Pity Poor Alfie, A Man Out Of Time
In August 2019, Bolton Wanderers announced the departure of fans’ favourite Adam Le Fondre – during a League Cup match at Leeds United…
So farewell then, Adam Le Fondre; he isn’t a Wanderer. What’s the opposite of “olé, olé”? “Oh nay, oh nay”?
The timing sucked: burying bad news midmatch with a spin-doctor’s slippiness. Ken Anderson claims it was done to avoid people being “misinformed with speculation”, what with cat having already slipped bag, and the announcement’s most notable adverb “reluctantly” sums up the Wanderers staff’s attitude. But the decision might be the right one.
A transfer like this will always provide – has already provided – for the kind of argument that is unprovable and therefore, via the internet’s dark logic, incontestable. Parky didn’t like him, it was a signing foisted upon him. If Parky didn’t like him, he had a strange way of showing it, frequently fundamentally altering his formation to attempt to accommodate his most obvious goal threat.
Phil Parkinson tried two up top and it got Bolton promoted with a back three which later proved itself manifestly unsuited – at least with the contemporary playing staff – to second-tier football. After selling Gary Madine last winter he tried Le Fondre up top alone and watched the team’s possession and penetration dwindle from frightening to invisible. More recently, he tried Le Fondre in a No.10 role in which the Stopfordian striker gave his all but too frequently found himself outside his favourite place: the penalty area.
Le Fondre’s type of fist-clenched, rabble-rousing football is as popular as his goals, so it’s no surprise to sense anger at his departure. Anger usually springs from fear, and there will be an understandable worry that Wanderers’ already limited goal power will be further weakened, as was the case to an almost disastrous extent when Madine was sold. This shouldn’t be anything like as much of a blow to Parkinson’s plans. It’s early days, but Josh Magennis looks much more the sort of forward figurehead the preferred formations require.
It has become increasingly difficult, since the latter half of the previous decade, for players who offer little outside the 18-yard box. Football formations have always been about players and space; modern systems demand wider spheres of influence. Since Mourinho supercharged Allardyce’s 433/451 formation by topping it with Didier Drogba’s fearsome alliance of physicality and firepower, the majority of football formations have been spearheaded by a solo frontman augmented by various arrangements of auxiliary attackers. Playing two up top leaves you a man short in midfield or defence, neither of which is sustainable for long.
As with linguistics, management can be prescriptive or descriptive. The former imposes an idealised structure, the latter reacts to circumstance. Parky has done plenty of the latter but has always hankered for 4231 and this summer has gone so far as to state that preference, alternating with a 433. Alf suits neither set-up. That’s why a man with one of the Premier League’s all-time top-10 per-minute strike rates - largely plundered from the bench - found himself back in the third tier with a team like us.
Ask Jordan Rhodes, on whom several managers have speculated eight-figure fees only to struggle to fit him into a starting XI. Ask Michael Owen, whose rapid decline after 2006 arguably owed as much to changing tactics as pinging hamstrings. Ask Ruud van Nistelrooy, summarily ejected by Sir Alex Ferguson despite scoring 150 goals in 219 games; United won the league once in his five seasons there, but three times in the following four seasons as Fergie turned to the wider skillsets of Ronaldo, Rooney and Tevez.
Ultimately, Wanderers will go on. But this most curious of relationships – multiple loans, re-signings, etc – is over. Everyone at Bolton will wish Le Fondre all the best, from the grudgingly contract-cancelling chairman through the selection-shifting manager to the fans, including those who incessantly demanded he started every game and those who feared the effect that would have on patterns of play. That those arguments are now moot will not stop them raging and being used as straw men for binary internet bickering, but let’s not allow that to mar the memory of Bolton’s most popular player in a decade.