bench and scoring goals as a substitute.
I know him well and I’ve spoken to him about his time with Liverpool.
Part of me expected him to be annoyed about the fact that, for all the impact he made, he was never given a better crack of the whip by any of the club’s managers.
On the contrary, all he would ever tell you was how privileged he was to play for Liverpool, whether he appeared for 90 minutes or 90 seconds.
He’s not bitter in the slightest and that says a lot about his personality. He’s what a manager would call a genuine team-player, and every club needs them.
I’d like people to think the same of me but, to be perfectly honest, I’d never have put up with years as a substitute in the way that David did. I still remember going to see Gerard Houllier and Roy Evans – my bosses for a time at Liverpool – and telling them how fed up I was of sitting on the bench week after week. The Fairclough approach wasn’t for me.
In my opinion, I was better than a substitute and my performances warranted a regular starting place.
To some extent, I was a victim of my own versatility because putting me on the bench provided cover several positions. But if that was a compliment of sorts then I didn’t take it as such. I simply wanted to play. Unlike David, I was a defender and, at times, a holding midfielder. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to take to the field for a short spell and make a serious difference in either role. Someone like Fairclough would come on fresh and looking for goals.
He only needed one chance in front of goal to influence a game.
That’s equally true of Davide Somma.
Somma’s biggest strength is the quality of his finishing and, as he’s shown repeatedly this season, he doesn’t need 90 minutes to score goals. Against Norwich City last weekend, he only needed one touch.
He, in the Fairclough mould, can earn headlines regardless of whether he starts for Leeds United and headlines keep footballers sweet. But the burning question is whether his outstanding record in front of goal deserves more acknowledgement and more time on the pitch.
Simon Grayson, to be fair, is in a very strange situation.
His team are playing well and yet the most prolific striker in his squad is missing from his starting line-up more often than not.
As it happens, I’ve been less convinced by Somma’s full performances than I have by his displays as a substitute.
To me, he struggles to fit into Grayson’s best formation. But you have to ask how much longer the South African will come up with the goals and accept a selection policy that leaves him out of the first XI.
The interesting thing was hearing Somma state recently that he has no problem with the status quo. He sounded honest enough.
That to me speaks highly not only of his attitude but of Grayson’s man-management. As United’s boss would admit himself, his strategy is not easy to explain to the striker. But at the end of the day, there is no argument to be had with the form of the club.
The crucial factor in handling a player like Somma is communication.
Grayson’s job is to reassure him that he’s a vital part of the squad and remind him that his chance will come.
It’s important that he has the same training schedule as the other senior professionals and that he’s not being sent out to reserve fixtures when the rest of the squad are having a night in with their families.
One of the most frustrating things for me at Liverpool was playing half-an-hour as a substitute for the first team one evening and then heading off for a reserve fixture the following night. In no way did you feel fully part of the manager’s plans.
What you wanted was the same routine, the same opportunities and the same involvement as everyone else.
Life on the fringes can be soul-destroying when it starts to niggle.
Keeping the likes of Somma happy is where Grayson earns his money as a manager. It’s good to know that the striker is willing to bide his time.
But I’d be surprised if Somma puts up with this indefinitely, especially if the goals keep coming. I don’t think I’m alone in believing he’s earned himself a run in the side.
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