Winston Reid: life in the fast lane
Although we all know the football world is propelled on its axis by subjectivity and is given its gravity by opinion (let’s stay positive and resist the urge to say “money”), I am going to start with a fact: Winston Reid is making the fastest progress of any other play in the Premier League. I reveal that, not with feet drowned in a carpet of crumpled beer cans, nor from behind a pair of claret-and-blue lensed comedy glasses perched jauntily on the bridge of a big red nose. It’s true, West Ham’s Winston Reid is moving at pace. Fact.
Ahead of their recent league match with Sunderland, the New Zealand centre back was clocked at a speed of just over 23 mph at one point in the Hammers’ previous game at Norwich, making him officially the quickest player in the top flight. That may not be as fast as Usain Bolt, but it’s enough for Reid to get a ticket if he chose to whiz down the wrong suburban side street. At six foot three, he’s clearly no slouch.
While his improved pace is no doubt testament to the club’s sharper adherement to the importance of sports science and fitness so dear to new boss Sam Allardyce’s heart, it’s likely that a surge of renewed confidence is also helping to put an extra zing into quads. Indeed, most West Ham fans will tell you Reid is rapidly becoming a bone fide Premier League defender, whose speed of progression is not just literal.
The New Zealand international has come a long way in two years and it has been a road with enough distance and meanders along the way, Lennon and McCartney might’ve written a song about it. When Reid arrived in England in the summer of 2010 from Danish side FC Midtyjlland he was unfortunate to walk into a collective huff of indifference from supporters. Not unreasonably they had been expecting someone with a rather more florid reputation following the club’s grandiose declaration that they had signed one of the “stars” of the World Cup in South Africa.
It was not Reid’s fault that fans may have got five from adding two twos and it would, of course, be totally unfair to suggest Reid was a nobody. He had, after all, helped the All Whites have a cracking tournament where they drew with Italy and ended up above them in the group table. He scored against Slovakia as the team missed out on the knock-out phase by a kiwi’s whisker.
But during his first few months at Upton Park he must have wondered whether coming to England was the wisest of moves. His debut at Aston Villa on the opening day of the 2010-11 season, it’s fair to say, didn’t go well. Admittedly played out of position at right back, Reid looked like he was in the team by virtue of winning a competition rather than being one of the side’s major summer recruits. To be fair, most of the rest of the team resembled novices that afternoon as they crumbled like Babylon’s walls, lost 4-0, to open a woeful campaign that would ultimately end in relegation.
The signs were not good. The last bloke called Winston seen round the East End hung about with Big Ron, spent all day in the Vic and never said anything apart from nod whenever anyone asked him to mind their stall. And here was Reid, in danger of inhabiting similar anonymity. Avram Grant didn’t do much to help him either. When Reid did show signs of form, his confidence was never given the chance to calcify.
Encouraging performances in the cups against Manchester United and against Forest in January 2011 were not rewarded with a place in the league side. Nor did it happen after his best showing against Burnley in February, when he scored his first Hammers goal. In fact Reid was “rewarded” by being dropped for the next game and never seen again, forced to stand (well sat, really) from the sidelines as West Ham’s top flight status careered down the u-bend under the hapless Grant. For Reid, his first experience of Premier League life was about as sweet as sewage.
But as so often it goes, one man’s knee to the groin is another man’s smelling salts and relegation was to change Reid’s Hammers career. With the club forced by finances and contract clauses to shed players like reptiles do skin cells, Reid, one of the inevitable survivors, got his chance. And he took it, right from the off. Twelve months on from his debutus horribilis at Villa Park, Reid started the 2011-12 season in the heart of the defence against Cardiff. Playing alongside James Tomkins, Reid excelled, matching his more illustrious partner jump for jump, tackle for tackle.
Strong in the air, clean and precise in the tackle and positionally astute, Reid purred through much of the game. For the first time he looked like he belonged, heck he even looked at ease playing next to Herita Ilunga. Typically West Ham lost that game in the last minute but Reid’s performance wasn’t lost on those peeking to see if there was anything burning behind the eyes of the young Auklander. There was.
Buoyed by a regular starting place and, yes, an easier division, Reid never really looked back. His first league goal came three weeks later with another in the derby against Millwall (a belt from 20 yards) as West Ham began their run-in to promotion. Goals were a bonus though. His consistency helped the Hammers garner the best defensive record away from home in the Championship as the side swept to a record 13 wins on the road.
Had West Ham’s finishing at home been half as good, they would’ve bypassed the play-offs like a bad smell. As it was they safely negotiated the three games, with Reid constructing a compelling case for being man of the match in the final win over Blackpool at Wembley. The real test of Reid’s mettle though would, of course, come this season with the club back in the Premier League. Could he continue his impressive arc? Or had he been merely a player reveling at his appropriate level?
Villa gave him a chance for redemption on opening day this time round. Reid didn’t disappoint. Forming a seemingly waterproof barrier with James Collins, Reid shut Villa up with clam élan. An error form Collins and another from Jussi Jaaskelainen did for the Hammers at Swansea but the back four were back on it the home win against Fulham and the goalless draw at Norwich.
After four games, West Ham had kept three clean sheets. It took them five months to do that the last time they were in the top flight. Interestingly the last time they got vaguely close to that run was three shut outs in their first three games of 1999/00, when Ian Pearce and a young kid called Ferdinand dovetailed rather nicely. They went on to finish fifth – their highest finish since the Premier League began. Reid and Collins are showing signs of the team’s most reliable pairing since with Reid keeping Tomkins out of the side on merit.
It remains early days for Reid and tougher times and results are inevitably lurking and where he eventually falls in the museum of Hammers defenders will, naturally, be decided by subjectivity and opinion. What isn’t up for debate is that he’s taken the first steps towards stardom.