I am going to start with an unequivocal belief that I have. If Stuart Holden had never been brutally assaulted by Jonny Evans, the past 18 months would have been completely different for Bolton Wanderers. First of all, we would have beaten Stoke City at Wembley and reached the FA Cup final. Second, We would not have collapsed at the end of the 2010-2011 season, but finished in the top 10. Third, we would not have been relegated from the Premier League. He was that good, in 2010-2011, and that important to the club. He was the talisman, the centerpiece, what made us go as a unit. And he was in the news recently.
In the past week, USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann and US Soccer journalist Grant Wahl have commented on the return of Stuart Holden from (very) long-term injury. Wahl answered a question about Holden in his weekly Mailbag. Klinsmann was interviewed by ESPN's Doug McIntyre for their US Soccer blog.
Both men basically said the same thing. Stu is a "good kid," and of course he "has put a tremendous amount of effort into his rehab." More important, Klinsmann said Holden would be back in training in October. @StuHolden himself tweeted to Wahl that "Late October or roundabouts looks a good bet!" for his return.
Honestly, his return cannot be soon enough for Bolton. It is unfair to expect a player to come right back in, after missing as much time as he has, and return to previous highs. But damn, he was so good. He may have been the best central midfielder in the entire Premier League that season. He was a box-to-box dynamo, scoring, creating, tackling, positioning himself absolutely perfectly every single match, it was awesome to watch. Our current midfield, which might be described (generously) as workmanlike, really needs him.
Jay Spearing has been our most consistent midfielder so far this season. He's not really a true defensive midfielder, but he is not an attacker either. Truth is, he might be too similar to Mark Davies for the two of them to play together.
Chris Eagles has had some spectacular moments, and created or scored a lot of goals, but he has gone missing for long stretches as well. He plays (nominally) on the wing, but spends a lot of time on the middle of the park.
Keith Andrews has been about what I expected, someone who runs around a lot (slowly), but doesn't actually have much of an effect on the match. He is our primary defensive midfielder, and we have conceded 14 goals in 9 matches. That about says it all.
Mark Davies scored one great goal, but has otherwise been poor this season.
No one else has really been given a chance. Martin Petrov has been good while on the pitch, but that has not been very often recently. Chung-Yong Lee has looked rusty, and Owen Coyle has chosen not to use him much. Josh Vela has been injured. Gregg Wylde might as well wear a suit to the Reebok on game days. And Darren Pratley? Well, he must have slept with someone's wife or something, because he has been buried on the sub's bench this season.
It's a very uneven midfield. The strength is certainly on the wings, where there is loads of attacking talent. Unfortunately, the lack of defensive prowess in the middle does not allow us to take advantage of this strength. Some people, myself included, believe that a 4-5-1 formation would be better to play to our strengths in personnel, but Owen Coyle prefers 4-4-2. And when Stuart Holden returns, he just might have the talisman he needs to play it.