Three games in and the window has now SLAMMED shut (or would have if I’d been less lazy and finished this article three weeks ago) so it’s the perfect time to do a sort of a season preview. Isn’t it? Well maybe not, but the beginning of September is increasingly replacing the beginning of August as the best time to make an informed assessment of your team’s prospects for the season as whole.
Of course that’s all the fault of the transfer window and the massive game of chicken that masquerades as transfer deadline day. The world would surely be a better place if football got the majority of it’s dealings done before the season started but the growing influence of money men and the quest to get the best deal done seems to be pushing more and more of the summer transfers into that mad last 24 hours, preceded over by the increasingly mad Jim White.
But anyway, the dealing is done for another few months and we’ve got what we’ve got and here at PermTowers we’re reasonably happy with how our Aldi carrier bag is stuffed. Of course we wouldn’t be football fans if we were every totally happy with our team’s squad, but the reality is that not all of us get to cheat at real life Football Manager and missing out on Vladmir Weiss is a completely different kettle of fish from not getting Wesley Schneider, Alexis Sanchez and Gary Cahill.
The ideal for Latics this summer would have been to top up the fairly inevitable departure of Charles N’Zogbia with a permanent move out for Mauro Boselli. £9m isn’t the biggest transfer budget and any return on the £6m that appears to have been wasted in that direction would have put a few more bob in Bobby’s back pocket. Something that I imagine would have been more than welcome.
Especially seeing as £2m of any “warchest” had been ring fenced for improvements at Christopher Park and there would have been riots had Latics not picked up last season’s local hero Ali al Habsi, leaving all of £3m for him to play with.
Al Habsi represents my one big concern of this transfer window. His contribution last season cannot be underestimated, but £4m is a lot of money to spend on a keeper at any time, but it looks more risky with so little wriggle room on the balance sheet and other, potentially cheaper, keepers on the market.
So, how well did Bobby do with his pocket money? Probably about as well as can be expected, £3m doesn’t stretch too far these days and, despite being brassic, we’ve managed to bring in what looks like a fairly steady midfielder in Dave Jones, picked up the possibly enigmatic Shaun Maloney from Celtic and the interesting if he settles in Albert Crusat from Almeria as well as Patrick van Aanholt on loan from Chelsea.
None are exactly what you’d call a marquee signing but they all add depth to the squad in one way or another.
Apologies if you think I’m skimming over the signings (I am, I’m waiting to see just how good they are, and Robba Fett’s article the other week looked at each in more detail anyway) but I’d rather concentrate on a more interesting aspect of this summer’s transfer activity, the question of what happens to Charles N’Zogbia’s wages. Allegedly pushing the £50k per week mark and lined up with the salaries of Jason Koumas, Daniel de Ridder and Stephen Caldwell (along with, we assume, a bit of Mr Boselli’s) create a tidy little drop in that particular line of Latics’ accounts.
It could be left at that, heaven knows we need to balance the books. He could have looked for a juicy freebie (or cheapy) like Joey Barton or Shaun Wright Phillips, but they’d have just spent the next few years digging an escape tunnel. No, it seems that there’s something more canny going on in our Bobby’s head, something based on his intent to build something solid at Latics.
To build something solid, you need good foundations, something solid. That’s not necessarily been the business at Latics over the last seven or so years where we’ve seen a higher staff turnover rate than you’d get at your local McDonalds. We’ve been lucky to see players last out one contract, with only the odd one getting an extension or an improvement of terms here and there. The notion that a player might sign a second contract has pretty much fallen by the wayside.
But it seems that is exactly where the extra cash generated by this summer’s departures has gone. Already we’ve seen McCarthy, Watson and Boyce sign on for significant periods of time and if stories are true then similar offers are in front of other key players, including Victor Moses and Hugo Rodallega, and this is more than just some kind of “better the devil you know” approach or players trying to cream a few quid out of the club.
Getting a player to sign a new contract has a load of benefits, but as far as Latics go there are three key aspects, that highlight why this is a canny part of Bob’s plan to build a better, stronger club.
1) Familiarity breeds stability.
The constant churn of players over the last seven years has got more than a little bit wearing. It’s worn in the obvious departments like team spirit and players having to get to know each other again each season, but it’s also worn the fans. We by and large treat the players as strangers these days and highlight rather than embrace their failings, ou
r starting point is that they’re not going to be around long enough to get to know them and so don’t bother.
Given half a notion that they may be around for the long haul and we might just start o take the time understand them a little bit better, hell it might even work the other way around. If players think they’ve a chance of a second contract then we might see them work for it, and they may repay our new found patience with a little bit of loyalty.
2) It’s usually cheaper to keep something than to buy a new one
Providing that you keep with-in certain limits, it nearly always makes more sense to try and keep a player on the books than it is to buy a replacement. Charles N’Zogbia is perhaps an example of when it doesn’t with £60k being too big a chunk of our wage bill to be even trying, but when you consider how much it would cost to pick up a new Rodallega, McCarthy or Moses then we just couldn’t do it. We’d have to look to players like they were two years ago and then you’re taking a risk that they’ll even develop in the same way. That’s not to say that I don’t agree with the buy players to sell them on business model, just that it brings me on to my next point.
3) It’s better to be in a seller’s market
Now this one is a little bit difficult for clubs like Latics. We’re probably never going to make it to medium sized fish status and there will always be bigger clubs waiting to pounce on our players, but it’s harder for them to force the issue if our players aren’t quite so close to being able to walk away for nowt. Having that bit of additional bargaining power means we can ask more for our players, but also that we’ll be able to sell them at a ‘better’ stage of their career.
James McCarthy’s new contract will take him to the start of his prime; I don’t think that I’m being naive to say he’ll be worth more then than now. Watson’s will see him have his best years at the club so the same applies. Boyce’s might see him towards the end of his career but maybe that’s more about the first point than this one.
We’ve got a good set of lads on board now and imagine having the likes of McArthur, Moses and Rodallega tied down on similar terms to the above, you’ve then not only got a ready made player bank that can be cashed in on, if necessary, you’ve got the core of a good squad which means you can gamble on the odd mercenary with potential that can use the squad as a stepping stone whilst we cash in accordingly.
I appreciate that we’re only about half way through the plan that I’ve outlined above, but if we can get the other players signed up and tied down, then I reckon that we’ve had just about our most productive transfer window since we got in the top flight, and all for the price of a want-away winger.
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