Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Sunday, March 28, 2021

The Matty Virtue appreciation post

If every player had Matty Virtue's attitude, we'd be Premier League in no time

I often write stuff that can be described as *a bit daft* about players  but I'm genuinely a bit shaken by the news that our Matty has suffered a nasty injury and so this post isn't at all daft. 

When I first saw him play, I didn't think he was up to much. He seemed off the pace and attempting to play a different game than the one that was unfolding in front of him. This was a very similar reaction to the first time I saw Richie Wellens play - something, maybe about a lower league chip on my shoulder, rejecting someone who had been groomed for Premier League stardom, rather than schooled in the 'ghetto' of the real game in the lower leagues.

Gradually though, Virtue won me over. There was the brace at Bradford for starters, which included a lovely drive from distance but also the realisation that he'd put his foot in where it hurts, he'd never stop running, that he possessed a canny football brain, a sense of timing and beneath his rather cherubic face and ungainly running style, lurked a determination as steely as anyones.

He ghosts in at the far post, he makes lung busting charges into the box, he snarls into challenges. He throws himself at things in the air. He, in short, has a go. There's the equaliser in the dying seconds at Accy, the wonderful, wonderful goal away at Sunderland, and a lovely long range effort away at Charlton as prime examples of Virtue's willingness to chance his arm.

He's not prolific, but there's a real sense that, of all our midfielders, he's the one who could turn into that player who adds the extra goals, who tidies up when the strikers don't hit the target. In one recent game, I watched him dart across the box and try to back heel it home, I saw him spread play, from halfway in side their half, then charge desperately to the near post to offer more weight in the box for the cross. I saw him stretch every sinew for a cut back, sliding with no thought at all other than 'goal'

He didn't make contact with the ball on any of the occasions. That's not the point. He just kept putting himself there, then picking himself up and running to resume his other role as a breaker up of play. Virtue seems harder this year. He looks horrible to go into a tackle with. Players bounce off him, he's all bony elbows and shoulders. He's not a dirty player, it's rare to see his foot left in or an elbow raised, he just gives no quarter, never concedes ground.

There's a real leader in Matty. When Jordan Gabriel got a bit of rough stuff in Charlton, the first player on the scene, shoving a bigger lad in the chest, remonstrating with him, red faced and raging, looking to protect his team mate, was our Matty. He leads by example. He's not the best player in the team at anything, but he's the one that tries to get better at everything. He's the one who runs and runs and runs. He's cut from the same cloth as Jerry Yates in that respect.

He's not universally lauded by everyone, but I thought in the last few games in midfield, he looked the perfect fit. Sometimes, it's not about the raw skill of a player. Virtue will never have the pace to quite be the player his head wants him to be, but with Dougall doing the mopping up and Kaikai, Embleton and Mitchell the flair stuff, Virtue seemed to excel in knitting things together, in knowing his role was to variously, carry the ball, give it simply, to show for a pass or get into the box and occasionally, to mix it up by providing himself.

It's a role that needed a jack of all trades. A player the opposition mightn't be terrified of in and of himself, but know that they can't ignore, because he might do any of the options available. A player with a real sense of what the team needs in any one situation. In short, he looked like the right piece in the jigsaw.

With his lurching running style, he'll never make an aesthetes XI but that functional energy is matched with a decent football brain, a desire and an attitude that is second to none. He was ropey on the right wing, but did he ever stop? Did he sulk? Did his head go down? Did he let anyone down? Did he hell... It's not in his nature to do so. He's a former Liverpool captain. He could have been precocious, aloof, arrogant. He's literally the opposite.

You need your stars to get promotion, but you need players like Virtue just as much. He's gone from being a player I couldn't see the point of, to being one of my favourites because he makes more of himself than his raw talent on paper. You can see in his play, that he trains hard, you can see that it matters and you can see that others respond to him. He doesn't stroll, he charges about and when one is doing that, it makes others react. 

Those type of players are as good to watch as any. I love Sullay but he's born to play. I loved Wes, but he had superhuman gifts... Matty Virtue has the air of a lad who just played, all the time, constantly. Who practised endlessly, kicking a ball against the wall, controlling it, heading it. Running, jumping, each time, trying to make himself better, gradually doing so, gradually improving. I see myself on the pitch in Matty. I see a lad who wanted so much to be a footballer, that he made it happen. It didn't just come to him like it has for others and in his play, he appreciates that and plays every second with total commitment. I could never, ever have been Charlie or DJ, but maybe, if I'd worked endlessly, I could have been Matty V.

Because of that, because he seems to care, to fight for everything, to put himself on the line, to run through fatigue, to push himself on and play right on the limits of himself, it makes him suffering a horrible injury even nastier. 

You never want any of your players to suffer that, but especially not someone so likable, unassuming and wholehearted as Matty Virtue. There's not an ounce of 'showiness' in him. The game starts and he's lost in it. It's his whole world, for better or worse until the whistle blows. What more can you ask of any player than that? 

Get better soon Matty. We're with you. You're one of us. This shite blog wishes you well, but so does every single one of us, cos you give a shit. 



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