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Gone but not forgotten:
Brynjar Gunnarsson
Position: Midfielder
From: Nottingham Forest - free transfer - July 2004
Record: Played: 40(3) Scored: 3
To: Reading - undisclosed fee - July 2005
Career stats: Soccerbase
See also: Past player profiles
He was: In the way of younger, more talented players. Apparently.

You don't have to be terribly discerning to spot a good striker. Apart from the obvious statistics, you can see how well a player holds up the ball and brings others into play. Picking a Peter Beadle from a Peter Crouch doesn't take much doing. Likewise a winger - if he can cross a ball and has good control and a turn of pace, you're onto something. And defenders - again, statistics can be your guide, and it's pretty obvious that if opposing strikers keep getting round the back, or winning headers, you've got a problem. Goalkeepers are the easiest of the lot.

But what about central midfielders? And, particularly, defensive ones; what do they do? How do you spot a good one? I mean, an ability to consistently smash the ball into the top corner from thirty yards helps, but is hardly part of the job description.

I have a mixed track record in judging the value of defensive midfielders. When much of the terrace talk was that Johnno was a waste of space, and should be packed off back to Kurri Kurri, I saw something in him. In fact, I think I told David Croft as much on 3CR (the innocence of youth; I actually thought he might be interested in my observations about a Watford player). How right I was. And yet (yes, I am hanging my head in shame), I didn't really get what was the big deal about Steve Palmer. Great bloke, terrific servant, but I just didn't get it. Well, not until he had gone.

Consider, if you will, the electrical wiring in your home. Do you see what it does, and how it does it? No. But you can be 99.9% sure that when you switch the light on, it will work. You don't jump for joy every time the TV works. You don't chant the name of your electricity supplier when your microwave pings into action. But when there's a power cut, you notice it. No toast, no Coronation Street, no Championship Manager. No civilisation!

And like electricity, a defensive central midfielder is more noticeable by his absence. You don't always see the things he does, but you notice the increased pressure the defence is under when he doesn't do them.

I'd consider Brynjar Gunnarsson to be largely a defensive central midfielder. When we signed him, my Stoke-supporting friend said that providing he stays fit, we've got an excellent player. He also said that he rated Bryn more as a centre-back. Bryn did stay fit for most of his season with us, and at times looked excellent. But he was not just a defensive central midfielder.

At his best, Brynjar was a colossus. Calm but committed, with neat skills that belied his gangly appearance, and an ability to make telling contributions to our attacking play, without neglecting his defensive duties. His goal at Sheffield United and his pass for H's goal of the season against Southampton will live long in the memory.

He built a solid partnership in midfield with Gavin Mahon, and I think this was one of the more reliable aspects of our 2004/05 team. They were a reassuring sight in the centre of what was at times brilliant, but increasingly, as the season wore on, chaotic.

That said, I'd say that, to an extent, the jury was still out on Brynjar. He would often seem to go missing (perhaps doing those things that players in his position do without being noticed), and you sensed that, even if he was a hundred percent fit in training on Friday, you couldn't depend on him to arrive likewise on Saturday afternoon. I remember a moment in our pre-season friendly at Oxford, when he skipped past two defenders to create a goalscoring opportunity for himself. I wondered at the time if he'd be able to replicate that in Division Two. He never really did.

Betty assures us that Bryn was expendable. That we have a crop of youngsters waiting to come through. That he represented a "ceiling on the development of quality young players at this club."

Hmm. My opinion is that Brynjar was among the most accomplished and experienced players at the club. Not a world beater, but in the context of our current squad, a vital component. And while those waiting in the wings - Blizzard, Bangura, Diagouraga - may have all the potential in the world, this is further evidence of the gambling culture that exists among the management of our club. It's not the fact that Bryn has gone that upsets me the most, it's what this sale represents.

We can only hope that the gamble - along with all the other gambles - pays off.

Mike Smart