The Premier League is back, which means that so is Jonny Walters.
Unquestionably, there are many who actively loathe the sensory overload that occurs when watching this souped-up Hibernian Bowser play football.
Those who don’t feel as strongly as this will probably consider him nothing more than a bullocking blunt instrument; an incongruous, less explosive modern version of Emile Heskey.
And it’s difficult to argue with that notion. For that’s essentially what he is.
Yet who hasn’t felt pangs of guilty pleasure at witnessing Walters joyously bounding around the pitch and wreaking actual bodily harm on opponents with shoulder, head and arse?
There’s simply no ignoring those fleeting moments of lust for this cumbersome barrel of sporting adequacy.
Outwardly, there aren’t many reasons to admire a player like Walters. He is as brutish an attacker as can be found in the modern English top-flight, a player who has made a career out of being a strapping nuisance-factor. Few forwards operating at the higher levels of football scream “throwback” as loudly as he.
This is NOT made up. I repeat – This is NOT made up.
Paul Merson: "For me, Jon Walters is the signing of the season" pic.twitter.com/XfWT00SNm3
— Footy Accumulators (@FootyAccums) August 12, 2017
But there’s something fundamentally endearing about his earnest, uncomplicated toil. Jonny’s weekly, and often successful, struggles to overcome his own limitations are so compelling that it seems almost ungracious to belittle his achievements.
He’s not a man who creates by finesse, but one whose self-sacrifice and bravery provide the opportunity for others to do so. If you have any kind of affiliation to a team for whom he plays, it’s impossible not to appreciate this.
So much of what he does is thrilling in a vaguely insolent kind of way.
Against more cultured sides, he often gives the impression of being a headbanger who has pitched up at a cello recital with the sole intention of spoiling the mood.
In many ways, this made him the embodiment of what Stoke City were all about under Tony Pulis, but his game now appears to have been refined to a certain extent.
In fairness, though, it would be hard not to improve on this:
How can you not cherish the existence of a player capable of this kind of slapstick on what was his 100th Premier League appearance?
Some would mock Walters for his awkwardness, but he has conquered his propensity for unwitting foolery to become a durable and prosperous top-flight player.
Without doubt, he has had the last laugh.
He’s a man worthy of respect, admiration and merciless lampoonery in equal quantities. A man who engenders revulsion, awe and, just occasionally, pure joy in those who watch him even semi-regularly.
Jon Walters is an artisan with no aspirations of being an artist, and that’s fine. Not every Premier League forward can be Sergio Aguero or Alexis Sanchez. But equally, not every journeyman can make 100 consecutive appearances in one of the world’s toughest leagues, or appear at a European Championship (admittedly as part of the worst team at the tournament).
Despite a strong start for his team against Chelsea, a long season lies ahead of him with Burnley. The Clarets will likely face a battle to avoid the drop, but if there’s anyone who can help a modest team to punch above their weight, it’s Walters.