Wingers back in style

The lively display of Quincy Owusu was SIMPLY THE LATEST, in a brief and happy period, a confirmation that wingers still emphatically live.

Quincy Owusu is 19 and despite his surname was actually born in Amsterdam; which should make the Dutch very happy. For here surely is a future full international. When Arsenal brought him on to their left wing as a second half substitute in the recent third round FA Cup tie at home to Cardiff City, he wasted no time in running at great pace and to real effect with the ball, as a true winger should, whenever he got it. It was hardly his fault that the Gunners made scant use of his crosses; heading the ball is not alas, the strong suit of their strikers, not even of the revered Thierry Henry; who now announces that he wants to stay at Highbury, though I hear Gallic rumours that this may not be the end of the affair.

Pleasingly, the lively display of Quincy Owusu was simply the latest, in a brief and happy period, a confirmation that wingers still emphatically live and I make no apology for returning to a theme, which I have sometimes aired before. Why, it was only in the middle of last season that Graeme Souness, the manager of Newcastle United, a job on to which he has been hanging by his finger nails, denied after a match against Crystal Palace in London that wingers per se still existed; despite the clear evidence which had just been provided by his erratic but gifted left winger France's Laurent Robert, who has just left Portsmouth for Portugal.

Some years ago Jackie Charlton, when he was the manager of Sheffield Wednesday, took me to task for my emphasis on the importance of the winger, although he at the time had an outside right with all the real winger's gifts. Jackie's point was that pure wingers in modern soccer were no more than a luxury. And sad to say this view appears long to have been held even where you would least expect it to be: Brazil.

You might have thought that the grand tradition of Brazilian wingers would long endure. Back in 1954 at the Swiss World Cup there was the superb outside right Botelho Julino, scorer of a dazzling goal versus Hungary which was at least one decent memory from the so called Battle of Berne. From way out, the shot swerved irresistibly past the Hungary goalkeeper, Gyula Grosics.

Julinho then moved to Italy to play supremely well for Fiorentina. On his return to Brazil, he made poor Jimmy Armfield's debut for England in Rio — at left back rather than on his favoured right flank — a misery. Brazil won 2-0.

After Julinho of course came the still more astonishing Garrincha, the child of nature who never grew up, whose private life was a series of catastrophes and absurdities — he had seven children from his long suffering first wife, then was taken in hand by the well known singer Elsa Soares — but what World Cups he had in 1958 and 1962! Everything came naturally to him. The amazing swerve, perhaps helped by the fact that one knee was distorted. The jaguar burst of speed. His two spectacular forays down the right to make two goals for Vava in the 1958 World Cup final in Stockholm. His all round brilliance right across the field in Chile four years later, amply compensating for the loss through injury even of Pele.

Then came Jairzinho, all speed and power down the right, scorer of important goals in the 1970 tournament in Mexico. Not forgetting Mario Labo Zagallo, though a very different kind of winger, possessed of tireless stamina, selflessly working the left wing from one end of the field to the other, and scoring goals as well.

England don't play with wingers now. No, I do not as you may know count David Beckham as one. He has neither the pace nor the skill to make the true winger's move, to go outside the full back and bring the ball back devastatingly from the by-line. So to some extent you can excuse Sven-Goran Eriksson for ploughing on without such players. Far too often by the way, when they do arrive, being sloppily categorised as mere midfielders. Shaun Wright Phillips looked as if he might be the answer on the right, especially when on his England debut against Ukraine he scored a sensational goal. But he made the wrong choice, however lucrative when last summer he decided to leave Manchester City for Chelsea, where, deprived of regular first team games, his confidence has ebbed away. As was all too sadly clear when in the FA Cup at Stamford Bridge he started against Huddersfield Town, did little of merit and was eventually substituted.

Before leaving City he might have reflected that Chelsea have two of the world's best wingers in Holland's effervescent, ever elusive, Arjen Robben and the blond Irishman, Damien Duff. At West Ham, recently, I saw them play sheer havoc with the opposing defence. And if and when one or other of them does not play, then there is Joe Cole, whom his manager Jose Mourinho now deems a winger and as such "untouchable" though for me, who admires Cole, he will ever be a born, creative inside forward.

Around this time, I also had the occasion to appreciate the natural winger's skills of the young Aston Villa player James Milner. At Fulham I saw him excel on either flank, ever confident enough to take on the opposing full back, go past him and beat him down the touchline. He is, in fact, on loan from Newcastle United who, in turn bought him from Leeds United. Perhaps it was Souness' strange lack of belief in wingers, which caused him to dispense of Milner: who at present looks the one young winger who might do the England team some good.

Lucky Manchester United have no fewer than three fine wingers; the incomparable Ryan Giggs, the brilliant Portuguese, Ronaldo, plus South Korea's Park Ji Sung.