"The worst defender I've ever seen."
"Worse than Gerald Cid."
"Last time I checked, Tim Ream is awful."
In recent weeks and months, Tim Ream has had more detractors than fans in the stands at the Reebok Stadium. The American midfielder has, put simply, failed to adjust to life in the center of defense of a team in the Championship. Momentary lapses of concentration, a willingness to step off the attacker, getting caught out of position when covering, and a lack of sheer strength have seen the former Red Bull New York man drop way down the fans' packing order. Tim Ream looks as though he was not made to be a central defender in England.
Then, Bolton manager Dougie Freedman made the decision to start Tim Ream against Queens Park Rangers but not in defense. Ream was played in a more advanced role, sitting just behind the midfield pairing of Medo Kamara and Jay Spearing. In the QPR clash and the two matches since, the American has made that position his own.
"Tim Ream was brilliant today."
"Never thought I'd back this guy but Tim Ream for the 2nd home game in a row is the only player showing he wants it!"
"Tim Ream was class again."
"Well played Tim Ream. Only player who looked interested and the only one who has an ounce of football ability"
Prior to his move to England, the American central defender was renowned for his (relative) pace at the back, being solid with the ball at his feet, and distributing well rather than simply trying to clear. In England, Ream had found it difficult with the pressure he faced both on and off the field.
On it, Bolton's weak defense both with and without the American failed to deal with the opposition attack. The onslaught did not stop when the Trotters dropped down to the Championship and Tim Ream did not help the situation as Bolton Wanderers leaked goals from every direction. Those performances led to pressure off the field from the fans, many of which called for the player's immediate sale, contract cancellation, and so on. Needless to say, it was not easy for the American.
In midfield, Tim Ream has the time and space that he needs to think about his next move rather than being consistently under pressure like he was at the back. The American is a smart footballer but being in defense forced rash decisions whose outcomes were often negative for Bolton. In midfield, Tim Ream has shown his ability, especially in the team's last three outings. His job is to clean up the midfield's messes and to calmly start the attack at the other end.
The American's performances have improved one after the other, culminating in the assist on Chris Eagles' goal against Derby County on Tuesday night. Bolton Wanderers were down a goal following Johnny Russell's brace and, at that point, were bringing the ball out of the back. Play started on the left flank with a bit of interplay between Chung-Yong Lee and Chris Eagles. The progression saw Chungy carrying the ball forward before cutting in towards the center of the park but three Derby County defenders quickly closed down. Tim Ream was in support and calmly collected the ball from the Korean winger before taking a step back and beating his mark for pace before calmly playing a 20 yard pass to Chris Eagles, who would ultimately take the shot and score.
Ream's statistics are not especially amazing but what they do show is a confident player in both defense and in passing. Against Derby County, Tim Ream completed 82% of his 44 passes, bettering his season average of 77% completion. He is making interceptions at the back, tackling, and clearing the ball, all without committing fouls (averaging0.7 fouls per match, a number raised by his two fouls against Leeds United). Now, his job is to keep it up. No one is asking for Tim ream to be a world-beater, instead, he needs to be calm, cool, and collected at the back of the midfield.
No, Tim Ream has not proven his detractors at center back wrong and, frankly, it seems that most of the fanbase would rather he didn't. It is the American's willingness to fight in a team that has otherwise been down and out that has endeared him to the Bolton faithful over recent weeks. It would have been easy for him to give up, to call it quits, and to leave Bolton, but he didn't. The 25-year-old is perhaps best suited for life away from defense and this role as a defensive midfielder, one that he played before transitioning to the center of defense, could be his redemption.
The former New York man if far from the first to transition out of the back line into the center of the park and is not even the first to do so in a Bolton shirt. Wanderers fans fondly remember the name (and hair) of Ivan Campo, a central defender from Real Madrid that could not cut it in an English defense. Campo transitioned to a defensive midfield role and made his name there for the men in white, gaining legendary status in the stands. Tim Ream has a long, long way to go in that regard, but it's been done.
In the defensive midfield role, new life has been breathed into Tim Ream. The American has been a revelation for a struggling Bolton Wanderers team. The hope now is that his ability to push forward will spur the rest of the team on.