Why is Anthony Grant critical to Bruno Ribeiro's Port Vale side?
Anthony Grant has come a long way in the eyes of Port Vale supporters in his first season at Vale Park. The defensive-midfielder has gone from villain to hero in a matter of months since making the switch from local rivals Crewe Alexandra, making 45 appearances in his first season for the Valiants in all competitions, chipping in with two goals and walking away with the Player of the Year award. So of course there was much shock and much dismay when news broke earlier in July that Grant had, in fact, handed in a transfer request.
To add context to the circumstances, much has changed at Vale Park since Grant scooped his accolade. His manager last season, Rob Page, left for Northampton Town amidst impending budget cuts from Chairman Norman Smurthwaite, several members of last season’s squad opted not to accept their reduced terms contract offers and moved onto pasteurs new, and finally the arrival of new manager Bruno Ribeiro has seen a complete overhaul of players and backroom staff in Burslem.
But what has been already dubbed the Ribeiro Revolution; the arrival of players from top flight clubs abroad including the likes of AS Monaco and Vitoria Setubal, has been an unprecedented phenomenon at Vale Park and built more of a buzz ahead of a league campaign than most seasons in recent memory. So why amidst such excitement, such optimsim, would last year’s star man want to leave?
The theories were many. Perhaps he couldn’t adapt to the new manager’s methods, the issue of the language barrier with the swathes of new arrivals from abroad was simply too much, maybe he wanted more money. However, the way in which the club have dealt with the situation is not only admirable and professional, but it has stressed the importance of Anthony Grant, reigning player of the year, to Bruno Ribeiro’s new-look Vale team.
As a defensive shield for the back four, Anthony Grant was instrumental last season. His deep lying role not only allowed his midfield partners Sam Foley and Michael O’Connor to drive forward, but his technical ability and eye for a pass enabled him to act as a maestro sitting in front of the defence. He had his shortcomings, including being found wanting and caught in possession in dangerous areas, but he is an intelligent player, effectively draws fouls to relieve pressure on his team and is a proficient tackler, although his rate of cautions doesn’t count in his favour having amassed 15 yellow cards and missed six games through suspension.
But his positives far outweighed his negatives, and one of his best performances in Vale colours was in a 0-0 League Cup draw at the Hawthorns against West Bromwich Albion, where Grant worked tirelessly in front of his defence to neutralise an Albion attack containing Serge Gnabry, James McClean, Darren Fletcher, Rickie Lambert and Salomon Rondon. Even when he lost possession, he ran himself into the ground to get the ball back. He has demonstrated his calm and cool composure with the ball all through his Port Vale career, and a deserved player of the season that Ribeiro will not want to lose.
However, the most important factor is Grant’s experience. He is one of a total of 14 players who remain from Rob Page’s old squad and with ten arrivals from abroad, including potentially one more in the form of Benfica academy goalkeeper Miguel Santos, so his experience and knowhow in League One will be critical for the new blood in the camp to bed in and adapt to the environment and demands of English football. His calmness under pressure, his composure, his defensive abilities and what he brings to the table in the dressing room make him an important player. So important, in fact, that even in the midst of the transfer request saga, Ribeiro has named him one of three captains at the club.
The other two are comprised of goalkeeper Jak Alnwick and right-back Ben Purkiss. With Grant completing the trio, Ribeiro has made clear that he values the experience of his senior players, players whom the club’s supporters trust and appreciate, in order to help Ribeiro’s new-look Port Vale side adjust to life in England. He may not be a goalscorer or a creative playmaker, but Grant does his job exceedingly well just as he has done for Crewe and at Southend United before that. The experienced players will be the glue that holds Ribeiro’s “family” at Port Vale together, and by appointing him as a skipper he has made clear to the player that he is a huge part of that family, and at the forefront of the Portuguese manager’s plans.
So soon after handing in a transfer request and often said to have been a disruptive influence in the dressing room at Crewe, the selection of Grant as captain raised several eyebrows, but at 29 and a player full of experience, there is no reason to believe he cannot be a good leader for Port Vale, as long as he continues to show the work rate and commitment to the cause that Vale fans wish to see from their players. His pre-season performances certainly haven’t raised doubts over his ability to put in a performance, regardless of whether or not he is fully satisfied in Burslem.
Ribeiro himself told local newspaper the Sentinel regarding his decision:
“If I put him on as a captain then I want him to stay. For me, he stays because he is very important for us. He is a quality player, a good midfielder who improves our team. He is an experienced player and I want him to stay”.
When the going gets tough amongst a squad of younger, developing players, and players unfamiliar with the English game, you need experienced heads to help guide the ship through the ensuing tempest. Anthony Grant undoubtedly has a strong personality as shown at Crewe, but he seems to have matured as a player since. It would be easier in the midst of a transfer request to punish and belittle the player concerned, but the club have dealt with it both internally and incredibly professionally, and given Ribeiro’s comments, there is no clash of personalities, no rift between the player and his manager.
Anthony Grant, despite his shortcomings still is a huge player for Port Vale, and his previously maligned influence in the dressing room will be key to harmony in Ribeiro’s Port Vale squad. The manager hopes the player will stay on, as do his teammates, the supporters and the club’s hierarchy.
The saga surrounding his request to leave the club has since quietened, and everybody at the club will be hoping the situation remains as such as the player, for the good of himself and his side, has to concentrate on his football. And if he plays the role well, he can only continue to do good for the Valiants.
Featured Image: All Rights Reserved by Dan Westwell
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