• JFC: the pass-picking good midfielder who Albions fans should appreciate

    Earlier this week England Under-21s qualified for the UEFA Under-21 European Championship next year with a highly professional performance away in Croatia securing a 4-2 victory over two legs.

    The England team was littered with the usual array of emerging Premier League talent, including Manchester United’s multi-million pound summer signing Luke Shaw and Saido Berahino, West Brom’s six-goal striking starlet.

    Nestled in amongst them, however, was a player perhaps not so well-known to the average England fan. Jake Forster-Caskey may be the Albion’s current poster boy (his face adorns the club’s stadium shop) but he hasn’t yet had the same impact in club football as some of the other Under-21 stars. He isn’t as instantly-recognisable as Will Hughes, hasn’t had the televised exposure of Harry Kane and others, and has not been linked to the big money moves of some of his England teammates.

    What he has done, however, is gradually establish himself as an increasingly key figure in Sami Hyypia’s Albion team.

    Forster-Caskey has played in nine of the Seagulls’ opening 11 league games this season and is fast-approaching his half century of league games for the Albion. He is a player who appears to be becoming one of Hyypia’s most-trusted midfielders and one who started both of England Under-21s’ play off matches.

    There are, however, still sections of the Albion support who do not seem to fully appreciate him.

    Forster-Caskey burst onto the Albion scene at the end of the 2009/10 season when he became the club’s youngest ever player after being introduced as a late substitute in a match with Yeovil.

    A second appearance came in a 3-0 FA Cup 5th round defeat away to Stoke City before Forster-Caskey made his full debut against Southampton in January 2012. Not only did he start the game but he also scored the first goal in an unexpected 3-0 win after which he was named man of the match.

    He followed that up with another goal-scoring man of the match performance, this time in the FA Cup against Wrexham.

    The midfielder was subsequently sent out on loan to Oxford in the 2012/13 season where he made 20 appearances and scored 3 goals.

    In fact, it wasn’t until 2013-14 season that Forster-Caskey really made his mark on the Albion starting 11. Under Oscar Garcia – the former Barcelona youth coach who seemed more at ease in introducing young talent to the first team than perhaps his predecessor Gus Poyet – Forster-Caskey clocked up the majority of his Brighton appearances, finally establishing himself as a genuine first team player the best part of four years after his debut.

    And therein, probably, lies the reason for some of the Amex faithful not fully appreciating the young midfielder.

    At just 20-year-old Forster-Caskey is well-placed in terms of development and exposure to first team football. Having emerged as one of the most exciting young talents seen at the Albion in years, however, some fans may possibly expect more of him.

    Admittedly, Forster-Caskey’s England Under-21 colleague Will Hughes is close to reaching 100 league games for Derby County but that sort of record is far from the norm.

    And compare Forster-Caskey with Rohan Ince, another of the Seagulls’ stand-out young players.

    Ince was one of Brighton’s best players last season and fans were delighted with the way he emerged as one of the division’s brightest midfield prospects. At 21, though, Ince is actually older than Forster-Caskey. His only prior first team experience in the professional game before last season was a short loan spell at Yeovil. Even Lewis Dunk at 22 has only a handful more first team Albion games than Forster-Caskey.

    Forster-Caskey then, it could be argued, suffers slightly from making the first team squad at such a young age. He has been around the first team longer than others in his age category, leading some supporters to forget that he is still relatively youthful. For an Albion player aged just 20 to be a now regular member of the national team’s Under-21 set-up, closing in on 50 league games and starting first team fixtures more often than not is something which should be celebrated.

    The player was, perhaps, stifled slightly by the defensive tactics which were often employed by Oscar. Where once his natural instincts may have been to attack, find space between the midfield and forward line and create, Forster-Caskey appeared to be used in a more conservative role. A player whose first real introduction to first team football had been successive goal-scoring performances found himself being used in difference areas of the pitch. Fans who were expected defence-splitting passes and goals from him were left slightly disappointed.

    But the way in which Forster-Caskey has adapted his natural game to fit into the system the team was being asked to play shows the maturity and discipline to his game.

    This season, under Hyypia, Forster-Caskey is again being used in a deeper position to the one in which he so dramatically announced himself as an Albion player.

    Paired alongside the impressive Danny Holla at the base of Hyypia’s midfield, Forster-Caskey performs an important, if not eye-catching role.

    With the width supplied from the full back positions and a trio of creative players operating in front of the deep midfield duo and behind a solo striker, Forster-Caskey’s chief instruction is to keep possession.

    It is something he does with aplomb.

    Only Gordon Greer has averaged more passes per game for the Seagulls this season – 59.2 compared to Forster-Caskey’s 56.9.

    In his nine outings he has completed an impressive 402 short passes – again second only to Greer. His completed long passes is slightly lower at just the team’s sixth highest figure, but that illustrates perfectly his role. Forster-Caskey gets the ball, changes the angle of attack, and passes it on. He keeps the team ticking over and, along with Holla, is the link between the back four and the more advanced players. He boasts a pass completion rate of 83.4%. He is also capable of the accurate cross-field pass to the space ahead of the right-back position, helping Bruno or Inigo Calderon create width in advanced positions.

    Only Greer, David Stockdale (both 990) and Bruno (900) have played more league minutes for the Seagulls than Forster-Caskey’s 770 so far this season. Clearly then he is already a key part of Hyypia’s team and, with Andrew Crofts out injured most likely until next season, that importance is unlikely to lessen.

    When he signed professional forms with Brighton, Forster-Caskey reportedly rejected advances from an array of top flight clubs, including Arsenal and Aston Villa. He has also since represented England at every age group, culminating in his impressive Under-21 outings against Croatia.

    Bizarrely, there are still small sections of the Albion support which question his inclusion in Hyypia’s team. His performances certainly do not warrant criticism. In what has been an albeit disappointing start to the season, Forster-Caskey has shown signs of adapting well to Hyypia’s new approach.

    He is a player capable of playing to instructions, even if that means sacrificing possible natural attacking instincts. There is a reason why Hyypia has picked him in nine of the team’s 11 league games so far. He does what he is told, with minimal fuss and maximum enthusiasm.

    He is only 20 and will make mistakes. Even the best players do. But he is also showing evidence of a growing maturity and positional discipline. Like Ince, Dunk and Solly March, it is important he is afforded the game time and patience to continue his development.

    A Brighton player, having come up through the club’s youth set-up, mixing it in an England Under-21 midfield which has just qualified for a major championships is something every Albion fan should be proud of. It was once the stuff of dreams.

    And the fact he is becoming an important part of the Brighton team should be cause for celebration.

    Most fans appreciate his contribution. Those that don’t should be careful what they wish for, because a few more impressive performances for the national side will surely spark interest from higher up the football pyramid.

    He should play a part this afternoon. If he does, watch his game closely. You may be surprised at how effective he is.
    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Exile's Avatar
      Exile -
      Excellent work.
    1. JCL666's Avatar
      JCL666 -
      Great article.
  • Advertising