Benfica, Porto or Melbourne Victory? - Kaz Patafta's cautionary 'lonely wonderkid' tale

By Sports Desk May 01, 2020

The career of a so-called 'wonderkid' in football sounds straightforward – you get spotted early on by a big club, your precocious skills see you establish yourself in the first team and then go on to enjoy an illustrious career at the top.

But we all know that, in reality, it doesn't quite work like that. Each situation is nuanced and, for every Kylian Mbappe there is a Kaz Patafta.

Australia's captain during the Under-17 World Cup in 2005, Patafta will be the first to say expectations were high for him after landing a three-year contract with Benfica as a teenager.

And, for what it's worth, his potential was even given 'video game approval', Championship Manager 2007 ranking him similarly to Gareth Bale after he'd trained with Guus Hiddink's pre-2006 World Cup squad.

But Patafta's career in professional football ended at age 22 having never played a top-flight European match in a rueful case of what might have been.

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    Son suffered a hamstring injury in Spurs' controversial 1-1 draw with Newcastle United on Sunday, forcing his withdrawal at half-time as Mourinho's side were ultimately undone by a penalty awarded thanks to a contentious late handball call.

    The controversy relating to the spot-kick overshadowed Son's injury, but at the time Mourinho did confirm he expected the forward to be out for a few weeks.

    Spurs were in action again on Tuesday, a little more than 48 hours after the Newcastle match, as they fought to a 1-1 draw with Chelsea and eventually progressed to the quarter-finals of the EFL Cup in a penalty shoot-out.

    But that is just the tip of the iceberg – they still have two more matches to play before the international break begins at the start of next week, with Maccabi Haifa visiting in the Europa League on Thursday and a trip to Manchester United following that on Sunday to end a run of five games in 11 days.

    As such, Mourinho is urging national team bosses to use his players sparingly.

    "I expect to have [Son] back after the international period," Mourinho began. "And this gives me the opportunity to speak about it [the international break].

    "I hope the national team coaches have their data and they realise how many minutes Tottenham players have played this week.

    "I hope they care about the players and they protect them because Tottenham players this week they have an incredible amount of minutes and work and it's very, very dangerous.

    "What I did today with Eric Dier [playing him two days after his previous game] is very, very dangerous."

  • Wan-trick pony or next great full-back? Wan-Bissaka giving Man Utd food for thought Wan-trick pony or next great full-back? Wan-Bissaka giving Man Utd food for thought

    It's fair to say not many viewers think Manchester United deserved to beat Brighton and Hove Albion last weekend. 

    Aside from Bruno Fernandes scoring a penalty after the initial full-time whistle, the Red Devils were largely outplayed and outfought by Brighton, who hit the woodwork a record five times and still contrived to lose 3-2. 

    Aaron Wan-Bissaka had a more difficult game than most. It was his error that led to Neal Maupay opening the scoring from the penalty spot and he was nowhere to be found when Solly March scored in the 94th minute to make it 2-2. 

    Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was keen to deflect the blame away from Wan-Bissaka, saying United need to do more collectively to prevent crosses, adding: "Every player in this league has got strengths and weaknesses. We all know Aaron's strengths. One of his strengths is he wants to learn and wants to improve." 

    And yet, the criticism of Wan-Bissaka has been building quietly in 2020. Unquestionably a good one-on-one defender, the £50million signing from Crystal Palace has been questioned over what he does when he actually has the ball at his feet, both in his own half and the opposition's. 

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    ALL FOR WAN, WAN FOR ALL

    Simply put, United have been better at defending since Wan-Bissaka's arrival.

    His fee was sizeable for a player with just two seasons of senior football behind him, but United were desperate for a specialised right-back after years of using converted wingers Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young. Wan-Bissaka was an investment for the present and the future.

    His impact – and that of Harry Maguire, of course – was immediate. Having conceded 54 goals in the Premier League in 2018-19, United let in just 36 last term, the best record after Liverpool and Manchester City. Their clean sheet tally jumped from seven to 13 and they faced 389 shots compared to 496 the season before.

    Wan-Bissaka missed just three league games last season, against Arsenal, Newcastle United and Burnley, and United only won one of those (Burnley away).

