… feel the quality.
I think I’ve written before about the difficulties that clubs like Latics face when trying to achieve that poisoned chalice that is supposedly essential to get anywhere in football these days, strength in depth. Not only do they have the financial problems of balancing the wage bill, but there’s another set of problems involved in convincing players that a place on our bench is a good thing.
The upshot of this is one of two things. You either end up with a small squad that has some quality but is vulnerable to injury and loss of form or you have a larger squad of mainly average players. When it comes down to it, both options require a fingers crossed approach to getting through the season.
Step up the division a little bit and the picture is different and clubs are able to manage a larger squad. Mostly these sides have a core first team supplemented by another group of players that are either too young, too old or too average to command a regular first team place, but are more than able to step up to the plate when required.
You need an extra bit of money to do that, as well as a reputation that means that young players think they can develop you and the rest think that being in your reserves carries as much kudos as playing week in week out at another, probably lesser club.
You also need a management team who is able and willing to put the work in to do the work involved managing the egos involved and command enough respect so that the players don’t kick off. Whether because they trust the right decisions will be made or because they’re scared to speak up barely matters, it’s about keeping the players around to get the chance to prove that they should have been in the team all along, or at least try to.
That situation represents a step up for Latics, one that they’ve clearly failed to manage, thus far at least. For whatever reason (although you can bet at least one of the above applies). It can be argued that the quality of players at Latics has improved over the last few years, but to the same extent that neither Jewell nor Hutchings succeeded in building the squad either by keeping players on or by attracting the right sort of fringe players to the club.
I might be talking too early but things seem to be looking up on that front.
On transfer activity, we might not be looking at a numerical advantage (but then again, the players that have left were pretty much the last resort in terms of first team selection) but the players that have come in all bring their own qualities and, in the case of Kapo and De Ridder, there are no indications that any of the players who will be challenging for the same positions are about to jump ship.
The watershed in this may prove to be the signing of Lee Cattermole. Reactions to the accepted bid may be mixed on Teesside but mostly the debate seems to centre on whether Boro need to sell to spend rather than whether the lad offered anything to their squad.
So here we are, probably for the first time, signing a squad player from another Premier League team, not because he’s better than what we have, not because he’s surplus to requirements but because he adds to the strength of our squad and has potential to develop into something more.
I don’t know whether Cattermole is better than Brown and you can bet that they both have something to offer. Valencia and Kapo might have first dibs on their shirts, but you can bet that De Ridder and Koumas will be breathing down their necks waiting for a slip up. It even seems as if we could end up with a battle between Zaky and Camara for the title of best African striker at the club.
Hutchings and Jewell might have talked about two players for each position, but in reality all we’ve had before is cover. In the past, Latics first eleven has pretty much picked itself, debates on best left backs (which we might get again, if Figueroa ever turns up) aside, but maybe this year we’re looking at something different, and in at least a few positions we could have genuine competition for places.
The shopping hasn’t finished and the situation could end up quite differently, a couple of the ‘wrong’ players leaving here, a couple of panic buys there and the squad could be looking mightily familiar come 1st September, let’s hope not though, or it could end up being yet another long season.
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