I Was Depressed In August And Now…
At the close of the transfer window last year, I submitted an item for the Mag which was published under the title ‘More Depressed Than When We Went Down’.
Despite the title being somewhat tongue in cheek it elicited a large number of responses, some of which agreed with my sentiments bemoaning a lack of investment in the squad over the summer, but also a large number of people who had a go at me for writing, “a pathetically atrocious article”, being, “narrow minded”, “not getting behind the team”, “to grow a spine” etc.
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Back in August I was trying to point out that despite a summer of promises from senior figures at the club and the usual links with players from all parts of the globe, actual investment in the first team squad was negligible, amounting to one ‘senior’ player and that the lack of investment would be reflected in a mid-table position at best.
As the season reaches what is sure to be a fairly tortuous denouement, it seems like a reasonable time to revisit that article and make an assessment of where we’ve got to since that bright sunny day when we kicked off the season last August with a late win against Spurs.
Let’s be perfectly honest, it’s been terrible. Still staring down the barrel of what would be a catastrophic relegation was a scenario that even I hadn’t considered when I decided to vent my frustration with the lack of summer investment.
Management and board have been unanimous with their comments that they got it wrong in the summer and whilst they tried to plug some of the gaps with a spending spree in January, the initial boost provided by the new squad members now seems to have completely disappeared. Talk in the local and national press of dressing room cliques may be just them having their usual go at us but as often as not there’s no smoke without fire.
Yes we’ve suffered with injuries; Ryan Taylor out all season, Ben Arfa has only started 13 games, whilst Colo and Tiote have managed 19 each. But what club hasn’t had to deal with injuries and suspension?
European hangovers? Maybe, but the constant excuse that players were tired from travelling and playing Thursday/Sunday seemed to me to be trotted out just a little too often. I’m sure the coaching staff have a wealth of data on players’ physical wellbeing and that may well show that energy levels and other physical attributes suffered as a result, but that just lends more weight to the argument that we should have increased the size of the squad to deal with those extra games.
Fortunately, with three games remaining our fate is in our own hands but after the shocking capitulation against Liverpool I’m struggling to see where we might get a single point that might just keep us up, never mind a win that would see us safe.
Our form away from home is unbelievably poor with only Reading collecting fewer points than us on their travels so I’m not filled with any optimism about the two remaining trips to London (never a happy hunting ground even in the best of seasons!). And with Arsenal as the last day visitors nobody wants the prospect of another live game on Sky TV where we need to get something to avoid the drop.
Local press talk in the last couple of weeks has been about a “radical review” of the season, including transfer policy, coaching and the make-up of squads at all levels throughout the club. Let’s hope that they are carrying out that review as a Premier League club because I’m not convinced we could bounce back as quickly as we did just three short years ago.
It is far from certain but assuming we manage to hang on by the skin of our teeth to Premier League status, it is abundantly clear from the opportunities that the fringe players have been given earlier on in the season, that few of them are going to provide a long term solution. There has to be a serious look at the squad and some fairly hard decisions made about moving players on to generate funds to reinvest in transfer fees and wages.
It seems fairly evident that Colo still wants to return to Argentina and whilst we may not receive much in the way of a fee for him, I’d still rather let him go that try to cling onto an unhappy player. As the biggest wage earner at the club his salary could be used to fund a couple of decent quality players. Another high wage earner, his compatriot Jonas is another one who I would let go; his level of commitment and strong running may be something that we need in the last three games but the fact that he has scored a solitary goal and failed to provide even a single assist all season are damning statistics for a midfield player. Tiote is certainly not immune from criticism and is another who I would move on for any sort of reasonable bid.
Obertan and Williamson have had ample opportunities to show that they are never going to be top class performers, Simpson seems intent on leaving whatever happens, Shola has been a good servant to the club but the fact that he has only started four games despite losing the services of Demba Ba shows that either the manager doesn’t have sufficient faith in him, or he can no longer cope with the rigours of paying regular first team football. All of them should be packing their bags in May.
As for other members of the squad such as Amalfitano, Abeid, Tavernier, Dummett, Vuckic, Ferguson, Gosling and Sammy Ameobi, I’m really not sure. They may well be tidy footballers but with the possible exception of Vuckic, they’re never going to be regular starters in a decent Premier League side unless they start to make a dramatic improvement.
Some of them have been out on loan but don’t appear to have set the world alight, whilst others haven’t been anywhere near a first team squad. It seems to me that our much vaunted scouting system has escaped justifiable criticism that nobody has had any sort of an impact and made the transition from reserve level to first team football.
If we really do have aspirations to be a top six or even top four side then ask yourself how many of our group would make the squads of the top six. Tim Krul, Cabay, Ben Arfa if he stays fit, Sissoko and maybe Steven Taylor and Marveaux, but very few if any of the fringe players. The way the club is run for now and the foreseeable future means we’re never going to have a full squad of around 25 proven Premier League players with two top quality players vying for every position and I accept that. I’m not asking Mike Ashley to bankroll the club like an Abramovich or Sheikh Mansour but surely with the financial resources available, we can at least have a competitive squad that doesn’t fall apart with a few injuries.
Two strikers, (we could do worse than go for Andy Carroll and Loic Remy) a pacey left winger and a commanding centre half for starters could conceivably cost in excess of £25 million but with the extra revenue from TV next year that has to be a sound investment.
And finally, whilst I’m on, please can we make some sort of effort to play strong teams in both domestic cup competitions next season; Wigan, Swansea and Bradford have all had trips to Wembley this year. We’re never going to win the league but surely we could do more than send out a bunch of kids next season.
As a lifelong supporter since I was first taken to a game in 1967 I really don’t want the next time I make comments on the team to be as a supporter of a Championship club. Let’s all hope that the management can drag some sort of performance from the team starting against the Hammers this weekend and banishing any lingering relegation fears so that we can look to the summer with a bit more optimism.
You can follow Rob on Twitter @robblenx
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