New Blue: Ryan Tafazolli

After rumours a few weeks back, the trail seemed to have gone cold on signing number three of last Wednesday’s transfer treble – but we only went and pulled it off! He’s an exciting one alright. Here’s why.

Length of contract3 years
PositionLeft centre-back
Former clubsHull, Peterborough, Mansfield, Cambridge City, Concord Rangers, Salisbury City (loan), Southampton
Professional appearances (goals)278 (19)
Championship appearances (goals)15 (2)

A rotation option for Darius Charles was always going to be a key need this summer: the Mango Man isn’t likely to manage more than 30 appearances in a frighteningly packed schedule featuring no fewer than 15 double-headers. Left-footed centre-backs may be harder to come by – but we’ve gone and got one of the 27 that were in the Championship last season! Tafazolli may only have started seven games in his 12 months at Hull, but the fans took to him for his attitude and application – one of the few players that could be said for as the Tigers exited League One with a whimper. Now, he’s got the opportunity to play a bigger role in the second tier.

Released by then Championship Southampton at the age of 19 – having captained their U18 side – Tafazolli joined Concord Rangers. After less than a year in Essex, he switched to fellow seventh tier outfit Cambridge City – but he was soon playing professionally for the first time as Mansfield snapped him up ahead of their Conference title-winning campaign of 2012/13. A hamstring injury restricted him to just five appearances that season, but he earned himself a new deal and would go on to establish himself as the Stags returned to the Football League, lining up alongside Sir Colin Daniel in defence (although he didn’t play in that game).

The Sutton-born defender – who’s eligible to play for Iran and has spoken of his desire to do so – continued to progress nicely under the management of Adam Murray and caught the eye of Peterborough, signing a three-year deal with the League One club in June 2016. Released last summer after making over 100 appearances in three years at London Road, he got his big break as his former Posh boss, Grant McCann, brought him in at Hull. Unfortunately for ‘Taf’, the 2014 FA Cup finalists endured their worst season in recent memory and conceded a Championship-high 87 goals. There’s always a positive, though, and in this case it’s that such a chastening experience could be looked at as character-building.

So what’s our new number 6 like as a player? Well, funnily enough given his height (6’5″!), he excels in the air. He won around 70% of his aerial duels in 2019/20, ranking him tenth among Championship centre-backs. He makes it look easy – which, let’s be honest, is probably because it is for him – and doesn’t half get some distance on his clearances (watch from 1:20 above for his performance against Wycombe in March last year – featuring his first Wanderers goal 😉). With almost half a foot on Charles and Anthony Stewart, he’ll be a fine addition to our growing arsenal of aerial weapons – and a dominant presence in both boxes.

In terms of defensive actions, Tafazolli’s precisely timed blocking really stands out. He looks to have mastered the art. It follows, really, from his excellent anticipation and – unexpectedly for a big man – agility in one-on-one situations (watch from 7:00 above for a couple of prime examples – against Michy Batshuayi and Willian, no less). He’s equally helped in that regard by his relative pace (the only way to prove it is to get the speed gun out, but he certainly looks faster than Charles), something which, when coupled with his comfort in possession and keenness to carry the ball into some advanced areas, could add another string to our attacking bow.

A more frequent scorer than your average centre-back, Tafazolli can’t half strike the ball well too. Exhibit A: this peach for Mansfield at Exeter in 2016. And it looks like he can take a free-kick too! Still, his biggest asset in an attacking (and an attack-building) sense may well be his pinpoint long balls – particularly diagonals. With Stewart fond of the same kind of out-ball – ‘Tools’ completed 2.51 long passes per 90 last season, the most of any Wycombe outfield player bar Joe Jacobson – David Wheeler can expect good service when he lines up on the right wing as, to all intents and purposes, the target man.

All in all, you’d have to say this a terrific bit of business from Gareth Ainsworth and co. To actually buy a player from a relegated Championship club is a sign of how far we’ve come in itself. And actually, while they did implode in cataclysmic style, Hull were a good second tier side and sat just outside the play-offs at the turn of the year (they did lose their two best players in January, but to go from 1.4 points per game in the first half of the season to 0.5 in the second is abysmal in any circumstances). We’re not rummaging through the scrapheap anymore.

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