Wednesday, 11 September 2013

New Signing: Mladen Petrić

Mladen Petrić

DOB: 01/01/1981
Age: 32
Position: Striker

Previous Club: Fulham
Previous Division: Premier League

Transfer Date: 10/09/2013
Reported Fee: Free Transfer

All it took was a series of underwhelming displays from our one fit senior striker, a transfer request from our makeshift backup option, a succession of failed loan bids for top quality Premier League talent, a failed medical by a supposedly sure fire fall back option, and another mid to long term injury to our record signing for West Ham to finally conclude a frustrating summer transfer window by signing former Fulham striker Mladen Petrić on a one year contract.

Yes, the summer window has been a bit of a saga. Many have been left frustrated by the way the club have handled the very public pursuit of a centre forward, but let's put that behind us. We finally have one! And a pretty good one at that.

Croatia international Petrić comes with an impressive career haul of 166 goals in 441 club games, and another 13 in 45 for his country. During his five years in the German Bundesliga, Petrić managed 79 goals in 172 appearances, including a number of goalscoring performances in European competition.

He may be entering the twilight of his career, but this could prove to be a very shrewd signing by Sam Allardyce and our pair of David's.

Can Petrić still cut it at the highest level? His goalscoring record has never been poor, but it has shrunk in the past few seasons, as has his assist contribution.

The image below shows the Croatian's goal and assist records for the past ten seasons. As you can see, between 2005/06 and 2010/11, Petrić was involved in an average of 25.7 goals per season. In the past couple of years though, this has dropped to an average of 8.

That said, it's clear that the man still has ability. Martin Jol brought Petrić to Fulham with him from SV Hamburger in the summer of 2012, and the Croatian was his main man at the start of the season, grabbing a brace on his Premier League debut.

However, the surprise signing of Dimitar Berbatov meant Mladen's chances at Fulham were mostly restricted to appearances from the bench. He started 9 Premier League games last season, remaining on the field for 90 minutes just once.

So, whilst a goal record of 5 in 23 sounds initially uninspiring, he actually scored a goal every 177 minutes last season - Demba Ba managed one every 169 minutes, and Wayne Rooney got one every 168 minutes.

He also scored a variety of goals. Although four came with his trusted left boot (the other with his head), he scored a couple of long range efforts to go with his penalty box predator strikes.

I've seen a few people claim that Petrić can't play as a lone striker since he was unveiled yesterday afternoon, and this is a concern I share. Petrić is no Andy Carroll. He may be over six foot, but he's not a striker to hold the ball up and bully defenders. He's the type of player who comes deep, looking for the ball in to his feet, looking to feed in his supporting cast, as well as grabbing a few for himself.

He only won 40% of his aerial duels last season, less than Modibo Maiga has managed since moving to the club, and has only competed in 35 battles in total - Maiga has been in 58 so far this season.

Petrić is a passer of the ball. He managed an 86% accuracy on his 211 short passes and through balls last season, and an 80% accuracy for long balls (he attempted 10, more than Cole & Maiga combined). This indicates that he is happy to drop into pockets of space and try to pick out runs from his wingers.

This style of play can be clearly seen in his double goalscoring display on his Fulham debut against Norwich City a year ago. The following images demonstrate perfectly the style of play that the Croatian is best employed in. 

The first image shows Petrić's heat map for his debut against Norwich. As you can, he drifts out to both flanks to pick up the ball, and spends more time in and around an attacking midfield area, looking for his team mates to run off him than he does in the box.

The second image shows his attempted passes in the same game. Again, you can see how he sits quite deep for a centre forward, spraying passes out to the flanks.

Truth be told, this could be a very good signing for West Ham. Petrić is an accomplished footballer; a very good finisher, a bit of a playmaker, and is very effective when used correctly.

But this is where my concerns lay. If the use of Modibo Maiga this season has shown me anything, it is that strikers in a Sam Allardyce are expected to adapt to the system, rather than the other way around. If Petrić comes in in place of Maiga on Saturday afternoon, and the team attack in the same way we do with Carroll in the team, than this signing will be a complete waste of time.

To bring the best out of Petrić, West Ham need to play the ball in to his feet just inside the opposition half, and the midfield need to make runs for him. If the likes of Matt Jarvis and Stewart Downing can get up in support of the Croatian, he has the ability to pick passes that will open doors for the wingers.

I really hope the team can adapt to Petrić's style of play, because I'm not sold on the thought that he could adapt to our game quickly.

Welcome to West Ham United, Mladen Petrić! No pressure...

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