Wednesday, 29 December 2010
Back in August, I wrote on this blog about how lucky AFC Wimbledon were to have a supremely talented 20-year-old left back on their books in Andre Blackman. I said this with some caveats though. Blackman's already been shown the door at few league clubs (a level at which he is easily talented enough to play), and the worry was that his attitude and lack of discipline would get the better of him. Sadly, these caveats are looking quite accurate at the moment.
Blackman was - and I'm going on overheard fan conversations here - apparently seen stropping off in the car park while his teammates were preparing to kick off against Eastbourne yesterday, leaving flu-hit Wimbledon to name only three subs on their bench. Who knows, maybe Blackman had flu too and was just frustrated that he couldn't play, but whatever the cause was, it's another worry to add to Blackman's growing list. There are plenty of rumours as to why he got kicked out of other clubs - most of them relating to off-field matters - but it's on the field where the concerns are at the moment.
Wimbledon started the season short of cover at left back. But this wasn't too big a problem because Blackman looked a nailed-on starter for that position. Quick, skilful, audacious, attack-minded - Blackman essentially looked like an exciting winger that could defend a bit. On the ball, there are comparisons with several Premier League left backs - with aspects of Ashley Cole, Micah Richards, Gareth Bale and Patrice Evra in the way he plays. Defensively, he's a bit naive and prone to being dragged out of position. And by "dragged out of position", what I really mean is "caught upfield after neglecting his defensive duties".
The frustrating thing is, it's not always naivety that makes him a liability. Sometimes it's just flagrant disregard for tactics. We've even seen him dispute shouted instructions from the bench. Like the time when, positioned as cover on the half-way line for a corner, like full-backs often are - he started creeping forward leaving only one man back. And when told to get back to his position, he started gesticulating at the bench as if he knew best and that going forward was the correct thing to do. Even if it was, that's a debate for the dressing room afterwards. When you're on the pitch, you do what the coaches tell you to do.
If you'd seen Blackman play during pre-season you'd understand why I thought he could be one of the stand-out players in the division. AFC Wimbledon manager Terry Brown agreed, labelling Blackman as "Premier League or Championship quality". But it's just not worked out for him yet. He's not been able to find a way past solid Brentford loanee Chris Bush into the first team of late, and Brown is now making noises about finding another left-back in January.
One surprising thing is that Brown hasn't really given Blackman a go on the left wing. I'm a huge admirer of the manager and I'm sure he knows better than me, but a player of Blackman's touch, pace and skill would presumably do quite well running at an opposition full-back. I'd like to see it tried once.
If Wimbledon do sign another left-back in January, I worry that could be the last we'll see of Blackman. And for such a talented player to just simply not be able to knuckle down and work hard at his game, listen to instructions and make progress, would be a huge pity. If he applied himself, he'd be playing league football in no time.
I'm sure most supporters can think of a player they've watched as a youngster who looked supremely talented, but just never quite had the mindset of a professional athlete - and thus didn't make the grade. Andre Blackman may be just the next in a long line of gifted players that don't fulfil their potential. But with the ability he has, it really wouldn't take a hell of a lot of knuckling down for him to regularly be one of the best players on the pitch.
I hope I'm wrong to be worried. I hope we see what he's really capable of in the second half of the season and that this talented but troubled soul can somehow channel his angst into terrorising the opposition. But I'm increasingly concerned that Andre Blackman may have kicked over his bar stool at the Last Chance saloon, and is now squaring up to nobody in particular, possibly just his own reflection in a mirror, as a potentially brilliant career starts to slip from his grasp.