Outside the Box : Doyle in danger of being stuck in low gear
FROM youth teams to reserves to first team, proving that you can adapt to a new environment is essential for the progression of a football career. It's the reason why West Brom manager Steve Clarke is struggling to find words strong enough to praise Shane Long as he looks every inch a player deserving of being in a top-four team.
Long took a little while to settle into English football but then rewarded Brian McDermott's faith at Reading once he was trusted to be the main man and – having given the defences of Manchester City and Chelsea severe problems – he would now command far more than the £6.5m fee which took him to West Brom.
Unfortunately, such an adaptation doesn't always work in an upward curve, meaning that players who were once among elite clubs and leagues can fail to shine even among the lesser lights. Such a scenario is playing out at Loftus Road while the likes of John O'Shea, as he showed again yesterday, and Wes Brown have gone from being players who look like they belong at title-winning teams like Manchester United to ones who look like they belong at a team like Sunderland.
Few players sum up the concept quite like Long's friend Kevin Doyle who, having looked like a player capable of performing well in the Premier League, now finds himself struggling to stand out from the crowd in the Championship's lower reaches.
On Saturday, Doyle did what he always does and ran himself ragged in the name of his team's cause, yet his contribution appeared to be minimal as Wolves lost 2-1 to Watford to leave themselves 16th in the table.
Text commentaries are always difficult ways to judge any game but, according to BBC's minute-by-minute detail of the game, Doyle's sole act of note was to be caught offside in the 59th minute before he was replaced by Sylvain Ebanks-Blake in the 85th.
There were extenuating circumstances with Wolves being reduced to 10 men after 25 minutes but it's significant that Doyle was the one replaced with five minutes remaining and the team needing a goal.
His effort levels mean that Doyle will usually be spared criticism from unhappy supporters and this was no different on Saturday, when his name was conspicuously absent from the many who were being brought to the gallows of the furious fans' forums.
But while honesty of effort, to use a John Giles phrase, is always welcome, centre-forwards' currency is goals and in that regard Doyle has struggled at club level. Last season's Premier League tally was four in 27 games as Wolves were relegated, which followed totals of five and nine league goals in the previous two campaigns.
It's a peculiar aspect of football that not being an obnoxious, self-absorbed oaf will often mean that you are labelled as "too nice" and Doyle seems to have suffered such a fate. He is hard-working on the pitch and affable off it but when it comes to being dropped, he is often the easy target.
At the European Championships, it was Doyle who was whipped off eight minutes into the second half against Croatia and then dropped against Spain while Robbie Keane toiled in vain with and without the ball.
Against Kazakhstan, Doyle's introduction turned a potential mortification into a mere discomfort but his club form is such that when Ireland resume in March, Doyle could find himself as fifth-choice striker behind Keane, Long, Jonathan Walters and even Simon Cox. Doyle burst on to the scene with 13 Premier League goals for Reading in the 2006/'07 season but he now seems to have missed the boat in moving up to the next level – something which should serve as a warning to Long should an option to move come along.
When playing well, Doyle was heavily linked with a move away from both Reading and Wolves but nothing materialised. Loyalty to a team is an admirable concept but, if a player loses form, clubs are never quick to hand them a new deal regardless of how loyal they were in the past. If they are no longer useful, they are cut.
At 29, Doyle needs a strong few months before he becomes forever a Championship striker. The last time he played in the second tier, Doyle scored 18 league goals which earned him a £6.5m move to Wolves but when clubs look at this season's Championship top scorers, they'll see Charlie Austin on 17, Glenn Murray on 15 and Jordan Rhodes on 11. They'll have to go a long way down to find Doyle on three.
The timing of his injury meant that he couldn't build on his cameo against Kazakhstan against Germany or the Faroe Islands but, between injuries and missed chances, there comes a point when luck is overstated and a player is at Championship level for a reason.
Doyle probably has the rest of this season to make sure he isn't stuck there.
THE QUESTION NOBODY ASKED
Is Lionel Messi lazy in the Champions League?
there's a school of football thought which demands that players run around a lot regardless of their talent levels but, if anyone is going to disprove that theory, it's Lionel Messi.
In his four Champions League games so far, Messi has scored three goals as well as provided two assists yet the distance he has covered, according to UEFA's official website, is remarkably little.
In the 360 minutes he has played, the Barcelona maestro has tracked 24,528m which, by comparison to several of his peers, is verging on strolling. The allegedly work-shy and lazy Zlatan Ibrahimovic has played 17 fewer minutes yet has covered almost 10,000 more metres (34,222) than Messi over the first four games.
Wayne Rooney is well-known for his strong work-rate but, by comparison to Messi, covering 11,000 more metres in 90 fewer minutes is a remarkable statistic. Cristiano Ronaldo also leaves Messi a long way in the distance with the Real Madrid star clocking up 40,465m (25.1 miles) over the course of 360 minutes which, for the non-metric people, means he has run almost 10 miles more than Messi over the course of four games.
The marathon man of the competition is Christian Eriksen of Ajax who has reached 52,181m (32.4 miles) in their games against Manchester City (twice), Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund.
BET YOU SHOULD HAVE DONE
Norwich to beat Manchester Utd 7/1
After the last international break, Norwich hosted Arsenal on a Saturday evening and, with a Champions League game to follow, Arsenal took their eye off the ball and lost 1-0.
United have already qualified for the next stage of the Champions League and were top of the Premier league going into the weekend's fixtures, but there had been warning signs in their defence.
Also, when a United team-sheet contains Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs in the centre of midfield, the odds for their opponents should improve, and so it proved at Carrow Road as a flat United team were deservedly beaten.