Despite Nottingham Forest having one of the worst defensive records in the football league, it’s fair to say that they have one of the best defenders in that category too.
Michael Mancienne has been excellent this season and has basically carried over his form from the end of the last term. At times he’s been something of an unsung hero but is finally getting the accolades that he deserves, ironically during our worst defensive period.
I said recently that twenty eight should be the peak of a footballer’s game, both mentally and technically. Mancienne is at that very age and seems to prove that theory correct, although some will argue that he has taken too long to come to fruition. As far back as 2009 he was making first team appearances for Chelsea in three different competitions; the Premier League, the FA Cup and the Champions League. Granted, most of these were cameo roles but the Chelsea fans could have expected a similar meteoric rise to that of John Terry.
Mancienne had also been capped by England at every level from under 16 to under 21s; another telling statistic that marked him as the new hope for club and country. The rest as we often say is history, having failed to break into the Chelsea team he found success at Wolves before supposedly disappearing from the radar. It is that alleged disappearance that I believe transformed him from boy to man. The period of his career I’m referring to is of course his three seasons with Hamburg in Germany, where he was signed for 1.75m. Despite making only forty nine appearances during his time there, I’m certain that what he learned in Germany was the final piece of the jigsaw. For he is very much the finished article compared to the young pretender I saw nearly a decade ago.
At Nottingham Forest he has played consistently well under every manager since signing back in 2014, credit therefore must go to the man that brought him to the City Ground in the first place, Stuart Pearce. Unfortunately, defenders like Michael are often judged by their team’s defensive statistics, which in Forest’s case haven’t been great if we’re honest. However, they can often highlight the stand out personnel too, exactly the case this season where the player in question has been the star performer. We also often forget how versatile he is; Mancienne has done a job at full back and as the holding midfielder when called upon. His composure on the ball and intelligent distribution allows him to occasionally guest in the midfield; a feat not possible for the likes of Hobbs and Matt Mills, who are out and out centre halves.
The Londoner doesn’t look like your average Championship defender and people often and wrongly question his physical strength, when you’re stood next to Matt Mills you’re going to look small anyway. Despite his slight frame he doesn’t hold back in the tackle and is prepared to throw his body in where it hurts for the sake of the team. Admittedly his aerial prowess is not his strongest attribute but when accompanied by either Mills or Perquis it provides a balanced pairing. What impresses me more than anything mentioned so far is his concentration and reading of the game. Next time you watch Michael Mancienne play, check out what he’s doing when he’s not on the ball. He is constantly aware of who and where his man is, and never seems to allow them the space to get in behind him. I can’t think of many occasions over the last three seasons where he has been caught napping or allowed a runner in behind him for a one on one with the keeper. I’m sure the odd one or two of the readers will be trawling the internet for an example or two to prove me wrong but I would be confident that you won’t find many. A perfect example of his meticulous concentration and awareness was evident against Sheffield Wednesday at the weekend. Following a rare mistake by Forest’s keeper Vladimir Stojkovic , Mancienne was first to the ball in his own six yard box. That is the very place where any striker worth his salt will pounce; we are always quick to big up the Lineker’s and Owens of this world for sniffing out a goal in that very zone. On the contrary; we hardly ever acknowledge the stalwart defenders who read the situation and marshal those very spaces. Take a look at the goal we conceded against Fulham on Tuesday, as the unmarked Cairney slotted in the Cottagers equaliser you can clearly see Mancienne shirt tight with his man, Chris Martin.
I have expressed my concerns about Philippe Montanier’s defensive ethos but let this not detract from the praise that our centre half is getting. Hopefully in time Forest will address the issue of conceding goals and climb the table again. In the meantime, the players around Michael Mancienne would do well to emulate his attitude.