Is Chris Gunter really Mr Reliable?
Every football team has a quiet, understated player that just gets on with things consistently week in, week out and to me, that man at Reading is Chris Gunter. The full-back has played in 128 of 156 possible Premier League and Championship games since joining in July 2012 (82%) with Reading keeping 30 clean sheets when he has started. He's also the only player to have started every game for the Royals so far this season, even including cup games. With everything that's happened off the field at Reading over the last couple of seasons, it's fair to say that the right-back has been one of the only constants at the club.
Initially signing on a three-year deal in July 2012 for a reported fee of approximately £2.3million with friend and Nottingham Forest team-mate Garath McCleary, Gunter had his contract extended towards the end of the 2014/15 season for another year by Ex-Royals boss Steve Clarke. Clarke remarked on the news,
‘Consistency of performance is what every manager wants from his players and Chris delivers consistently good performances’.
Gunter has also been indispensable for his country; not missing a game for Chris Coleman’s Wales side during their impressive Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, which included taking 4 points off of FIFA’s top ranked side, Belgium. He also became the youngest Welshman to reach fifty caps for his country, aged just 24 and is well on the way to being the first Welshman to ever reach 100 caps. Now 26 he earned his 64th cap in a 3-2 loss at home to the Netherlands in a friendly in November 2015.
So what are Gunter’s strengths?
The partnership he's built up with McCleary is something to be admired and on their day, the pair are totally unplayable down the right wing. Reading fans will have fond memories of their link up play which was probably at its best in the 2013/14 season. The duo both understand each others’ styles of play and both utilise space well.
Goalscoring isn't exactly his biggest strength as just like a certain former title winning Reading full-back Gunter has managed just two goals for the club, both in the League Cup. However, he has contributed to a fair few goals in his time here, with his pace allowing him to get into decent positions to put crosses into the box.
As I said before, reliability is what makes Gunter the player he is, especially defensively. Everyone has their off days but you know exactly what to expect from the right-back, with clever tackling and effective clearing when needed. Not only is he reasonably quick for a full-back, he also thinks quickly too and reads the game well.
The fact he's quiet and somewhat calm is also a strength in my book. Reading boss Brian McDermott commented recently that some of the Reading squad must put the egos ‘aside because they are not useful for anyone’. Gunter always presents himself as a great team player both for his club and his country and these kind of traits must be a benefit to any dressing room. That's not to say he's boring, it's evident that he has a sense of humour; a couple of reasonably embarrassing appearances on Soccer AM proving that…
So what are his weaknesses?
The fact that the Welshman has no realistic competition in the squad for his position for a couple of seasons could be perceived as a weakness, although this is through no fault of his own. The fact that no one else currently at the club is seen as effective in the right-back position could well lead to complacency, and likewise there might be too much reliance on Gunter from the football club.
While happy with his attacking contributions, his final ball could also be better. He does make some dangerous runs forward and some great cross field passes but like a lot of our current squad, it's often the final ball into the box that lets him down.
Likewise and even though he has a strong presence in the back four on a weekly basis, Gunter’s performances were questioned when he was given the captain’s armband under Nigel Adkins. Steve Clarke immediately gave the armband to Alex Pearce stating that Gunter ‘doesn’t need an armband to show that he is a leader’. I agree with this statement, and maybe the Welshman plays more effectively when he's not burdened with the captaincy.
So, does he deserve a new deal?
Yes, offer him a new contract.
I personally think the club would be silly not to. He's played such an important role for the club since he joined, and I would like to think that he's part of McDermott’s long term plans. Even though he's still only 26 years of age, Gunter adds more experience and stability to a back five which has been forever changing this season due to form and injuries.
If McCleary can secure a place in the starting XI on a regular basis, then maybe we can see Gunter’s full attacking potential again. However, I believe that his defensive quality is more important to the squad and it would be a massive loss if he was to depart in the summer. Any club would be getting themselves a great deal if they were to snap him up for free.
So what do you think should happen regarding Chris Gunter? Have your say in the poll below…