We're at that time of year again, where clubs start to turn their minds to their retained lists, as players who're coming to the end of their contracts, scramble like wasps around jam for good form in which to boost their chances of a new, or improved deal. Commonly known within Huddersfield as, 'Simon Baldry Syndrome'.
Town of course did most of their work early, almost an entire team found their way through the exit door in January, leaving Town with a more streamlined squad. But despite most of the summer work already being done, there remains one pertinent question, what do we do with Oscar Gobern?
Many Town fans have never taken to Oscar, his lack of physical presence, allied with an ungainly gate, has never endeared him to those who like their big midfielders to 'get stuck in'. Instead, what you get is a neat and tidy 6ft3" ball player, who's not overly keen on 'banging shoulders' and exchanging 'shin pad thwacks' with an opposite number.
It would be remiss of course to judge Oscar solely on recent form, despite Town boss Chris Powell being akin to a modern day Alan Turing, after seemingly unraveling the Gobern enigma code of the man that has been affectionately referred to by Town fans as "The Grouch" and "The Gobernator". But why has it taken Oscar so long to come to the fore, and show us the consistency of late?
A little history....
Town fans had high expectations of Gobern from the start. Weeks of whining by the delusional, irritating, overly positive Nigel Adkins, seemed to raise Oscar's profile, and at just 20 and with 7 starts at Southampton, a tribunal decreed a fee of £275,000. Town manager Lee Clark declared himself "delighted", and went on to proclaim Oscar Gobern as a "future Premier League midfielder".
Dipping his toe into the waters of regular football for the first time, Oscar made a steady yet unspectacular start in a blue n white shirt, before a very dominant performance away at Sheffield Utd caught the eye. Town ran out 3-0 winners against their soon to be playoff rivals, and goalscoring Gobern was a key instrument in midfield. Had Oscar's breakthrough occurred in September 2011?
Well sadly for him and us, no... In his next game away at MK Dons, Oscar took a knock to the ankle, and was replaced after 66 minutes. 2 games later, against lower league cloggers Bradford City, Oscar would take a bigger knock to the same right ankle, which would force him off after half an hour. This was unfortunately a significant moment in Gobern's career, and one that assisted in significantly stalling his progress.
Gobern would spend a couple of months on the side-lines, before re-entering the fray. Upon his return Oscar seemed wary, nervous and lacking match sharpness. A couple of good performances against Chesterfield and Wycombe were a rarity, and it seemed that Oscar had now become a marked man. Two clubs in particular highlighted Oscar for rough treatment, they were Oldham and Sheffield Utd. Oscar had started both games well, but a kick to the ankle from a midfield compatriot, and it was again game over, and an early night on the treatment table for the Brummie.
It became obvious that Gobern had been suffering with problems in his ankles. Games often started well for him, but a knock or awkward twist became commonplace. As a young lad, it looked from the touchline that perhaps Oscar either had a serious untreated injury, or that he maybe didn't possess the mental character to take a hit and come back.
As it turned out, Oscar would go under the knife after a yearlong battle with his ankles in October 2012. In the 8 months coming up to that point, Gobern would only start 3 games due to the ongoing issues. The operation was described as "a procedure on his right ankle which tightened all around the joints surrounding the troublesome ligament using wires".
We've been here before....
Almost a year to the 2nd Sheffield Utd league game, Oscar was back in the Town engine room, and after a slow start under new Town boss Mark Robins, he finished the season in fine form, becoming a key player in Town's late survival. Of which, there were strong showings against Peterborough, Wolves, Millwall and Bristol City. Robins rewarded Oscar with a new 2 year contract (with a 1 year option), and added: "Oscar has performed well during my time here, but clearly has potential to improve. The club took up the option of a year's extension on Oscar's previous contract but we had to secure him on a longer contract and I am delighted this has been done."
Despite the soundbite of faith from Robins, Town would strengthen their midfield by signing Jonathan Hogg from Watford. Gobern would start the first 2 games of the 2013/2014 season and get man of the match against Joey Barton and QPR. Yet inexplicably, Gobern was dropped from the starting line-up the following game, and wouldn't make back to back starts for another 19 league games. In fairness to Mark Robins, Town hit a purple patch at that point, and were making headway to the top half of the table, with Adam Clayton the driving force in the engine room, Hogg pressing, and Ollie Norwood actually leaving the centre circle, to influence the game at that stage in his Town career. Oscar did work his way back into the side, but further bad luck with injury reared its head again, and away at Elland Rd, a neck injury sustained after an abrasive tackle would leave him side-lined for 6 weeks. On his return, Robins threw a half fit Oscar Gobern into a Town side massively lacking confidence, and he, like 10 other lost souls on a pitch of confusion looked bereft of any direction.
Which takes us to now...
2014 was pretty much a write off for Gobern. After the handful of starts in April, Gobern would not be seen in a Town shirt again until this January. Prior to Mark Robins losing the plot, he had stripped Gobern of his no10 squad number amid rumours that he had told the midfielder to find another club. After which, in came Chris Powell who put all of his faith in the central midfield trio of Hogg, Butterfield and Coady, to steady a ship over very choppy waters. Oscar went out on loan to Chesterfield in October, but this was curtailed, when The Spireites threw their toys out of the pram, after they were denied permission to play Gobern in the FA Cup.
We've heard the history, now what of the future?
Oscar made his first start of this season on the 6th of April, almost 12 months after his last league start, and similar to 2013, his form has been excellent, which has given Chris Powell a nice little conundrum to solve. It is fair to say that Oscar has always showed glimpses of promise, but has rarely being able to deliver upon it. As we can historically see, Oscar has had to overcome a tough period of injury, and hasn't always been managed as well as he could have been.
Why should he be kept?
On 3 occasions now, Oscar has shown sustained, (yet perhaps too brief) periods of developing into a good Championship player who offers tangible quality. Providing control, clever vision, recycling of possession, a good first touch, 2nd ball aerial ability and a tackle, Oscar is perfectly suited to play a number of different roles, but in particular one of the deeper midfield roles in a 4231. If we have a functional midfielder able to do a steady job at the club already, then why look to release and bring a similar one in?
Why should he be released?
Fitness. It's fair to say that Gobern hasn't been a natural athlete in his time at the club, indeed he could be likened to a Rolls Royce in midfield terms, as he needs taking out and running around the block a couple of times a week to keep his engine from stalling, and his match fitness seriously decreases after the 60 minute mark... This should get better with game time, but will he be afforded that, when Town have had good success from Hogg, Coady and Butterfield?
If Chris Powell only intends to dip Oscar in and out once every blue moon, then there seems little point in keeping him. With Town pushing a number of midfielders in their u21 squad, his inclusion in u21 games to keep match fit, will block a pathway for the likes of Billing, Tronstad and Duane Holmes.
Personally I'm a little torn, I've always felt that Oscar has potential and has some very promising attributes, but his lack of fitness and his increased drive at contract time, doesn't leave me 100% sold on a contract renewal. Perhaps we should all vote conservative at the next General Election so that we can give him a zero hour’s contract? :-)
The Red Terrier