From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.33 :: NO.15 :: Apr. 15, 2010
Rory Delap may be more renowned for his skills with the ball in his hand than at his feet, but that does not mean his name should be besmirched along with the likes of Diego Maradona or Thierry Henry.
To supposed purists, the Irishman's missile like throw-ins are an affront to the essence of football, but to Stoke fans — and to Sunderland, Southampton, Derby and Carlisle ones before that — they are simply a weapon to be exploited.
The sling-like arms are breaking no rules, so just as quick free-kicks, short corners and tough tackling must be accepted as part and parcel of the game, so must Delap's lethal throws.
According to one famousinternet encyclopaedia, as many as 20 goals have come Stoke's way at the hands of the 33-year-old since Tony Pulis' men secured promotion back to the top flight ahead of the 2008/09 campaign.
In just under two seasons, that is pretty good. It means Delap can lay claim to being one of the best creators in the English game right now. And while such a claim may be scoffed at by the likes of Arsene Wenger, Roberto Mancini and David Moyes, it is an argument they can not easily dismiss.
The 11-time capped Republicof Ireland international began his career in Carlisle in 1994, but it was Jim Smith and Derby who first gave the 1.83 metre utility player his big break following a GBP 200,000 move in 1998.
The Rams offered Delap top-flight football for the first time, and he rewarded his manager's trust with over 100 consistent performances over three seasons, operating predominantly as the Rams' right-wing back as part of a 5-3-1 formation.
Smith's initial investment proved profitable when in July 2001, Delap made a GBP4 million move to Southampton.
Another 100-plus appearancesfollowed before a brief and unhappy spell with Roy Keane's Sunderland allowed Pulis to pick up a bargain in 2006.
The past three-and-a-half years have been kind to both the club and the player as their Welsh manager has overseen a dramatic upturn in fortunes, dragging Stoke up to the Barclays English Premier League to become one of the most physical and formidable teams around.
Pulis uncovered and fully utilised Delap's ability that had never been fully appreciated before. Under his previous managers Smith, Stuart Gray, Keane and Mick McCarthy, the Irishman had been trusted with the throw-ins, but they were not viewed as a weapon with which to score goals. It was more a case of give him the ball and see what happens.
Stoke, in contrast, seekthrow-ins, and when they get them they organise themselves as others do for corners and free-kicks.
The big men attack the ball, the opposition goalkeeper, the penalty area and the goalmouth. To the average full-back, it must seem a daunting attack from all angles as Stoke's combined might of the likes of Robert Huth, Ryan Shawcross, Ricardo Fuller and James Beattie — to name but four — come marauding towards goal.
The art of the ‘Delap Special' is not so much the distance, but the trajectory as Arsenal boss Wenger has been forced to admit.
“You can try (to practice defending them) but it's difficult because the ball is so flat,” the Frenchman recently said.
“As well, there are so manypeople in the box that sometimes for the keeper (it's difficult).”
Likewise City boss Mancini also begrudgingly admitted recently: “The Rory Delap throw-ins are very dangerous and difficult to defend against and with their (Stoke's) pitch being narrower and shorter, we must have more focus and concentration each time they attack in this way.”
His sentiments were also echoed by City goalkeeper Shay Given.
“You see it every week onMatch of the Day, you know what is coming, you know what to expect — but it is another thing dealing with it,” he said.
That is arguably the frustrating fact for opposing managers. However much they know the throws are going to come, it does not equate to answers on how to deal with the problem.
But for Pulis, Delap is a crucial component of a team that is arguably punching above its weight in the Premier League.
Such an “important asset”— to use the Welshman's words — is hard to come by and certainly harder to ignore, but then there is no reason why it should be.
The likes of the Potters haveto make the most of any advantage possible against the bigger fish of the EPL and so long as Delap is able to deliver with his hands, he will also have a part to play with his feet as Stoke's top-flight adventure continues.
Being consistently overlooked for the starting XI at Sunderland was a difficult time for a player used to regular football.
The Irishman likes to keep his private life private, and he is as yet unmarried.
Delap is a known speed junkie amongst his Stoke team-mates and often reviews cars for the club's website. He was last spotted at the wheel of a BMW X5.
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Name: Rory Delap
Republic of Ireland Caps: 11
Republic of Ireland Goals: 0
Republic of Ireland Debut: v Mexico May 1998
Moment to remember
The Premier League was made aware of the threat Delap can pose in August 2008 when a characteristic missile from the Irishman's arms allowed Mamady Sidibe to head home a last-minute winner for Stoke against Aston Villa.
Moment to forget
In April he clashed heads with George McCartney and broke his nose.
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