Monday, 7 January 2013
Liam Bridcutt - The Real deal?
Anyone who watched ITV's coverage of Brighton's win against Newcastle United in the FA Cup will have had their eyes opened to what The Amex faithful have known for some time - that Liam Bridcutt is among the most talented and consistent performers outside the top flight.
The pint-sized defensive midfielder was cast out by Chelsea after failing to make a single first team appearance. His time at Stamford Bridge was notable only for a string of loan spells, first at Yeovil, then Watford and finally Stockport County.
He Stockport debut was actually against Brighton and saw Bridcutt sent off. There can't have been many Albion fans who noted his name as a potential future star after that outing. In fact, there were probably only a handful who even remembered his name before he signed a short-term deal at Withdean Stadium in August 2010.
Gus Poyet's preferred defensive shield, Alan Navarro, was injured and Bridcutt was approached to fill that scouse-shaped void and given a five month contract.
A few fans grumbled during his feet-finding first couple of games but since then he has become a firm favourite - landing the club's player of the year award last season.
Yet, despite his consistent brilliance as a ball-winner, you will struggle to find anyone parading round The Amex with Bridcutt 26 on the back of their replica top.
Spend a few minutes listening to Bridcutt speak though and you get the distinct impression he would not have it any other way.
As unassuming off the pitch as he is on it, Bridcutt has quietly gone about establishing himself as the most important player in Poyet's squad - and one of the best players in the Championship.
Much was made recently of Poyet comparing Albion winger Will Buckley with Crystal Palace starlet Wilfried Zaha. Perhaps a better comparison would be between the Selhurst star and Bridcutt.
Both are young, English, integral to the way their teams play and soon to be in demand.
Bridcutt may not get the headlines Zaha's performances so often demand, but he is building a reputation as a good transfer prospect for any Premier League club looking to strengthen its midfield.
Despite being just 5ft 7in (according to Wikipedia - always looks shorter than that from the stands), Bridcutt is impressive in the air, and this season he has added a wider range of passing to his Makélelé like presence in the Seagulls' engine room.
Much of Brighton's recent success has hinged on playing a high-tempo short passing game and quite simply, without Bridcutt, this would have been near impossible to pull off.
Gordon Greer and Adam El Abd - Brighton's usual central defensive pair - have both benefited hugely from Bridcutt's willingness to accept the ball from the back four and take responsibility for pushing the play forward. In fact, the pair have at times looked nothing short of cultured. Remove Bridcutt from the equation and it would be fair to say neither would look anywhere near as comfortable in possession.
Defensively Bridcutt is without equal in the hotly-contested Championship of 2012-13. With so much of Brighton's approach dependant on Bruno and Wayne Bridge attacking from full back, Bridcutt's ability to read the game and fill in the gaps is priceless.
Or almost. Poyet has often spoken of his admiration for Bridcutt but recently the manager's quotes have started including concern he may lose his first name on the team sheet.
There will have been no clubs with a scouting system worth its salt who have only been made aware of Bridcutt after his man of the match turn against Newcastle at the weekend.
However, with the transfer window now open, interest in the midfielder is likely to intensify. The Albion, it seems, are preparing for concrete offers.
Speaking after the 2v0 third round win, Poyet said, "I am worried. Other clubs can ask about him because it’s part of the game.
"As a holding midfielder, there is no better player in the division."
And Poyet, who knows a thing or two about carving out a career as a top midfielder, believes recent speculation linking Bridcutt with Aston Villa, Norwich City and Fulham may even be doing his player a disservice.
"If I was coach of Real Madrid," said Poyet, "I would take him because he deserves to go to the highest level."
It might be expecting a lot for Bridcutt to go from Championship tempo-setter to Champions League game-changer but anyone who has seen him in the stripes wouldn't bet against him one day making it to the very top.
His position may have been described by Eric Cantona as the water carrier, but Bridcutt has done nothing but serve up Champagne football since arriving on the south coast.
Brighton fans will be hoping he continues to do so, for the near future at least.