FOR several seasons now, fans of Coventry City have lamented their team’s failure to pose a consistent threat from set-pieces.
Thanks to the signing of Gustavo Hamer from PEC Zwolle this summer, they need grumble no more.
Just three games into his Coventry career, the midfielder’s delivery is being compared to that of Gary McAllister, the legendary Scotsman whose dead ball prowess thrilled Highfield Road in the 90s.
Hamer has already made one match-winning contribution, an 84th-minute corner that was headed home by Kyle McFadzean to seal a 3-2 victory over QPR.
Operating from a deep midfield position against Barnsley last weekend, he should have notched another. Though the match finished 0-0, Hamer’s corners – floated with accuracy rather than driven or whipped – created three good chances.
The first was headed against the crossbar by centre-back Leo Ostigard; the second nodded wide by the same player and the third went astray after striking the temple of an unbalanced Matt Godden.
It was no fluke, either. Since the start of the current season, Hamer has delivered 11 accurate corners – two more than any other player in the division. In open play, only Stoke City’s Sam Clucas has found a teammate with more crosses, with 12 to Hamer’s ten.
At £1.35m, the 23-year-old did not come cheap. He was, in fact, the 13th most expensive acquisition in the Championship and the club’s biggest purchase since Freddy Eastwood in 2008.
For a homeless club fresh out of League One, that is a significant investment. Clearly, though, the Sky Blues have done their homework.
Born in Brazil but adopted as a baby, Hamer moved to the Netherlands and rebounded from childhood rejection at the hands of ADO den Haag to thrive in Feyenoord’s academy. During his time at Varkenoord, Hamer captained the Under-19s and won three caps for the Dutch Under-20s.
‘He is a multifunctional midfielder, who is technically very skilled and sees the game,” said Feyenoord technical director Martin van Geel. “These are players that we would like to keep with the club for longer, and want to give appreciation.”
Hamer, though, felt distinctly underappreciated after turning pro, making just two first-team appearances for the Rotterdammers.
“Maybe I was not good enough,” he has since admitted. “I knew I still had a long way to go, but after I had made the switch from youth, no trainer spoke to me about what I could do differently or better.”
In 2018, after a successful loan spell with second-tier Dordrecht, Hamer joined Zwolle where his quality – and versatility – began to shine.
Though predominantly played in his preferred position as a deep-lying playmaker, Hamer’s crossing ability frequently prompted coach John Stegeman to deploy him as a right-back or right-winger.
During the 2019-20 Eredivisie campaign, Hamer dispatched 1.4 accurate crosses per game, the ninth highest in the division.
He also ranked 14th for key passes, eighth for assists (with six) and – of course – fourth for accurate corners.
Of greater import to Coventry, however, was the percentage of Hamer’s set-pieces which found their target.
Last season, the midfielder took 63 corners. Of those, 53 per cent found a man.
No other player in the top ten had a hit rate above 50 per cent.
Take Hakim Ziyech, the Ajax winger who topped the tables for crossing and corners and was subsequently signed by Chelsea for €40m. The Morrocan delivered 41 accurate corners compared to Hamer’s 34.
But he also misdirected 52 to Hamer’s 29. A similar picture emerges on crosses, with Hamer posting 32 per cent accuracy, eclipsing the 27 per cent of Ziyech.
Ajax will dominate 90 per cent of opponents, making percentage accuracy largely irrelevant.
At a club like Coventry, who can reasonably expect to create few chances, having a player who can capitalise on slim pickings could be critical.
Physically, Hamer is slight and his stats for tackles and interceptions – the traditional yardstick for a holding midfielder – are relatively poor.
But in a division where 24 per cent of all goals in 2019-20 were scored from set-pieces, the Sky Blues have evidently reasoned that Hamer has the tools to secure survival.