Zat Knight has spent most of his career in England’s first division, though over the last year-and-a-half, the 33-year-old central defender has been in the second tier with the Bolton Wanderers. During 11 years in the Premier League with Fulham, Aston Villa, and the Trotters, the two-time England international (back in 2005) was a decent if slightly exploitable defender, a level of performance that’s persisted through his 19 appearances in this years’ Championship. He’s a thoroughly decent if aging player, somebody who’d probably be out-of-place in the Premier League at this point in his career.
Given where a still young Philadelphia core is in its success cycle, does that profile excite you, Union fans? For some, it might. An English pedigree still goes a long way, especially when you consider what 277 games of Premier League experience could do to bring alone Amobi Okugo.
The younger player growing into his position gets some veteran guidance. The older player in the sunset of his career adds depth to a team in need of a few more defenders. Superficially, it seems like a cozy fit, part of the reason we can’t total discard the latest rumors.
But this all assumes Knight can actually fill that bill. Set to turn 34 in May, Knight is at the precarious age where the end could be closer than it appears. Alessandro Nesta, Arne Friedrich, Mikael Silvestre, Matteo Ferrari were all European defenders who jumped to MLS in their 30s. All of them have had injury problems. None of them had a major impact. (Steven Caldwell is one recent recruit who has managed to stay on the field.)
A player whose size has been an asset throughout his career, Knight profiles as somebody who could have trouble. A 6’6″, he will be one of the biggest players in the league, but Major League Soccer players will have no problem with his physicality. Instead, in a league where fit, hard-working, physical forwards are the rule, Knight will be faced with some of the same challenges he dealt with in the Championship. Only instead of dealing with those challenges in the context of a club and culture he knows, he’ll be with a new team and in a totally different country.
If Philadelphia can get a Knight-like player on the cheap — say, low $100,000 range — the risk is low. But for a team with a young core that should see itself as still building a contender, Knight is a strange fit. Rather than investing in a player that will be around when the team’s closer to the top of the conference, the Union will be cutting checks to a player entering the last years of his career.
And again, Knight isn’t an Alessandro Nesta. He’s never been a world-beater. At times, he was fine (even good) in the Premier League, and since moving with his team to the Championship, he’s been mostly fine for Bolton. But that’s it. Though something could change once he arrives in Philly, Knight’s last nine years in England say he’s won’t be a major difference-maker for the Union.
According to the league’s official website (linked, above), Knight’s arrival at PPL Park may be more possibility than probability. The team’s still talking to other options, according to head coach John Hackworth. The team may need another center back, but Zat Knight isn’t necessarily him.
That’s good news for Union fans. Knight could come in cheap, but a worthwhile risk, and render all these caveats meaningless. He could also be a 33-year-old who, near the end of his career, will have trouble making a significant impact in Major League Soccer.