Alan Biggs at Large: Atdhe Nuhiu rolls back the years in Carvalhal's Wednesday revolution
Near enough every team used to have one. These days we're constantly told the game has moved on from the archetypal 'big centre forward' or 'target man' as he
then became known.
Strength isn’t enough; you need speed with it. Holding the ball up is a bare minimum; you require a quick turn and fast, clever footwork. Aerial power alone won’t do; you have to be able to shoot with either foot.
No-one embraces the game’s technical advances more than Carlos Carvalhal. Sheffield Wednesday have their most sophisticated side in a couple of decades, all passing and movement and tricky interplay.
And there, very much in or around it, is Atdhe Nuhiu.
No player at Hillsborough has divided support more than this one, attracting wholehearted appreciation from many and yet derision from some. But now, particularly after a match-changing show from the bench in last week’s 3-0 win over Charlton, the ranks are closing behind the big man. And that is a huge mark of respect for a player who represents artisanship more than artistry.
But the most telling indicator of Nuhiu’s worth is that Carvalhal insists on keeping him as an integral part of the promotion bid. Why this apparent contradiction in terms?
Nuhiu has managed a meagre 5 goals from 40 appearances, light years behind the strike rate of reputably superior forwards in Gary Hooper and Lucas Joao. That’s before we bring the gifted Fernando Forestieri into the equation.
Yet Leicester City, with their 4-4-2 and direct, penetrating style, have sharply reminded us this season that some of the old ways can be the best ways. I’m not saying a player of Nuhiu’s type could necessarily impact on the Premier League. Allowing for the 26-year-old Austrian’s boundless spirit, you’d obviously have to question whether he would get anywhere close to the team if Wednesday won promotion; not that he wouldn’t bust a gut trying, of course.
But he remains a formidable – and feared – figure in the Championship. The best indicator of that comes from the opposition, other managers and players who have spoken of Atdhe in the most reverential terms.
So I give you Rotherham United’s former Owls centre back Richard Wood, one of few to shackle “Big Dave” during a recent victorious return to Hillsborough.
“He’s just awkward,” says Wood. “A big, strong unit and you can’t get near him. He wins headers... and he’s just different. Different to what you’re normally used to playing against in the modern game.
“Some Wednesday fans aren’t too keen on him and in certain games he might not be effective. But he’s a great player to have – again, something different – and he’s not bad with his feet as well for a big man.
“Teams have gone away from that sort of player now but, for me, it still works. Other teams are more conscious of him than other players and yet you’ve got the likes of Hooper and Forestieri running off him.
“Nuhiu takes the focus away to release space for them and that’s why he’s definitely a great squad member.
“I’m surprised at the stick he gets. I know, as a defender, that he’s difficult to face.”
Enough said. Atdhe can defend himself after that!