An ode to resurgent Robert Snodgrass, a man who can see through walls
During the two windows either side of Robert Snodgrass’ arrival at West Ham United, the club seemed intent on making statement signings.
In the summer of 2016, a dozen new players arrived – headlined by record signing André Ayew and high-profile loanee Simone Zaza – ahead of what the club hoped would be a proper European campaign.
The following year it was time for the club to add experienced Premier League quality to their ranks, with Marko Arnautović and Joe Hart among the players introduced as part of what looked like a more focused transfer strategy.
The January in between, though, was neither one thing or the other. Snodgrass was one of three men brought in, and it looked for a while as if none of the trio would hit the heights expected of them.
There’s still time for Nathan Holland, the youngster signed from Everton who has made just one first-team appearance so far, but José Fonte was farmed off to the Chinese Super League after 12 uninspiring months.
Snodgrass was number three, and for a long time it looked like he’d be more Fonte than Holland, especially after impressing enough on loan with Aston Villa that a willing buyer might help the club recoup some of their £10million outlay.
Instead, though, the Scot has enjoyed a renaissance under Manuel Pellegrini, a consistent run of form which has seen him establish himself in the first team and score a fantastic maiden league goal for the club against Crystal Palace which has been a long time coming.
Snodgrass is one of those players who has a talent for treating open-play situations like free-kicks, blotting out everything around him and ensuring a deep focus carries him through.
All the noise around him, from the encroaching Palace players to the thousands of fans in the stands, is just that: noise.
His concentration is akin to that of an NFL placekicker nailing a final-minute field goal, recognising the potential distractions from either side become little more than window-dressing providing he doesn’t let them become more.
Just as important, though, has been an ability to drown out noise from off the pitch, not least club co-owner David Sullivan claiming his children “begged him not to sign” the Scotland international.
His arrival happened in the same month as Dimitri Payet’s exit, but that was outside the midfielder’s control. Still, he has quickly realised anything he achieves in east London will be in spite of the early treatment he received, not because of it.
The goal against Crystal Palace might have been Snodgrass’ first in the league this season, but the only wonder is that it has taken this long.
We have seen brilliance from him all season, both from dead ball situations and from open play, and all this from someone who wasn’t expected to be near the first team.
Injuries to Manuel Lanzini and Andriy Yarmolenko have given him a chance in two different positions, but he has also kept more recognised central midfielders out of the first team since being moved into a deeper role by Pellegrini.
Snodgrass currently ranks in the league’s top 20 for both assists and key passes, not a bad return for someone who has made just 10 starts out of a possible 16, and the former tally would be even higher if his best pass of the campaign – a delightful ball behind the Chelsea defence – had brought the goal it deserved.
Snodgrass might not be able to keep this going for an entire season, but he has already shown himself to be the kind of player Premier League teams might not realise they need.
Considering the energy levels expended in the division, the thought of a precision player not known for his athleticism might feel like a relic of an older incarnation of the English top-flight. Indeed, Snodgrass has needed to work a little harder on his physical attributes.
Still, a leaner and quicker version of the player would be nothing without the vision which encouraged West Ham to sign him in the first place.
This is a man who can see through walls, and who can find angles others haven’t contemplated let alone identified. He’s someone whose mere presence on the pitch can be enough to encourage ambitious runs from team-mates safe in the knowledge there’s no part of the pitch he’d consider impossible to find.
If only he had been available to do the same thing 12 months ago.