In Faint Praise of…..Zat Knight?

Zat_CompOver the years, Bolton Wanderers have had some very capable captains. Nat Lofthouse, Roy Greaves, Gudni Bergsson and Kevin Davies to name but a few. Dammit, Harry Goslin led his team into an actual war and not a made up one where we all boo Jens Lehmann. So, when Dougie Freedman named Zat “Bag of” Knight as team captain in July, a few eyebrows were raised.

First of all, and most importantly, over the past few seasons Knight has been the most consistently under performing player this side of Mario Jardel. Best known for regularly being beaten in the air by players more than a foot smaller than he is, it is incredible to believe that Knight was capped twice by England in 2005. And when I say twice I don’t mean in a Michael Ricketts sense, his first and his last. I mean an actual two caps. Sven must have had his eye “elsewhere” at the time.

Secondly, Knight was a year away from his contract running out and naming a captain who may not be at the club the following season isn’t something that normally happens. Unless you’re Robin van Persie. And I think we can all agree that Zat Knight isn’t van Persie.

At the time, Freedman said this about the appointment “He leads by example both on and off the pitch and is very good around our younger players. There were two or three players I could have selected for the role, and Zat is one of those whose experience and leadership skills certainly fit the bill.”

I cannot comment on Knight’s approach off the pitch, but by describing him as an example on it should have given us all a precursor as to how this season would go. Who the other player or players were who were challenging for the role is unknown, but the subsequent departure of Keith Andrews to Brighton has the smell of an ‘Animal Farm’ coup about it.

As it transpires, Knight has lost his place a couple of times this season and Jay Spearing has stood in. Spearing is a different kind of captain, in so much as he is a foot shorter and has the kind of face that you don’t necessarily respect but agree with in case he murders your children in their dreams. And when Bolton and Blackpool bored nearly 15,000 people to near death last Tuesday, it was Spearing who wore the armband even though Knight was in the team.

So, why praise Knight? Did I say that just to draw you in?

Strangely enough, no. OK, I have never been his biggest fan. But something has happened over the past few weeks that has made me change my mind slightly about the big man. He’s scored two goals, albeit one off his knee when he wasn’t looking and one off his head, again when he wasn’t looking. He had a great game against Derby and then, when he was dropped for the following match, there were howls of indignation rather than howls of exasperation. On Tuesday, in one of the two non soporific moments, he headed against his own post when he would normally nod it into his own net. Small things you know. It’s all on the up and suddenly Zat Knight is playing like someone who appears to know what he is doing. Mind, I said “appears”.

Of course, there is the issue of whether or not he stays at The Reebok at the end of the season. Players tend to up their game when they don’t know what the future holds and for Knight to up his game shouldn’t be too much of a stretch. He admits he’d like to stay but in a completely unscientific poll of Bolton Wanderers fans where I live, the consensus is still that he should be allowed to leave in June. It’s been five years since he was signed in a (…what….£4million deal? That can’t be right. What sort of idiot…….? Ahhhh……!) deal from Aston Villa and, as footballers do, isn’t getting any younger. Best to get out near the top, or as near the top as you can get without ever jumping while defending a corner, and leave the stage with the rhythm of Zat Knight ringing in your ears.

Of course, we will never forget the shambolic defending, the pointing at people who should have been marking the person who has just scored from the corner, even though it was actually Zat who should have been doing it, the inability to clear lines properly and the general dunderheadedness of most of his performances. But if he can continue his good form to the end of the season, we may well don some rose tinted glasses twenty years from now and say “He was a bit crap that Zat Knight wasn’t he?”, rather than what we’ve been saying since July 2009.

And that is the very epitome of faint praise.

- Quentin X

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