After his resurgence in form in the last eight weeks, Richard Hobbs takes a look at Richard Stearman’s transformation from rough diamond to formidable centre half.
Now in his 7th year at Molineux, the former Leicester man is in the form of his career as the Wolves push for the play offs. But for the club’s long-serving defender, it’s been a tough journey to get to this point.
Signed by Mick McCarthy in 2008 at the age of 21, he had a reputation of a promising defender at both centre half and at right back. Standing at 6ft4, had the height to dominate in the air but, with his long limbs, looked like he’d need to bulk up if he were to outmuscle the opposition.
Playing in 37 league games in what was to be a title-winning campaign; Stearman was named in the league’s team of the year. Though he didn’t always look in full control of the ball, he was excellent at bringing the ball out of defence. His long stride meant he could cover ground quickly both with the ball and to close down attackers. However, he was still considered to be a weak link in the side due to loses of concentration.
Still a young man, Stearman struggled in the top flight. Often having to perform at right back, it was clear that after a season in the centre of defence, he was more of a centre back than a fullback. Still error ridden, Stearman made several poor decisions in the Premier League, the steepest of learning curves for a young defender. The most notable of which was his needless sending off against Wigan in a relegation six-pointer, showing that he still had add much to his game. But McCarthy kept faith with Stearman, playing him regularly in both the 2010 and 2011 seasons.
Under Stale Solbakken, the former Fox fell out of favour as the Norwegian preferred Roger Johnson and Christophe Berra as centre halves. After only managing 12 games by January, Stearman teamed up with McCarthy once again at Ipswich.
His move to Ipswich was a blessing in more ways than one. As well as it enabling him to play regular football, the move saved him from the backlash from Wolves fans following relegation. Stearman has been a fall guy for poor performances by fans. If he was playing at Molineux those dark months, it’s easy to envision him being made a scapegoat by fans and the management and could have seen him going the same way as the likes of Karl Henry and Stephen Ward.
With Kenny Jacket arriving in the summer of 2013, Stearman was half expected to leave, with Ipswich vying to sign him on a permanent basis. But due to the lack of senior centre backs in favour, he was kept in the first team. Striking an effective relationship with Danny Batth, Stearman finally looked like he was playing to his full potential.
Making fewer errors and looking physically stronger than a few years ago, the Wolverhampton-born centre back’s quality on the ball helped Wolves keep possession rather than aimlessly hoof the ball up-field. After barely putting a foot wrong in the season, it was a shock not to see him in the League 1 team of the year.
Stearman and his other defenders have rediscovered the form they displayed at the start of the season since Christmas. Now aged 27, he’s coming into his peak as a defender and one of the best piece Wolves did last summer was tie him down at the club until 2016.
Given his physique with his long limbs, when Richard Stearman makes an error, it’s clear for all to see. In the same way David Luis receives a lot of unwarranted criticism because of how he stands out on a football, I often feel the same happens to Stearman. His movements can sometime look unnatural because of the length of his legs and it is easy for all to see. In the last 12 months, I think I’ve seen his partner Batth was more defensive mistakes than Stearman, yet isn’t called out by fans. Though this is partly due to Batth’s relationship with the fans, Batth presence and stature mean he can get away with more than Stearman.
In a Wolves Fancast interview with Scott Golbourne, David Evans asked him who the best players you’ve played with are. He named Kevin McDonald Bakary Sako, two players who are rarely short of praise, and also Richard Stearman. Considering the plethora of talent in the squad, it speaks volumes of the talent of Stearman and how well regarded he is by his teammates for Scott Golbourne to mention him.
Since the turn of the year, Stearman has silenced many of his critics down Molineux with dominant displays, and has finally been given a chant by the Wolves faithful, “Richard Stearman, football genius”. He was also shortlisted for the league’s player of the month, showing that it hasn’t been just Wolves fans who are acknowledging his recent performances.
In his seven years at Wolves, Richard Stearman has seen off nine other centre backs (inc. Loans) to be in the position he is now. It has been a difficult journey for him to get to his position, but it could be argued he’s the now best centre half at the club. With the errors and lapses in concentration gone from his game, Richard Stearman is finally living up to the potential he had shown as a youngster several years ago.