Greedy, misunderstood and underestimated: An intriguing insight into Will Grigg and how Sunderland can get him firing

In September 2007, Micky Moore made one of the bolder calls of his managerial career.

Sunday, 13th October 2019, 1:00 pm
Updated Sunday, 13th October 2019, 1:28 pm
This is how Sunderland can get Will Grigg firing again
This is how Sunderland can get Will Grigg firing again

Away to Hednesford - a side sitting two divisions above his Stratford Town outfit - Moore turned to a 16-year-old.

It turned out to be a day which helped define the career of Will Grigg.

“I asked him to come along as a 19th man,” explains Moore.

Sign up to our Sunderland AFC newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

“Bring your shinpads and your kit and experience the day.

“I told him it would be good exposure to have a look at a bigger stadium and the experience of it all.

“I named the team and I played him. He had no idea, I just threw him in.”

And neither Grigg nor Moore knew what would follow that FA Cup tie - with the striker embarking on a whirlwind rise which saw an appearance at the European Championships, a chart hit and, latterly, a £3million move to Sunderland.

Yet from that point, things have somewhat stalled. Grigg is without a league goal since April and, while he netted in the win over Grimsby Town last week, the striker has just two goals to his name this term.

“I think if you spoke to Will he’d be honest enough to say it hasn’t quite clicked,” adds Moore.

“Whether it’s the system, whether it’s Will or the expectation on him…

“He hasn’t become a bad player overnight. He’s a proven goalscorer at that level and he will know that himself.”

Moore, now working as head of recruitment at Cheltenham Town, knows Grigg better than most.

Having been released by Birmingham City as a teenager, Moore brought the striker into his academy programme at Solihull College. It was then he who recommended Grigg to Walsall, where his senior career took flight, and the pair remain in regular contact.

Indeed, it is Moore who tends to be consulted when the 28-year-old is weighing-up his big career moves.

That was the case when he left the Saddlers for Brentford, and as the striker then teamed-up with Wigan in 2015 - where he really began to make his mark.

“We were fortunate that we were in a position where we had some money, because we still had a parachute payment,” says Gary Caldwell, who signed Grigg for the Latics.

“We were looking for a striker who could get us promotion. Having looked at many, Will stood out by a mile because his goal return in League One was phenomenal and it has been since then.

“In the league, we knew that if we could supply him then he would get us the goals to get promotion.”

“To be honest, I didn’t really know who Will Grigg was,” adds Leon Barnett, a teammate of the striker at Wigan Athletic.

“I knew him from scoring against Manchester United in the League Cup for Milton Keynes, that was the only time I had seen him at that point.

“But when he arrived, I underestimated him more than anything.

“I didn’t know his background, which was naive of me.

“But once I trained with him and saw the work he puts in, I was kind of surprised.”

The reference to hard work is brought up repeatedly, and such graft paid dividends as he ended barren runs.

“He went through a quiet spell at Wigan, but the manager kept faith in him and he kept grinding away,” reveals Barnett, who now runs a football academy in Luton.

“He stayed behind after training and did extra shooting, extra running and showed that he has the right attitude and the right mentality.

“In the end, he got a chance and the other strikers were frustrated because they couldn’t get him out the team.”

“He’ll work harder than anyone to put it right because he prides himself on scoring goals,” adds Moore.

“That’s what he wants to do.

“It’s all those little one per cents - whether it’s shooting, in the gym, heading - I think Will would admit that it was something that was instilled in him very early on.”

Also present from early in his footballing career was Grigg’s relaxed persona.

He rarely celebrates goals, gives few impassioned interviews and is near-mute on social media.

But Moore says Sunderland supporters shouldn’t confuse that with a lack of interest.

“He’s horizontal. He’ll go into work, he’ll do the work, do some extra and then go home and try and switch off.

“He tries not to get too high or too low - he wants to find that happy medium as much as he can.

“But don’t be fooled by that persona in terms of is he interested, does he care.

“He’s got a good work ethic, good values and morals in life.

“I understand supporters - they want passion and enthusiasm, that roar.

“Will may not come across like that, but don’t be fooled.

“He’s passionate, enthusiastic and will want it as much as anyone else.

“He doesn’t go out drinking or socialising; you’ll never hear anything like that about him.

“He’s not flash and won’t drive around in flash cars or anything like that.

“He loves his football and he wants to do well, it’s been the same everywhere he has been.”

On the training field, though, that relaxed persona is sometimes hard to upkeep.

“I’ve seen him get frustrated,” reveals Barnett.

“It’s good to see because it shows he’s still hungry and he isn’t a player who thinks he’s made it.

“He’s a striker that’s greedy, but that’s just because he wants to score and be the best player he can be.”

So how can Sunderland get the best out of the striker?

Caldwell believes Wigan’s formula - which saw Grigg net 28 times en route to promotion from League One - could prove fruitful.

And key to that is finding the right men around the striker, and reverting to back to playing with a lone striker.

“When we first signed him we felt he’d be in a two and we’d have to play 3-5-2 to get the best out of Will,” admits Caldwell.

“We played him with Craig Davies against Scunthorpe and won 3-0 with the two of them doing well, and we thought that was the key to unlocking Will’s attributes.

“And then over time, it didn’t really work.

“For Will, to get the best out of him, he needs to play as a lone striker. I think you need two wingers who can supply him with crosses in the box and the most important thing he needs is a number ten who can link-up with him and see the runs he makes.

“He makes really clever runs outside the box and he needs a number ten of real quality.

“Once we came across that formula, that was when he really got going. After Christmas he scored 20 goals and we won the league.

“I think the key to unlocking him is finding that number ten that can link-up with him.”

Moore believes a psychological approach - and a degree of patience - may be more beneficial to get Grigg firing.

“I think Will needs that arm around the shoulder.

“He needs that communication and that little bit of assurance.

“I believe he will come good. When you spend that type of money you want instant success, and understandably, but he wasn’t right with his injury towards the back end of his time at Wigan.

“He had to fill big shoes straight away when he wasn’t 100 per cent fit.”

The final verdict from Caldwell is conclusive.

“I’d say keep believing in him.

“We signed him in the summer and it wasn’t until Christmas that he really started to hit form,

“He had a niggling arm injury early in the season at Wigan, but didn’t really hit form until after Christmas.

“I think because of his character it takes him time to settle in with the players, at the club and in new surroundings.

“But once he does, there’s nobody better in League One.”

Sunderland fans will certainly hope that is the case.