Journeyman: A worker or sports player who is reliable but not outstanding
I need a third player to join Marcus Bent and Nigel Quashie and I’ve gone for a bit of a sentimental pick. When I first started picking the team, I went for players who played for lots of clubs, which isn’t necessarily a trait for a journeyman but I guess logically players who are reliable are picked up by multiple teams to “do a job.” This particular player turned out for just three Premier League teams, but one of them was my own Newcastle United and for that reason this player holds a special place in my footballing life. Welcome to the squad, Antoine Sibierski.
Sibierski played for Lille, Auxerre, Nantes and Lens in France, achieving notable success with Nantes and Lens in particular. At Nantes, he netted both goals in the 2000 French Cup final in their 2-1 win over Calais, who were a semi-professional Fourth Division side. Sorry to burst your bubble Lincoln but that’s a real cup run. At Lens, ‘Sibi’ became club captain during his three years there before Kevin Keegan tempted him to England.
In what can only be described as the worst negotiation of all time, Lens wanted £4.5m for Sibierski but accepted an offer of £700k. I guess Kevin Keegan really is persuasive. Anyway, with Shaun Wright-Phillips, Trevor Sinclair, Joey Barton, Robbie Fowler and Nicolas Anelka for company, Keegan was building an unsurprisingly attacking team. Sibierski started in the centre of the park with Barton, and scored on his debut at Charlton. However, because of his versatility, he was switched between midfield and up front and was often a substitute. Here he is scoring a fine header in an FA Cup win at Leicester:
City finished 16th in his first season but were an altogether better proposition in the 2004/05 season, with Sib starting 35 league games and scoring 4 goals. Nicolas Anelka departed the club during January and Kevin Keegan (replaced by Stuart Pearce) followed in March, but they still went on to finish 8th. You will of course recall that the season ended with David James charging around up front as City chased a winner against Middlesbrough in a match that would have seen them qualify for the old UEFA Cup with a win. As James kicked Doriva to near death, a confused Jon Macken looked on from the bench. Sibierski, meanwhile, had been replaced by Bradley Wright-Phillips 30 minutes earlier. Read into that what you will.
Perhaps it’s because Stuart Pearce is insane but Sibierski’s opportunities became more limited in the 2005/06 season, with Andy Cole and Darius Vassell preferred up front and Kiki Musampa arriving in midfield. Frozen out and with just a year left on his contract, Sibierski needed a new home.
Transfer deadline day is always a ridiculous night but I have never been as confused as I was on August 31st 2006. Allow me to run you through a series of events that lead to this moment. Alan Shearer retired at the end of the 2005/2006 season. He had planned to retire the previous season but Graeme Souness convinced him to carry on. Michael Owen was signed, played alongside Shearer for a season with a view to him being a natural replacement as talisman for the club. It turned out Michael Owen was an injury prone little turd who preferred playing for England, and he combined those two traits to suffer a severe knee injury during the 2006 World Cup. That meant no Shearer and no Owen. Oba Martins was signed from Inter Milan, who ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous – often in the same movement, but after a summer of scouting Dirk Kuyt, new manager Glenn Roeder needed more options. There was no money left after the Owen deal though so in came Giuseppe Rossi on loan from Man Utd and, on deadline day, Antoine Sibierski was signed at 11pm. This was not greeted with any enthusiasm.
Soon though it was apparent that Sibierski had all the traits the Geordie public love. He tried his nuts off, basically, and he scored on his debut (which always helps.) With Shola Ameobi injured and Kieron Dyer perennially coming back from injury, Sibierski and Martins became an often paired front two and Sibierski finished second top goal scorer with a mighty 8 strikes. Particular highlights were his goals in the UEFA Cup run, including a winner against Fenerbahce and an equaliser against Celta Vigo. The Celta goal is a personal favourite of mine, as for some reason it was a sleepy Thursday night in our house and with my Mam and Dad asleep in the front room, I tried to celebrate Sib’s header with a few quiet fist pumps. My dog, inexplicably, decided to join in the celebrations by jumping up at me, so maybe she appreciates Sib too. Maybe I’ll call a dog of my own Sibi one day. Or maybe that’s a bit weird. Anyway, here’s all 8 of his goals for us:
Unfortunately for Sib, his last game for us saw him play in the number 10 role behind Martins and the returning Michael Owen, which was all very odd to say the least. Sib broke an arm trying to block Dave Kitson’s winner, which is every bit as odd as it sounds. Roeder was sacked, big Sam was appointed and decided not to trigger the 2nd year of the deal Sibierski signed back in August and with Mike Ashley buying the club from Freddy Shepherd, it was all change at St James’ Park and Sibi needed a new home.
Back in the Hutch
Wigan manager Chris Hutchings jumped at the chance to sign Sibierski and also Titus Bramble from Newcastle. The warning signs should have been apparent at this point, but Sibi scored in each of his first three games including a winner against Middlesbrough and the third in a 3-0 win over Sunderland. It was downhill from there though, and with Hutchings sacked and replaced by Steve Bruce in November, Sibierski barely featured.
However, there was to be a brief comeback, arriving from the bench to drill in a 25 yard winner against the world’s worst Derby County side before scoring this spectacular goal in a televised cup tie against Chelsea:
Steve Bruce doesn’t recognise talent though and despite a brief loan spell at Norwich during the 2008/09 season, Sibierski’s time in English football was up.
I have so much respect for players like Sibierski, who would do any job for the team. He wasn’t the greatest footballer in the world but he gave absolutely everything he had whilst he wore the black and white and made the most of what he had, which was pretty much getting his big bald head onto everything that came his way. He arrived at the club as a bit of a joke amongst fans but he rose above all of that and won the fans round. There are plenty of others who would have been happy to just pick up their pay and wind down into retirement, but instead Sib found himself going off for treatment at least twice a game. Welcome to our team!