Players Out Of Time: No.2 Charlie Nicholas
Last day of the holidays, back online late today. If Arsene has signed someone, yay! If not, presumably the media are passing off the same drivel as news. Another in an occasional series, something for the weekend as they say…
Twenty eight years ago, the hype hit London. Scottish Player of the Year, Young Player of the Year; 50 goals in 1982/83 for Celtic. £650,000 saw Charlie Nicholas arrive at Highbury following a transfer tug-of-love involving Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United. The lure of the capital’s nightlife must have been strong, Arsenal in the early part of that decade were a big club in decline. Nicholas was to be part of Don Howe’s revolution, a team of high quality internationals mixed with homegrown youngsters. Sound familiar?
Nicholas was instant favourite, even though he never came remotely close to scoring as prolifically again. Each of his seasons at the club saw him reach double figures – just about. In 1983/84, he broke his duck against Wolves, scoring twice in his second appearance for the club. He enhanced his popularity with another brace, this time against Tottenham…
The Tottenham defence would take their revenge on Nicholas, Graham Roberts dumping him over the advertising hoardings at Highbury a year later in a New Years Day clash. Nicholas had the last laugh. Tottenham needed a win at White Hart Lane in April 1985 to stay in the title race. Nicholas gave Arsenal the lead in front of the visiting fans in the first half, firing home from an acute angle. It got better, Roberts cannoning a penalty against the bar before Brian Talbot broke away with the final whistle beckoning, to score and seal the victory.
As much as he could unlock defences, Nicholas could be easily snuffed out. He was not a fairweather player, if it was fine and sunny he could light up the afternoon. Drab and dreary? Quite likely so would Charlie be. Inconsistency was his middle name.
He had pace but that could be deceptive. Deceptively slow. He made up for it by his reading of the game, capable of finding space in the area where none existed. And yet in the modern Arsenal team, he would have thrived, an intelligent player dropping deep to link the forward and midfield, creating space for teammates to run into as he pulled his defenders out of position. Track back he would not have; Nicholas just did not ‘do’ tackling.
Could Wenger have cured the inconsistent performances? It is highly doubtful as he has not been able to eliminate that problem from others. He would perhaps have had more patience with the Scot that George Graham did. The pair argued, Graham disapproving of his compatriot’s lifestyle, matters coming to a head over pay, a common theme in Graham’s reign.
Ironically, Nicholas had his iconic moment under Graham, Barry Davies squealing “It’s Charlie!” as Ian Rush’s phenomenal record went south. “One nil down, two one up, we f*****d Rushie’s record up”…