No Jonas Olsson, no Premier League stability
The news of Jonas Olsson’s departure from the Albion is sad on so many levels.
In part, it’s because Jonas leaving us is the first signal that time waits for no man, not even our heroes. As Olsson goes, the first element of the great power trio that Tony Mowbray constructed – Olsson, Morrison, Brunt – is lost.
Happily, those two are going to be around for a while to come with new contracts relatively freshly inked, but the very fact that one of their number is off reminds us that a football team is all about constant evolution, a never ending work in progress, its rebuilding an essential part of daily life. One day you’re the new kid on the block, the next there are new stars coming up to supplant you.
It’s sad on a personal level too, for while Jonas embodies all those things we have come to believe about Scandinavian intensity - if we’ve lost a game, best not to go anywhere near him for a while, probably somewhere around a week – he is also a lovely fella, engaging and interesting company.
He’s a man with a hinterland, a lively interest in a world beyond the football pitch, a world whose existence we are all sometimes guilty of forgetting.
Look at how he embraced a trip to witness the club’s work in India, how he does his full share of work with the Albion Foundation, his interest in music, film and books. He is no two dimensional stereotype by any stretch of the imagination and his simple humanity and friendship will also be missed.
Most importantly of course, the Throstles are losing a true modern day great and, as what passes for an historian around these parts, that’s not a word I choose to use lightly.
For in our terms, to be a great centre-half, you need to be worthy of mention in the same breath as John Wile, Alistair Robertson, John Kaye, Joe Kennedy. History will surely judge that Jonas has every right to enter that pantheon.
It’s hard to think of a footballer in all our history who has made such a difference by his sheer presence in the side. The statistics are very, very clear, particularly in his early Albion career, in the years BG (Before Gareth), when Jonas was very much holding the backline up on his own.
His first season here made it readily apparent that we had got ourselves a monumental competitor. In the 2008/09 campaign that ended in relegation, Olsson played in 28 games that season, from which we took 27 points.
From the other ten, we managed just five. Had he not endured a run of injury between mid January and early March, it’s possible – probable even – that Albion would have survived.
The Swede was a colossus as we slogged our way to promotion the following season, but injury struck him again in the Premier League after we had made a promising start to our return in 2010/11. After nine games, we were fourth when Jonas dropped out of the side.
By the time he was fit to return 13 games later, we were 15th and Roberto di Matteo was on his way to the sack. But the fact that Olsson was back to hold the likes of Meite, Shorey and Jara together was every bit as important as the appointment of Roy Hodgson in keeping us up.
That’s not just because he was a brilliant defender who would lay his body on the line week after week to keep opponents out, but because he was a ferocious leader, a driver on of men, a winner.
He underlined his importance once again the following season, 2011/12, when, in tandem with Gareth McAuley, he formed the best defensive barrier the Throstles had erected since those fabled days of Wile and Robertson.
The statistics across those three Premier League seasons are simply awe inspiring. He played in 85 games, of which we won 28 and drew 23. He missed 29. We only won five of them and lost 20. Read that again, because you probably didn’t believe it the first time.
With Olsson in the side, over those three seasons we gathered 1.26 points per game. Without him, that average was down to 0.66. That translates to a difference of just shy of 23 points in a Premier League season. That is a simply extraordinary figure, the difference between staying alive and taking the drop.
As the seasons progressed, and thanks in no small part to the success generated by Olsson and his colleagues in those early years, we were able to strengthen the side. It became far less of a one man show defensively as we added McAuley, Craig Dawson, Ben Foster and the like, sharing the load more evenly across the rearguard.
As is ever thus, as new heroes have come, it’s easy to forget just what the old ones have done for us. But without ever minimising the contributions made by his colleagues down the years, the facts, the stats are simple.
No Jonas Olsson, no Premier League stability.
A fuller tribute to Jonas Olsson will follow in Albion News in due course.