When Patrick Bamford waltzed his way to the PFA Championship Player of the Year at the end of the 2014/15 season with Middlesbrough, all signs indicated he was ready for the big time. Whilst eyebrows may have been raised at the deservedness of his award, no one could doubt his potential.
Having spent his formative years on the back burner at Chelsea, and being loaned out season after season to Football League clubs across the country, he developed into the kind of striker expected of him. A powerful, speedy, agile centre forward at the age of 22, he more than proved his mettle in the lower, some would say harsher, leagues of English football at MK Dons, and came to the eyes of the majority with his performances at the Riverside Stadium last season.
Fast forward 8 months, and his much publicised self-termination of his contract at Crystal Palace has led many to question his attitude to the game. It is not uncommon for young English talent to fester on the bench during the early years of their Premier League career – prime examples being Daniel Sturridge, or James Wilson – with the anticipation that their sheer raw talent, combined with a steady development plan, will transform them into an eventual winner. Only in exceptional circumstances do youngsters regularly take to the field of a Premier League XI, because it is not hard to spot their already developed gifts – Harry Kane, and Wayne Rooney being notable case studies.
But Bamford, through his own mind, believes he is ready for this, and in some respects, perhaps he has a point. Despite missing out on promotion with Middlesbrough, he nonetheless bagged himself 17 goals from varying positions on the pitch, made a nuisance of himself with his movement and quicksilver speed and topped it off by scooping the Player of the Year award at the end. From being signed by Chelsea in 2012, to the end of his ‘Boro contract last May, he had undoubtedly been patient. On paper, maybe he had earned his chance to cut it amongst the big boys.
On the other hand, his lack of starting places is not entirely of his own making. Palace, through sheer hard work and brilliance, are in a position to challenge for a spot in European competition. The prospect of it is very real, and not beyond their doing. At this level, consistency is key. Bamford, as a premier league player, is as yet unproven, and whilst the likes of Wilfred Zaha and Connor Wickham continue to fire on all cylinders, it stands to reason that manager Alan Pardew rewards them with starting places in an effort to haul them into European football heaven.
But it is Bamford’s response to Palace’s affairs that has let him down. Merely months into a one year contract, he – and he alone – has decided enough is enough. He seems to have failed to take into account that Wickham, Zaha, and the rest of Palace’s strikeforce are not untouchable. They may get injured, or suspended. What is Pardew to do now if this does happen? He would’ve no doubt called upon Bamford. But Bamford’s apparent arrogance has robbed him of a chance at Palace, where he may very well have prospered. It is a big case of what if…
What is Bamford to do now? Well, he must first go about the business of finding a new path, whilst carrying with him a most undesired reputation as a player with little patience to him. As Guus Hiddink has seen a gradual turnaround in the fortunes of Bamford’s parent club Chelsea, and Diego Costa looking somewhat like his former self, trying to break into the Blues starting squad cannot be considered a realistic path for Bamford to tread. It may be easier for him to find a new club than suggested here, but the level of publicity that accompanied his walkout of his Palace contract suggests he may encounter his problems, and a story of controversy that may stay with him for a good few years. You need look no further than the fortunes of Peter Odemwingie and Saido Berahino as proof.
Matt Le Tissier has suggested, quite correctly, that Bamford needs to develop a thicker skin if he is to cut it in Premier League football. His lack of opportunity at Selhurst Park was not personal, by any means. Pardew has not been negligent towards him, or biased against him. He simply cannot risk Bamford in an environment in which every game is a big game for the club. I don’t believe even Pardew could have forseen the extent of his teams fortunes this year. Having said that, January could have been a prime month for Bamford. With FA Cup fixtures inbound, that IS a prime environment for Pardew to experiment with his squad. Doubtless Bamford would have been at the forefront of his mind.
As Bamford looks to the next stage of his career, he has to do so with an element of self-assessment. This debacle may not quite have labelled him as a good striker with a bad attitude, but were he to repeat such behaviour again, it may very well cost him a club, never mind a place on the pitch.