Forward thinking

Harry Pearson charts the reversal of fortunes for Hamilton Ricard

The second and third things Middlesbrough fans least expected to see this season were resident Scandinavian fop Mikkel Beck winning a 50/50 challenge and Hamilton Ricard heading towards Christmas as one of the Premiership’s top marksmen. The barrel-chested Colombian arriv­ed at the River­side from Dep­ortivo Cali in a £2 million deal dur­ing the second-half of last season after an apparently bitter tug of love between Boro and Sheffield Un­ited over his affections.

That two of the First Division’s promotion hope­fuls should both be battling for Ricard’s signature suggested that he was a man of some talent. By the end of the season, however, most supporters had probably concluded that the forward’s much-coveted status owed more to Mark Twain’s adage that “All you must do to make a thing desirable is to make it difficult to obtain”.

Ricard’s debut against Norwich, it must be said, was promising. Summ­arising for Radio 5 Live Brian Hamilton observed that he looked to be a real crowd-pleaser. Half-a-dozen matches later and it had started to look like the only Boro fans the South American would please were those who drew a perverse enjoyment from pulling their own hair out. Ricard has a head that looks like it might have been the inspiration for the ones on Easter Island; at times his playing style sugg­ested it was made from the same material. South Afri­can cricketer Colin Bland used to perform a party piece in which he struck a single stump when throwing the ball from a variety of distances and angles. Ham­ilton Ricard perfomed some­thing similar using the corner flag.

The arrival of Alun Arm­strong and Marco Branca saw Ricard rel­egated to the bench and beyond. His spell in the North East seemed likely to be short-lived, esp­ecially aft­er a pre-season tour of Ho­ll­­­and in which he net­­t­ed with one breathtaking blaster and then used the rest of his scoring opportunities to carry out an im­promptu survey on the durability of the seating behind Dutch goals.

Then it happened. Two and a half games into the season, Boro trailing 0-1 to Derby aft­er a first half in which Schnoor was both a player and an accurate description of events, and Ricard is introduced. There are many adjectives which could be used to describe his display over the proceeding 45 minutes but, since it is perhaps the first and last opportunity I will ever get to use it, I will plump for rambunctious.

Using the power generated by a pair of thighs that resemble a duo of prize-winning oven-ready turkies Hammo rumbled about the pitch swatting aside defenders and crashing into tackles. He also equalised with his first touch. And that is pretty much how it has continued. The change is remarkable. More remarkable still, perhaps, is the way Hamilton Ricard’s dominance of the scoring charts (his total tally is currently matched only by Dwight Yorke and Dion Dublin is the lone striker with more Premiership goals to his credit) has gone unremarked upon. There have been neither glowing profiles in the press, nor special reports on Football Focus. Ricard is like the top-selling record at Christmas the critics try to forget while they wait for it to replaced by something more worthy.

Not that anyone in Middlesbrough is surprised by the indifference of the media to the Cali Goal Machine. Because reading the headline Foreigner Thrives On Teesside in a national newspaper is, of course, way ahead at the top of that list of unexpected things.

From WSC 143 January 1999. What was happening this month