It was with little surprise to Saints fans, when Jason Puncheon scored the consolation goal in Blackpool’s 1-3 defeat by Premier League Champions Chelsea last night.
You see, Puncheon has become somewhat of a phenomenon amongst the St. Mary’s faithful this season. I am not sure if he is the first and only player to go on loan from a League One side to a Premier League team, but I am sure there can’t be many?
So how does a League One player end up on loan in the promised land? He must have been having a cracking season for Saints right? Wrong.
Puncheon signed for Saints in January 2010, and came with warnings to me from fans of both Plymouth Argyle, his parent club and MK Dons where he had been on loan, that he was very much an enigma, a natural talent no doubt, but often lacking the required attitude. I often take the opinions of fans on an outgoing player with a pinch of salt, as they may come with a drop of bitterness, and I thought this was the case when Puncheon hit the ground running in a Saints shirt.
Puncheon quickly established himself as the first choice on the right wing, producing mesmerising energetic performances and chipping in with the odd goal, as Saints made a late push for promotion. Firmly becoming a fans favourite, it looked like alongside Jose Fonte, then Saints boss Alan Pardew had signed one of the crucial final pieces of the Saints jigsaw.
As has been well documented something, somewhere didn’t go to plan in the summer. Saints had a poor start to a season, in which expectation was high. Puncheon was one of those who didn’t look himself, his performances looked lethargic and unenthusiastic. The crowd began to get on his back and to make matters worse for Puncheon, his drop in form coincided with the emergence of talented teenager Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Saints parted company with Alan Pardew at the end of August last year, and this spelled the beginning of the end for Puncheon. New boss Nigel Adkins found less and less requirement for Puncheon to start games due to the impressive and match winning performances of Chamberlain. Rumours spread of a training ground bust up, and it was with little pre-warning that Puncheon joined Championship side Millwall on loan in November. After his lacklustre performances at League One level this season, Saints fans couldn’t believe their eyes as Puncheon scored the winning goal on his debut for the Lions and went on to help himself to five goals in seven games at the higher level. He looked like a completely different player, in fact he looked like the 2009/10 Puncheon as he terrorised the Championship’s defences.
Several comments in the media by Puncheon made it pretty clear that he wanted to stay at Millwall, including remarks about being at a club where he felt loved and wanted. He even mentioned being prepared to take a paycut. Unfortunately for Millwall and the player, it was pretty obvious that they wouldn’t be able to meet Saints asking price for the player or for that matter match his wages.
Puncheon returned to Saints in January, and found himself in the starting lineup for the FA Cup victory over Premier League Blackpool and the draw with Notts County but after far from Millwall level performances, it was rumoured that he was back on the bench for the trip to Tranmere, but refused to travel. This was speculation of course, but I don’t think many were surprised when Puncheon left on loan again at the end of January. This time though his destination was the Premier League, could it be that a player that that couldn’t hold down a place in a League One side was going to play regularly at the highest level?
Puncheon hasn’t necessarily nailed down a place as first choice at Bloomfield Road, but when called upon his performances have been again energetic and eye catching. His goal last night against the reigning champions was his second in just three games for the Lancashire outfit.
I think it is clear that Puncheon’s differing performance standards have nothing to do with ability or the level he is playing at, but more about desire. Something about his time at Saints went wrong and his desire to play for the club had gone in my opinion. His almost instant success at two other clubs playing at higher levels would seem to prove this.
Some players need to be first choice, and need to have an arm put round them, it certainly isn’t that Puncheon isn’t “good enough” to get in the Saints team, but his drop in desire and form coinciding with the mercurial rise of Chamberlain meaning he had to fight with a 17 year old(all be it a 17 year old being coveted by some of Europe’s top clubs), which may have been difficult for Puncheon to swallow.
I have always had a hard line in my opinion with players who have temper tantrums and attitude issues, as no player should be bigger than or dictate their position to the club, therefore if the rumours of Puncheon’s outbursts are true, particularly the refusal to travel, then for me he should have played his last game for the club. I think he made it clear during his time at Millwall that he didn’t want to be here, and by proving himself at Premier League level, would suggest a permanent move won’t be far away.
The worrying thing for Puncheon is, that if he doesn’t settle somewhere soon he is in danger of being labelled a journeyman. Ten different clubs already in a relatively short career is pretty high, and it makes you wonder if settling in is his biggest problem.
I for one shall be watching the rest of his career with great interest, and hope he doesn’t become another wasted potential.