The psychology of scoring goals and what Rhian Brewster must do to end his barren run for Sheffield United
He knows exactly where it is; the scrapbook, filled with yellowing cuttings which describe how, where and when he scored each of his 256 career league goals.
The fact he even began collecting them in the first place, let alone still keeps the tome close to hand at home, reminds Keith Edwards about the pressures associated with performing what he considers to be professional football’s most mentally taxing and lonely role.
“Lots of people think being a striker is all about the glory, that you’re in the glamour position if you like,” he says, acknowledging that every successful goalscorer craves the limelight. “But it’s not all about that. There’s another side to it as well. One that people who don’t play there rarely see, realise or understand. It’s tough, mentally it can be really difficult when things aren’t going so well.”
As he traces his own journey through the game, which includes two memorably prolific postings with Sheffield United, Edwards describes its many high points in pinsharp detail; laughing at how his tunnel vision and desire to convert chances often irritated colleagues. But there were darker moments too, particularly at Leeds where he spent 12 frustrating months in the mid-Eighties. Which is why, after watching Rhian Brewster struggle following his move to Bramall Lane earlier this term, he sympathises with United’s record transfer signing.
“We’ve got to be careful when it comes to judging Rhian because he’s such a young man,” Edwards says, noting how the former Liverpool striker, who has yet to hit the target for his new club, only turned 21 last month. “He was probably smashing them in for the reserves when he was at Anfield and did really well during a spell on loan at Swansea City in the Championship not so long ago. But coming here, being asked to step into the limelight at Premier League level and effectively run the frontline, that was a really big ask. You don’t realise how big.”
Acquired for the pretty significant sum of £23m, Brewster arrived in South Yorkshire being touted as the solution to United’s problems in front of goal. Twenty-eight appearances and one relegation later, he enters tomorrow’s game against Crystal Palace yet to find the back of the net and knowing some people are claiming Jurgen Klopp should be prosecuted under the trade descriptions act after labelling him a “natural” finisher.
The fact Brewster has yet to actually miss any glaring opportunities prompts Edwards to wonder if something else is responsible for his miserable form. Speaking to journalists on Thursday, caretaker manager Paul Heckingbottom confirmed Brewster had “lost a lot of weight” at the beginning of Ramadan as he struggled to balance his religious and sporting obligations.
Edwards, however, believes the squad as a whole should also accept its share of responsibility for Brewster’s struggles.
“Are we playing to his strengths? I don’t know because a lot of the work our forwards are doing is in front of the centre-halves. Personally, because he’s got a bit of pace, I’d love to see Rhian playing just off the shoulder.”
Despite being headhunted by Chris Wilder, Brewster has enjoyed more exposure under Heckingbottom than the two-time promotion winner; whose reign came to an end two months ago.
Edwards understands why Wilder handled the England under-21 international with kid gloves. But, detailing how something similar happened to him Elland Road, suspects Wilder and his coaching staff might have inadvertently delayed the acclimatisation process.
“Rhian has been in and out of the side and, personally, I don’t think that’s good for a striker,” he says. “You can do it with defenders and to a lesser extent midfielders. But not, for me, a striker. Some managers think they are helping you by taking you out of the limelight. All they are doing is highlighting there’s a problem.”
“It’s really tough when you go somewhere with a reputation for scoring goals and then it doesn’t happen,” Edwards continues. “You wonder ‘What are my mates thinking? What are my team mates thinking? What are the dfans thinking?’
“That happened to me at Leeds. I’d come on for 20 minutes, have a spring in my step and maybe get a goal. But it can’t go on because no one wants to be a sub.”
Edwards, who netted 143 times for United but only nine in West Yorkshire, accepts centre-forwards such as himself and Brewster are viewed as possessing big personalities, big profiles and even bigger egos. The truth, he insists, is actually much more complex.
“You’ve got to be a gobby, arrogant and demand things,” Edwards says. “Ray McHale was fantastic because he’d have a go at me for always wanting the ball and complaining if he didn’t give it to me. Looking back, he was more of a grown-up than me. But he appreciated why I was doing it, which was great.”
“Strikers, probably more than anyone else, are worriers,” Edwards continues. “Why? Because when I scored I got all the ‘King Keith’ headlines. In this position, you don’t get them if you play well. You get them if you score.”
As well as advising Brewster to put on a front - “I’d be telling him to shout and really demand things” - Edwards hopes other members of the United dressing room are doing their bit too.
“Defenders can get away to some extent with three bad games, if you get my drift,” he says. “Other than the strikers - and I’m sure the likes of Billy Sharp and David McGoldrick will be brilliant with him - the only others who will really understand what Rhian is going through are the attacking midfielders.”
“He’ll get through it, I’m sure,” Edwards adds. “But he’s got to stick to what he knows are his strengths, stay true and keep on doing the things he knows he needs to be doing even though it’s difficult.”