     

    A WINGER'S NIGHTMARE...

    We all know Wan-Bissaka loves a tackle – and he's good at them, too.

    Since his United debut, no Premier League defender has attempted (132) or won (83) more tackles than him. His success rate in challenges is a more modest 62.9 per cent, but that's still superior to Kyle Walker (61.3), Ben Chilwell (60.5) and Andy Robertson (58.9) over the same period.

    He has won back possession 183 times for United in the league and only been dribbled past 24 times, committing 23 fouls (interestingly, his much-maligned team-mate Victor Lindelof has been dribbled past three times in the same period, the joint-best record in the whole division for a defender).

    Similarly, Wan-Bissaka has won 231 duels for the Red Devils, the ninth-best tally among defenders since the start of last season, which gives him an average success rate of 59.5 per cent – not outstanding, but comfortably within the top half of defenders to play at least 20 times since the start of 2019-20.

    ...BUT A NIGHTMARE WINGER?

    Winning the ball back comes easy to Wan-Bissaka, then – but what about using it?

    Possessional passing is a problem, for one thing. Since the start of 2019-20, he has averaged an 80.4 per cent completion rate on passes in his own half. Only 14 defenders to play in at least 20 games in that period have a lower number.

    Interestingly, his passing accuracy rate jumps to 82 per cent in the opposition half – the ninth highest in the league for defenders – and he is sixth for success rate for passes ending in the final third (78.9 per cent).

    Wan-Bissaka is also far better running at players than perception suggests. Since the start of 2019-20, he has completed 54 dribbles – the third highest for a defender – at a success rate of just under 60 per cent.

    However, it's how he uses the space he creates for himself that is a cause for concern at times. For a player with such high completed dribble numbers, 14 completed crosses is a poor return. In fact, his success rate of 13.59 per cent is the worst of any defender to complete at least eight crosses since the start of last season.

    It follows that he has created only 25 chances in that time, fewer than Matt Targett and Ryan Fredericks, and has just four assists – one more than he managed in 42 league games for Palace, but well behind league leader Alexander-Arnold on 14 since August 2019.

    Solskjaer sees in Wan-Bissaka a player who is keen to learn, and he has already improved in his relatively short time at Old Trafford. He is certainly a more rounded full-back than some might think, but there is a long way to go before he reaches an elite all-round level.

  • Lampard pleased with Mendy's Chelsea debut despite defeat Lampard pleased with Mendy's Chelsea debut despite defeat

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    Discussing Mendy's performance at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, Lampard told reporters: "I thought he was very good. I think he made a couple of good saves, one particularly good save.

    "He came and caught a few balls, even the one he comes for and doesn't catch, the idea that he wants to and be positive isn't a bad thing. Very, very pleased with every part of his game really."

    Erik Lamela's equaliser cancelled out Timo Werner's first-half opener for Chelsea in normal time as penalties were needed.

    Werner – a high-profile signing from Bundesliga side RB Leipzig – struck his first Blues goal 19 minutes into the contest before Tottenham's Lamela drilled past Mendy with seven minutes remaining.

    The first nine penalties of the ensuing shoot-out were converted before Mason Mount clipped the outside of the left post with the 10th, allowing Spurs to progress.

    "Listen, I don't think 'a shattering blow' is what it should be, I know it was a disappointing night to get knocked out of the Carabao Cup," Lampard said. "Mason will have many more nights for this club and for his country where he'll play in games of huge importance and he'll be the deciding factor in a positive way.

    "So no, Mason's got my support at all times, and the team's, and everybody around it. You miss a penalty, it's a collective when you get this far in a game like this."

    Lampard added: "We were dominant and you want to score more goals at that point because of the amount of possession and chances. Callum [Hudson-Odoi] had a good chance for us in the first half.

    "I think probably Tottenham would have felt that, they would have felt that hard and they changed their game and went longer in their build, which meant our press, which had been fantastic in the first half, wasn't so relevant up the pitch. They turned us round and made us run backwards rather than being able to press forwards. And then it becomes really difficult, to be fair to the lads.

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