I was watching The Football League Show a couple of weeks ago in the wee early hours of Sunday morning and I thought that I really must have been dreaming as through eyes half closed with tiredness I saw a familiar looking lanky striker wearing Sky Blue dance around an opposition goalkeeper with consummate ease and even balletic grace and then with the empty goal gaping in front of him, he carefully and precisely rolled his shot onto the outside of the post from where it dribbled feebly wide. I sat up with a start and realised that it was no dream but what I had witnessed was the renaissance of Nick Proschwitz, recalled to the Coventry City team after an injury crisis which saw them otherwise bereft of strikers and seemingly left with no alternative other than pick somebody out of the crowd if they were not to select the Brentford loanee.
Nick signed for Coventry on loan a couple of months or so ago in an attempt to bolster their squad in their uphill fight against relegation from the First Division – a ridiculous state of affairs for a club of their stature and resources to find themselves in. Well, a win at Crawley on the final day of the season on Sunday allied to defeats for some of their nearest rivals ensured that it was mission accomplished as Coventry ended up in seventeenth place five points clear of the drop, but it was a close run thing.
Interestingly enough Nick signed for the club at a time when they were between managers as the sacked Steven Pressley had yet to be replaced by Tony Mowbray and it was joint caretaker manager, Neil McFarlane, who finalised the deal with Brentford. At the time he sounded as pleased as punch at the wisdom of the signing, commenting: We’re delighted to bring in a player we’ve been tracking at this club for a long time.” I would love to know whether they actually saw him play in one of his rare Development Squad starts or perhaps they were impressed with the manner in which he sat on the Brentford bench, or warmed up.
So how did he do in his new temporary home? In truth, not too well as he struggled to find form and fitness and to secure a regular place in a Coventry team that appeared to be nosediving inexorably towards the bottom division with little sign of stopping the rot. Proschwitz ended up playing nine times, six as a starter, and managed one well-taken headed goal, a late consolation in a dire home defeat by Crewe last week. He was guilty of some appalling misses at a time when every goal was crucial and yesterday was no different, as with Coventry needing just one more point to ensure their survival they were awarded a penalty just before halftime. Nick it was who was brave enough to take responsibility at such a key moment, and surely this would be his moment in the sun, but no, he scuffed his shot which was easily saved by Crawley keeper, Brian Jensen. He was replaced in ignominy and the local paper remarked after the game that it was inexplicable that Proschwitz did not hit the spot kick high as he had apparently been doing successfully in training all week – shades of James Tarkowski perhaps?.
What happens to Proschwitz now? Brentford will certainly not want him back and he will be a free agent. Perhaps he can earn a contract for next season at Coventry, but from my outsider’s vantage spot it would appear that he has not done nearly enough to convince the new management of his value and I would expect that they will also balk at the salary he will probably be seeking. I suspect that his unhappy spell in this country has now come to an end and that he will be looking for a fresh opportunity elsewhere in Europe.
The tough but appropriate question that has to be asked is why so much money was wasted on a player who had never really achieved much at a decent standard? Proschwitz was brought to England by Steve Bruce at Hull City in 2012. His interest had been piqued by his record in his homeland where he played for the second teams at Wolfsburg, Hamburg and Hannover before spending two seasons in Swiss football. He hit an impressive twenty-three goals in twenty-nine league games with Swiss Challenge League side FC Vaduz, then a further eight in thirty-one league games for FC Thun, the first time he had played in a country’s top league, before moving back to Germany in the summer of 2011 to join SC Paderborn. He scored regularly there and was joint top scorer in the division, but again at a lower level of the game, in Bundesliga 2.
This was enough for Bruce who pounced and in July 2012 he lavished a massive £2.6m on a player who had accomplished very little at the top level of the game. Hull were promoted to the Premier League at the end of the following season but apart from a brilliantly taken late equaliser in the FA Cup against Leyton Orient and a vital equaliser at Cardiff in a last day of the season promotion clash he hardly contributed and indeed missed a late penalty in the same game that could have cost his team dear. He barely played in the Premier League and was loaned out to Barnsley for the remainder of the 2013/14 season where he scored a few goals was unable to save them from relegation from the Championship.
Hull were desperate to get rid of a player who had hardly proved to be value for money and the real surprise was that it was Brentford, so painstaking and analytical in their scouting and assessment of potential signings who surprisingly took him off their hands immediately before the start of the current season. That I suspect was the key to his signing for the Bees, as for all their sustained efforts throughout the preseason, Brentford had been unable to conclude an acceptable deal to bring in a third striker who would ideally start as first choice ahead of the inexperienced Scott Hogan and Andre Gray. Two days before the season opener against Charlton, with no other deal in sight, Proschwitz arrived, a body or “sparesie” as David Webb once so memorably stated of Mark Janney, to fill the gap, apparently at the behest of Director of Football Frank McParland. He signed a one-year contract with a further club option for an additional two years and he was warmly welcomed by manager Mark Warburton:
We have had a long search to find the right striker that offers us quality and a variety of weaponry. Nick is a very experienced player. He put in some fantastic performances in Germany before his move to Hull. He is an aerial threat and has very good technical ability. We think he will bring outstanding quality to the squad. We are delighted to secure him and look forward to him playing an important part this season.
I wonder how the manager would feel now when he reflects upon those words? Nick came on as a late substitute against Charlton and clearly demonstrated his ring rustiness given that he obviously lacked match fitness and sharpness, and, quite frankly, he has been struggling to catch up ever since. In all he made three starts for the club, only one in the Championship, away at Blackpool, never completed a full ninety minutes and came on as a late substitute on seventeen occasions. In total he played three hundred and forty-two minutes for the Bees and none of them were particularly memorable nor were there many highlights although the player could possibly argue that he was never given the time on the pitch or continuity of games to settle into his stride. He played well in the crazy twelve-goal thriller at Dagenham and he showed some neat touches on the ball and also worked hard that night but it was against lower league opposition. He was credited with a goal but in reality it was a definite own goal from a home defender, but who cares, he was off and running. His only other goal was a crucial one, a last minute clincher at Rotherham after Toral’s trickery and low centre left Nick unmarked facing an open goal that not even he could miss!
I would love to read a scouting report on him as it is always enlightening to understand what it is that the professionals see that we supporters have failed to take into account. To my untrained eye he was slow, clumsy, had an appalling first touch, never got off the ground and consistently failed to win balls in the air despite his height. He showed little or no anticipation in the opposition penalty area and a reluctance to shoot. He also got in the way disastrously when apparently helping out defensively in our own area, as is evidenced by the unwitting part he played in setting up Ipswich’s final goal at Griffin Park on Boxing Day. He was just on a completely different wavelength to his more technically gifted teammates and looked to be totally out of his depth. It has to be acknowledged that he was on the pitch for both of our goals in our incredible come-from-behind victory over Fulham but even then he played no part in either goal.
In truth he was a last minute panic buy who contributed little or nothing to us but I have no words of complaint towards Nick as it was plain that he was trying his best and giving his all. Indeed it was stated by many observers that he impressed in training and it was clear from the prematch shooting practices that he had a shot on him that combined accuracy and awesome power, but we saw no evidence of this once the games had begun.
I wish Nick Proschwitz well for the future wherever he ends up. It is a salutary lesson regarding the insecurity of a footballer’s career to see just how far and fast he has fallen. Or maybe it is equally surprising to see how high he at one time actually rose. I simply wonder how thoroughly he was scouted by all the teams that signed him as his utter lack of achievement in this country makes a nonsense of the fee that was paid for him by Hull and highlights the danger of taking on trust successful playing records from what are in truth minor European leagues.