ROMAINE Sawyers is an Arsenal fan, so he understands very well how body language can influence perception.
Like Mesut Ozil, the Gunners’ highly-paid yet perpetually absent playmaker, Sawyers’ gait and demeanour has frequently attracted criticism.
Too lazy. Too casual. A player blessed, in the words of former boss Dean Smith, with a “Premier League brain” but seemingly lacking in lower league brawn.
As a teenager, such concerns saw him released by West Brom. Later, at Walsall, he was dropped from the first-team amidst pelters from his own fans. Even at Brentford, where he rose to become captain, plenty voiced their doubts.
Yet to focus on how Sawyers looks is to ignore what he actually does. And whilst that contribution is subtle, it is of critical importance to any team he represents. Find the critical market for you this eSports betting season.
As Smith himself said: “He does a great job for the team, especially without the ball, which sometimes goes unnoticed. But it is not unnoticed in the dressing room by his peers.”
It certainly isn’t. At Griffin Park, he was voted skipper, then named players’ player of the year last season.
And since returning to the Hawthorns in a £3m summer switch, the 27-year-old has provided the control and composure fatally lacking in last season’s thrilling but doomed tilt at promotion.
Last weekend’s 1-0 victory at Middlesbrough was the perfect demonstration of Sawyers’ skill set.
Deployed as one half of a deep-lying midfield pair alongside Jake Livermore in Slaven Bilic’s 4-2-3-1 formation, he attempted more passes – 91 – than any other player on the pitch.
Of those, 84 were accurate. To put that figure in context, the player with the second-highest number of accurate passes was Sawyers’ team-mate Nathan Ferguson with 54.
Those stats are no fluke. Over the course of the season, Sawyers has attempted an average of 67 passes per game, with a success rate of 92 per cent. No other midfielder in the Championship has surpassed those figures.
Yes, many of those passes are simple. Backwards and sideways. Six-yard balls. But what they illustrate is Sawyers’ ability to find space, control tempo and generally give his side a foothold.
Middlesbrough played extremely well at the Riverside. They packed midfield, pressed the ball and closed down space.
Yet Sawyers was the calm at the eye of the storm; languid and unflustered, cleverly finding a yard to show for the ball and always knowing where the next pass would go.
When West Brom needed an out ball under pressure, or a man to puncture Boro’s momentum, Sawyers was there.
It was a performance – and not the first this season – redolent of Liverpool great Jan Molby, whose awareness and movement gave the impression that he was operating in his own bubble of time and space.
Sawyers will never trouble the charts for goals or assists. Nor will he thunder into full-blooded tackles. He isn’t a crowd pleaser. What he will do, however, is allow the Baggies to dominate possession even in games where – as at Boro – they are largely outplayed.
“My body language can be deceptive at times but it’s my playing style and part and parcel of who I am,” he said last year. “But it works the other way, too. In some people’s eyes I can make things look easy because of how laid back I am. I’ve had to deal with criticism before – it’s not something that plays on my mind. I’m going to keep being me.”
Right now, that makes him a formidable opponent.