Joe Cole was the subject of much ridicule when he compared Adam Armstrong to Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero last November. The joke, of course, was that Cole himself had once been misguidedly compared to a world class Argentinean: “Messi can do some amazing things, but anything he can do Joe can do as well, if not better,” gushed Steven Gerrard when Cole joined Liverpool in 2010.
What wasn’t widely reported was that Coventry fans had been making the same comparison long before Joe Cole turned up at the Ricoh. The world’s best strikers clearly won’t be feeling insecure at the relatively modest progress nineteen year-old Armstrong has made this year, but Cole was spot on when he suggested that the England U19 international resembles Aguero in his build, and in his hunger for goals. No one is suggesting that Armstrong is ‘as good’ as Aguero, but it’s clear that they share certain attributes.
Armstrong’s centre of gravity is similarly low, and his control of the ball is outstanding. Like Aguero, this makes him a nightmare for defenders to deal with. He’s fast and direct, and has the confidence and ability to find space and time to take a shot in situations where a lesser player would dither – particularly at League One level, where defenders just aren’t used to contending with such dexterity.
It’s because of these qualities, perhaps, that he also has a propensity for the spectacular, as exemplified by this outrageous effort against Millwall in what was only his second league appearance for the club.
Tony Mowbray has favoured a 4-3-2-1 formation this season and, barring the odd exception to account for absences, Armstrong has led the line. He is more than capable of playing across the three behind, but it feels like a waste of his goalscoring prowess – particularly at our level, where strikers of his quality are virtually unheard of – not to utilise him as the main threat.
Armstrong is excellent at working the channels and anticipating through-balls, especially when working alongside attacking players of a similar pace and intelligence. He excelled playing with young, quick wingers such as Jacob Murphy, Ryan Kent and Rúben Lameiras in the first half of the season, and it’s fair to say he’s had less success feeding off the likes of Joe Cole and Stephen Hunt.
It’s been interesting to see how his goals have often come in clusters this season. Armstrong is prone to going four or five games without scoring, before scoring four or five in the space of a couple of matches. This would suggest that’s he’s a player reliant on confidence, and Tony Mowbray has remarked more than once that the immense pressure that Armstrong puts on himself to score when he’s in the middle of a drought may actually be a hindrance. I imagine with age and experience will come patience and a greater sense of perspective.
To grasp the scale of the impact he’s made at Coventry, you have to understand how bereft of goalscorers Coventry City been. Only twice since 1978 – Dion Dublin in 1997/98 and Callum Wilson in 2013/14 – has a Coventry player managed to score more than 20 goals in a single season.
At the time of writing, Armstrong is already on 19 goals with nine games remaining (plus the prospect of play-off fixtures if Coventry can get our act together). There is every chance that he’ll end his first full season of regular first-team football as the division’s top scorer.
Given Newcastle’s struggles this season, it’s not surprising that many have argued for Armstrong to be recalled at various points in the season. I accept that I write with a considerable degree of bias, but I genuinely believe that allowing him to stay with Coventry for the season was a decision that Steve McClaren actually got right.
With the money spent on Aleksandar Mitrović in the summer and the presence of relatively proven Premier League strikers like Ayoze Pérez and Papiss Cissé, Armstrong was never going to get near the first team without first going out on loan.
Having done so, all he’s truly proved is that he’s too good for League One and deserves an opportunity a higher level. It’s possible that he’s ready to bypass the Championship and step up to the Premier League, but why risk hindering the development and confidence of such a young, promising player by throwing him into the brutal arena of a relegation dogfight?
As everyone already knows, he’s a Magpies fan and his ultimate dream is to play for Newcastle at the top level; the last thing he needs is to shoulder such a huge burden at such a young age, and to potentially be known as one of the players who took his boyhood side down to the Championship. I can’t help but feel that the calls for him to be recalled have been symptomatic of modern football’s rampant short-termism.
It’s obviously not what Newcastle fans want to hear, but I believe the ideal scenario for Armstrong next season would be leading the line for Newcastle in the Championship. He’d be comfortable at that level, he’d be playing for a side who would surely be competing for promotion, and he’d have the incentive of being known as the man who took the club back to the top, rather than the other way around.
It’s looking increasingly likely that Coventry may not have enough to achieve promotion this season. If that’s the case, I don’t expect to see Armstrong back in a Sky Blues shirt again. I do know, though, that Coventry fans will remember him as one of the most technically brilliant players we’ve had in the last 10-15 years. It’s been a privilege to temporarily call him one of our own and to have played a part in his development – we wish him luck.
What do you think? Should Armstrong be loaned out again next season – or is he ready to lead the line at Newcastle?