Having spoken out to The Leader about his frustration at being omitted from the sixteen for our last two games, it appears the complex relationship between Adrian Cieslewicz and Wrexham might have reached a crucial point.
Without knowing all the behind-the-scenes detail it’s really difficult to know where to stand on this. I have to admit to being particularly torn as I’m pulled between two of my favourite characters at the club. I see Cieslewicz as an engaging personality and a player of genuine possibilities who has produced a number of decisive interventions in his time at The Racecourse, but I also have implicit trust in Andy Morrell, who I see as possessing an unusual amount of common sense and perspective for a football manager! In a profession which is characterised by the self-serving approach of men desperate to justify their decisions and cling onto their jobs, Morrell is a mature, thoughtful exception. His man management has been impressive, so his decision-making in regard to Cieslewicz intrigues me.
There’s no question that Cieslewicz is erratic, and while many hoped that the passage of time would iron this wrinkle out, the issue instead seems to have become more pronounced as time has passed. The second half of last season was characterised by quiet performances in the run-in, punctuated by bravura displays like his FA Trophy heroics in both the final and the semi. Dazzling at Wembley but quiet at Hyde: his critics would argue that’s the Cieslewicz conundrum summed up in a sentence!
Part of me reads the signs, hears the gossip and accepts that Cieslewicz ought to be more consistent, more focussed. The rational part of me wonders if he actually delivers more than he gets credit for. He was equal second top scorer for us last season, despite the fact that all the rest of the top five started at least fifteen games more than him (Rob Ogleby and Morrell stack up well in this respect too, although the manager’s stats are skewed by an FA Trophy hat trick against meagre opposition.)
He was fifth in the assists list as well.
Drill deeper into those stats to ascertain just how effective he was and it starts getting complicated though. Despite featuring quite high in both the assists and goals lists, if you work out the attacking effectiveness of each player by dividing the number of goals and assists they provided by the minutes they spent on the pitch, suddenly the comparison is far less flattering for Cieslewicz.
Thornton’s figures are flattered by a spectacular debut, when he scored one and set up three against lower division opposition, but Cieslewicz still ends up below most of Morrell’s other striking options. Indeed, of all the players who played in the front three last season, only four were below Cieslewicz in this regard: Andy Bishop and Bradley Reid, who each only had a brief amount of time on the pitch; Johnny Hunt, who played most of the time in midifeld or at left back*; and Dele Adebola, who just wasn’t very effective!
On the other hand, it might still surprise Cieslewicz’s critics to find he has a hand in a goal at a rate of better than once every two games, which doesn’t sound too shabby. He might also point out that he missed out to an extent when the others helped themselves to buffet defending: he only started in three out of eight games where we scored four or more, didn’t complete the ninety minutes in any of those games and was withdrawn early, injured in one of them. It’s up to you to decide if that means his figures are lower than they would have been if he’d been unleashed in those games, or whether that’s an illustration that we were more ruthless when he wasn’t playing.
More pertinently, his figures deteriorated spectacularly in the second half of last season. After a goal and an assist in the first two games of 2013, he managed just two more assists and one goal all season. Mind you, that goal was the superb effort against Gainsborough which was so crucial in getting us to Wembley, and he won a penalty at Kidderminster in the play-off semi, thus compounding the image of him as a player for the big occasion at the expense of the bread and butter games!
He might argue that his form would have been aided by getting more on an opportunity though. After that Newport game in the table above he was available for twenty six games, but started just five: three in a row after his FA Trophy Final intervention, and two more in meaningless pre-play-off games as we picked shadow sides. No doubt Morrell would counter that form justifies selection, as his three-match post-Wembley run reflected.
On the other hand, his career statistics suggest there has been a progression in his career from the early days when he really couldn’t be relied upon to make a regular impact. His opportunity has still been fairly limited though and I’m not just talking about the frequency with which he appears from the bench which, as you can see, has happened more often than getting a start in each season of his career. Incredibly, his man of the match performance at Halifax was only the second time since the start of last season that he actually completed ninety minutes of a match! The only time he played a whole game last season was the 4-2 home defeat to Lincoln. The season before, he played the ninety minutes sixteen times, all under Morrell, who seemed to have a massive initial impact on Cieslewicz’s form upon his appointment as he showed considerably more faith in the Pole than Dean Saunders did.
My heart tells me that Cieslewicz, who after all is a player capable of a match winning performance, would have flourished if that faith had been extended. My head tells me to trust Morrell’s judgement – after all, he’s in possession of a lot more information than any of us are- and accept that if he’s seen something that needs to be acted on, he’s probably right. Certainly Cieslewicz’s comments this week went further than the Chris Maxwell interview which cost him his place under Dean Saunders – the keeper never talked of “an issue from higher up” or alluded to a possible transfer. Having omitted from the sixteen a player who was our greatest attacking threat across the first two games of the season following one lacklustre performance in which the whole front three were starved of service, you can’t help suspecting that the manager felt the circumstances merited a gesture of intent.
* Hunt, by the way, had a rather ugly 363.33 minutes per goal or assist when playing up front, and both assists and the sole goal he got from the left were in the game at Sutton when Thornton also filled his boots. I’d argue Hunt’s value up front was more tactical than in terms of offering a cutting edge, but don’t get me started on that again!