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Not nineteen forever
8 February 2012
If rumours are to be believed of late, Liam Hearn is attracting the attention of pretty much every scout in the northern hemisphere. But I for one don't see that as a bad thing.
This is because the longer Hearn keeps making the majority of defenders in the Conference Premier look decidedly average, hope remains that the club's real prodigy will stay unnoticed and somehow manage to slip under the radar like a huge, glaringly obvious rock under the bow of the Costa Concordia. I am of course referring to Andi Thanoj.
Wikipedia hasn't heard of the lad yet either, and therefore I've turned to Football Manager for brief, half-hearted research purposes. It tells me that Thanoj is Albanian (which could explain his non-English-sounding surname) but strangely it can't tell me where he was actually born.
Nevertheless, we do know that Thanoj is only nineteen and has steadily progressed through the Town youth system over the past few years. So strong has that progress been that he is now one half of an impressive central midfield partnership with the experienced Craig Disley. The improvement in Town's results may have begun when Manny Panther arrived on loan to pair up with Disley – but Panther's departure meant Thanoj's long-overdue return to the starting XI, and the wins have kept coming.
The Town youth set-up has produced several players of substantial quality over the years, the sale of whom has, on occasions, helped bail the club out financially. Gary Croft, John Oster, Jack Lester, Ryan Bennett, Darren Mansaram... OK, perhaps scrub that last one. Nevertheless, there is a list longer than our miraculous unbeaten run. But in Andi Thanoj, and whisper it if you will, I think the club have potentially unearthed their most beautiful gem yet.
I first saw Thanoj play for the youth team in a random cup game one evening at BP two years ago. (This may say more about my social life at the time than the attraction on the pitch.) At first his height was alarming: he was one of the shortest players on the pitch. But any worries I had as to his quality and strength were quickly blown away, as was I.
He stood out a mile. I'd never seen a player so young with so much style and elegance on the ball. He made the game look easy at times, with a Velcro-like first touch and a passing range that would have outshone that of any player in the first team at the time. He rolled his little sleeves up and got stuck in, but was also able to effortlessly control the tempo of the match, like the moon's effect on the waves.
Thanoj bucks the trend somewhat as a short player who has managed to make it through the ranks. In the past certain managers have favoured the lad who is the biggest in the changing room at 18 and can kick or even throw it the furthest. So I was encouraged when Scott and Hurst rocked up last year and immediately earmarked Thanoj for a one-year deal.
Now, wiser and stronger, he is beginning to shine again but this time rightfully in the first team – and he doesn't look out of place one tiny bit. In fact he looks the most comfortable out of the lot: Andi Thanoj was simply born to pass a football. My only worry is that some Town fans don't appreciate his talent, perhaps also blinded by Liam Hearn's goalscoring antics or more likely due to a sheer lack of football understanding.
"Against Telford the way Thanoj carried the ball and set up our second goal was outstanding"
Take two of our recent games. A good friend of mine went to Barrow and came home purring about Thanoj, though no-one else seems to have batted an eyelid. It was his perfect through ball that set up the first goal. Countless other chances were set up by the midfield magician but cruelly left off the shoddy highlights package on Mariners World.
Then against Telford I lost count of the times Thanoj nicked the ball off an opponent and passed to a team-mate (something his senior colleagues struggled with) and the way he carried the ball and set up our second goal was outstanding. Alan Buckley, watching on from the press box, must have thought it was 1998 all over again. Yet the sponsors gave man of the match to Conor Townsend, who, by his standards, had a quiet game. The decision deservedly raised a few eyebrows and presumably left Andi wondering what he has to do to get his hands on some cheap plonk.
It sounds silly but Thanoj is exactly the type of player Grimsby have been crying out for. And he's been here under our noses all along. He has an intelligence in possession that is beyond his years and at times beyond belief.
My old coach at school used to make us pretend the football was a piece of gold which we had to look after. Admittedly he was a bit mental but that sentence has stayed with me ever since. And somewhere along the line young Andi has clearly been told the same. I trust him when he's on the ball – first to keep it, and second to choose the correct pass, whether it be five yards or fifty-five. That is the difference between a good player and a great player, especially at non-League level: their decision-making ability.
OK, so that bit earlier on about the waves was a tad over-dramatic. But in all seriousness Andi Thanoj is a one-off and deserves all the plaudits he should start to receive this year. He is the closest thing to a 'continental ball player' we've got or will have for a long time. So if anyone at the club is reading this, I suggest they find the biggest biro and contract they can lay their hands on and make him sign the bloody thing. Otherwise, sooner rather than later, Barry Fry will open his big ugly gob again and to tell the world we're sat on the next Xavi.
To comment on Chris's article or tell us what you think of other young Town players, please use the Cod Almighty feedback form.
Our thanks to Grimsby Town Football Club for kindly supplying the photograph used above.