Bolton's Croatian hitman is something of a controversial figure.
Not in the way that David Ngog is a controversial figure. Half of Bolton fans think Ngog is doing a good job and should remain the lone striker for the rest of the season. The other half think he is crap, was a waste of money, and should be dropped immediately.
Everyone knows Ivan Klasnic's strengths and weaknesses, and everyone knows exactly what we will get when he plays. Where it gets questionable is when we start talking about how much he should play, and when that play should take place.
At the beginning of the season, Klasnic started Bolton's first five matches, and scored three goals in the process. Unfortunately, as many of you may remember, Bolton lost four of those matches. That's when things got confusing. Ivan was used as a sub a few times, with little affect. But then he returned to the starting XI in glorious fashion, scoring two goals in a 5-0 route of Stoke City.
After that, Klasnic started eight straight league matches, and scored two goals in the process. Again though, the mighty Wanderers lost six of those games. Then Bolton found some form, and our leading goalscorer (by far) was not really a part of it. He started both legs of the FA Cup tie against Macclesfield, scoring one goal and creating another. he also came on as a sub against Wigan, and came close to scoring a couple times.
All told, the striker has started seventeen times for Bolton in all competitions, with another four appearances coming as a substitute. He has scored eight goals, and had five assists. That is a hell of a return. But I don't think he should start every match, even when considering our recent goal drought.
Many Bolton supporters feel Klasnic is lazy, that he doesn't do the work of a Kevin Davies or Johan Elmander. While it is true that he doesn't chase lost causes or charge the keeper on every clearance, I don't think Klasnic is lazy, I just think he is a different type of player.
A striker's mindset is a complicated thing, and we all know how important confidence is for them. But there is another side to that as well. Different forwards look at their jobs very differently. Davies and Elmander were never prolific goal-scorers and were never going to be, so maybe they run around so much as a way to compensate for that. Klasnic is a finisher, a poacher, a fox-in-the-box, whatever you want to call it. He scores goals. But a player like that does more than just take his chances. He also puts himself in position to get those chances.
I remember watching Ruud van Nistelrooy and being absolutely fascinated. He was always in the right position, always receiving the ball close to goal and with a chance at a shot. So i started watching him off the ball, to find out how he did it. It's all about movement. Ruud was always thinking about where he should be if he got the ball, not at that moment, but ten seconds in the future. So a lot of times, what he was doing did not make sense in the moment. It was only a few seconds later, when he was celebrating a goal, that everyone else on the pitch realized what he had done.
Klasnic is not on the same level as van Nistelrooy, who is one of the greatest forwards in the history of the game, but he has a similar playing style. When Mark Davies or Fabrice Muamba close down a midfielder in possession, Kevin Davies might back into a central defender, or try to cut off the back pass to the keeper. That helps get the ball back, and is good for the team. Ivan Klasnic on the other hand, assumes that his midfielder will win the ball back, and puts himself in position to receive a pass from that midfielder and score a goal. Neither is better than the other, it is up to our manager to decide which is more useful based upon our present needs.
Ivan Klasnic could play a big part in Bolton's fight to stay in the Premier League, or he could not. It will be up to Owen Coyle, up to our defense, and dependent upon our needs from week to week. In a subplot, he could also win us the FA Cup.