Scott Sinclair’s move to Deepdale, which had been rumoured to be in the works since the summer, is finally signed, sealed and delivered.
The winger flew back from Celtic’s training camp in Dubai earlier in the week to put pen to paper on a free transfer that will see him stay at Deepdale for the next two and a half years.
The 30-year old’s pedigree is apparent and his career to date speaks for itself, which is part of what makes him the sort of signing North End fans have been crying out for for a while, particularly since the summer and the departure of Callum Robinson to Sheffield United.
It is something of a coup for the club to bring in a player like Scott Sinclair and fans, on the whole, should be buzzing.
Having represented England at all youth levels and also his status as an Olympian having represented Team GB in the football at 2012 Olympic Games in London, Sinclair is attached in peoples’ minds to the likes of Aston Villa, Manchester City and Celtic. Not forgetting his time at Swansea with whom he really began to make a name for himself.
He was a major force in the side that won promotion to the Premier League in 2010/11, top scorer that season with 19 league goals including a hat-trick at Wembley in the play-off final.
He went on to score 8 goals for the Swans in their debut Premier League season, 4 behind leading scorer Danny Graham as Brendan Rodgers guided his side to an impressive midtable, 11th placed finish.
His contribution to Swansea’s season didn’t go unnoticed and in the summer that followed it piqued the interest of Manchester City, who had started to splash the cash after they celebrated their first Premier League title.
City bringing in Sinclair was an attempt on their behalf to acquire a promising domestic talent, with him being just 23 at the time, but it never quite worked out as planned for Scott at the Etihad.
An unremarkable spell at the Hawthorns with West Brom preceded a more promising loan at Aston Villa, who took him on permanently, ending his exile at City and offering something of a revival for his career. Once he arrived at Villa Park, he began showing glimpses of the ability that earned him his initial move to City. Celtic eventually came calling as Sinclair’s former manager Brendan Rodgers brought him to Celtic Park.
Sinclair went straight into the Celtic squad that very same day and having come on as a substitute just after the hour mark, scored the winner 20 minutes later to kick his Parkhead career off with a flourish.
He’s enjoyed 3 successful seasons at Celtic Park, nearly an ever-present in their “treble treble” winning side before falling down the pecking order a little over the summer.
Having set such a high standard in his initial season with Celtic, Sinclair has plateaued and saw his numbers decline a little over subsequent years, as pointed out by Matt Rhein of Modern Fitba. Despite the decline from his initial, very impressive year in Scotland, Sinclair has managed to maintain a non-penalty xG of over 0.35 and although this has come down from as high as 0.53 in 2016/17, it has always indicated a more than sufficient scoring rate, particularly for a wide player.
For a comparison of what this might mean to North End, another player from the SPL we have been linked with, Kilmarnock striker and top scorer Eamonn Brophy finished the 2018/19 season with a non-penalty xG of 0.28. Put simply, despite now being technically the ‘wrong’ side of 30, Sinclair is still likely to be a significant goal threat for North End.
This season so far Sinclair has found himself so far down the pecking order he has made just 7 appearances, netting twice; once in the League Cup against Partick Thistle and the other coming against FK Sarajevo in the away leg of Celtic’s Champions’ League qualifier.
He has looked quite sharp, despite limited opportunities, finding those two goals from the bench as 6 of those 7 appearances have been as a substitute, his one start coming in Celtic’s final Europa League group game, a 2-0 loss at CFR Cluj.
Whichever way you look at it, to keep motivated enough to score 2 goals in 176 minutes of football is impressive both in terms of mentality and retaining sharpness. If Sinclair can manage a goal every 88 minutes for North End he will be very popular at Deepdale indeed!
Of course, that sort of number is pretty unrealistic, but even so, is Sinclair the ideal candidate to finally fill that void left on the left-hand side by Callum Robinson?
At a glance, it’s hard to ignore the ages of the two. Robinson just a few weeks away from turning 25 and Sinclair already 30 but Sinclair brings that much-talked-about experience that a lot of the North End side would benefit from.
There was talk in the summer of Alex Neil prioritising the sort of signing that would bring a blend of experience and modern ability and Sinclair certainly seems to be in line with that sort of philosophy, an exciting attacking player but with plenty of experience at the top level, having played in the Premier League, a multiple SPL title-winning Celtic side and of course, he has experience of playing in both the Champions League and the Europa League to boot.
He’s predominantly right-footed, although capable with both, and likes to cut inside to find room on that preferred foot. We know already that Neil likes his wingers to be capable of inverting, seeing Billy Bodin predominantly on the right-hand side and Sean Maguire off the left, so Sinclair seems a natural fit for that left-sided slot.
From the last 18 months or so I would also feel comfortable in suggesting that Sinclair has an admirably positive attitude, a desirable trait for any footballer of course and perhaps particularly for an attacker.
Sinclair’s found selections in the matchday squad for Celtic increasingly sparse as other wingers have flourished at the club but he has continued to turn in positive performances, with strong xS percentages.
Although these expected shots should perhaps be leading to goal numbers more akin to his early seasons at Parkhead, I’d argue that his ability to get into these positions still being so strong is very promising. Also, it is sensible to predict that his end product, should he get the consistent first-team football many of us expect him to at Deepdale, will only benefit from sharpness gained from said game time.
Upon arrival at Deepdale, my thoughts are immediately drawn to how Sinclair’s arrival might specifically affect two players, as well as the team as a whole.
Discussed plenty by North End fans whilst the rumour mill on the Sinclair deal was in full spin, was the effect his signing might have on Sean Maguire who has been mainly operating in from the left-hand side.
There are two ways I can see it going; firstly, and perhaps favourably in my opinion, Scott Sinclair’s arrival will see him starting regularly in that left inside forward role that Maguire has occupied for large parts of this season, seeing Maguire then utilised as a central striker (should another signing not be made).
This might see a return to a reliable rate of goal contribution from Maguire, whose performances and scoring return have been brought into question by large sections of North End support in recent weeks.
Secondly, as some fans have predicted, Alex Neil will persist with attempting to utilise players signed, seemingly primarily for that position on the left as strikers. Sticking to his guns and keeping Maguire out left and attempting to use Sinclair as a striker or maybe even keep him on the bench.
The assumption that Sinclair will be a starter is for me, too strong for the latter option, even though we are all aware that Neil has his favourites both in terms of players and where he likes to deploy them.
Again, I can see Sinclair’s playing relationship with Jayden Stockley developing one of two ways.
As Sinclair has never been the type of winger to hug the touchline and get balls into the area, Stockley may not be expected to get on the end of too many crosses.
Considering Sinclair is more inclined to cut inside on his right foot and join the attack more directly, attempting final balls and shots from more central positions, to ask him to play in this way would be a waste in my opinion.
I can also see a way in which the arrival of Sinclair would really help Jayden to thrive; we know Sinclair likes to drift into central positions and play off other forwards, we have also seen that Stockley is most effective when he has supporting players coming nearer to him for knock-downs and flick-ons as he is better at quickly laying the ball off than he is holding the ball up and waiting for support (see his impact in the comeback victory against Blackburn Rovers for how effective Stockley can be when players make runs off him).
If Stockley and Sinclair can foster a decent understanding I suspect we might see a decent partnership of sorts start to form.
Finally, if you haven’t yet listened, Episode #27 of the From the Finney podcast is available to stream on all good podcast platforms now. We were joined by 5 different guests to talk all things from the start of the season.