This year’s hokey cokey

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I’m guessing that it’s got something to do with the European Championships taking up most of the media and players’ attention for the first part of the summer, but silly season hasn’t really got going as far as Latics are concerned. Links to a league of nations of strikers aside, there appears to have been something in most of the rumours involving Steve Bruce’s shopping list this summer.

In fact, touch titanium reinforced casing, Bruce seems to be having a fair bit of success with the players that have looked like serious links, but with Latics being Latics we’ve had our share of farce along the way.


First, and simplest, in was Daniel de Ridder. In what is a familiar pattern, the ex-Dutch U21 international was signed last season for Birmingham, by Steve Bruce. It’s a little worrying that he’d been deemed surplus to requirements by Alex McLeish, but then again so was Wilson Palacios and look where that signing got us.

If truth be told, it seems more likely that McLeish felt that de Ridder would be a luxury in the championship and was no doubt under pressure to reduce the wage bill ahead of any shopping he might want to do this summer. Whatever the ins and outs of the situation, Latics now have their own Muskahound and even if he doesn’t make a big impact on the squad de Ridder is likely to be in demand in the executive boxes come Ladies day.

The high point of de Ridder’s season at St. Andrews was possibly his performance in their dismantling of a rudderless Latics side. That game also featured the next of Bruce’s catches, Oliver Kapo, again, a player that Bruce had taken to Birmingham at the start of last season.

Links with Kapo started some time around Bruce joining Latics, and yet when it came to the chase it looked like they were determined to bugger it up.

In echoes of previous years, it appeared we had a player ready to join the club, but the realistic prospect that excessive haggling would bring the deal to a grinding halt. Word was that Latics wanted to do a player plus cash deal, but finally settled on a straight £3.5m (ish) price.

All done and dusted you might think, but no, Kapo had turned up late for pre-season training you see (albeit because he was in the hospital), and Karen Brady wasn’t going to transfer his papers until he’d handed over his fine. Not quite “erm, Steve was going to be here, but can’t make it” but an embarrassment all the same.

Technically that’s it on the signing front, but by the time this hits the information super-highway the third should be as good as onboard. He’s Amr Zaky and he’s seemingly a big star in Egypt, and, according to at least one measure and our tongue-in-cheek manager, the best striker in the world.

Of course there’s many a slip between African Nation Cup and lip, but 27 goals in 48 international games can’t easily be laughed off and neither can his starring role in Egypt’s successful ACN campaign this January. The bland aftertaste of Julius Aghahowa’s time at the club may stop people getting over excited but there’s a buzz in them there pyramids about this one.

Even if things don’t come off for Zaky, in the {big ironic speech-marks}best League in the World{big ironic speech-marks}there’ll not be too much lost for Latics. After much posturing, pouting and the threat of physical violence, he’s signed on a 1-year loan deal, costing £1.25m, more if he gets in the goals.

If he fails then it’s bye-bye, if he does well then it’ll cost us another £3m or so to finish the deal. Everyone’s a winner, as they say, except maybe the good name of Egyptian football.

Not so much on the in side of things, but signings all the same, word has to go out to Mike Pollitt for sticking around for another year and a big cheer for Dave Watson, who has managed, in all of a couple of months, what his predecessors had struggled with and got seven of the youth team onto first year pro deals. Add Lewis Montrose (with a year’s extension) to the mix and things are looking up on the “next Leighton Baines” front.

IM The big difference, so far, between this and the last two summers is that, this far, we don’t seem to have to be worried about losing any of our better players. The end of season fuss over Valencia and Palacios died down almost as soon as the whistle blew for kick off against United (strange that). Ok, so Paul Scharner might not have signed that contract yet, but neither have Bayern Munich tried to steal him away (curious and curiouser).

The players that have left were pretty much the (is deadwood too cruel a word?) of the squad last season. The aforementioned Aghahowa and Olembe have jetted off to Turkey, Skoko has disappeared into the ether and Granqvist’s itchy feet have taken him off to Holland.

It’s at this point that I‘d usually thank them for their efforts and send them on their way with a smile, but to be honest to do that with these would mostly be just out of politeness.
Skoko’s been around for a while now, without setting the world on fire. Probably a solid pro, the Aussie was never really going to help the club move forward. From day one he looked more a good Championship player than a Premier League one, thankfully we never got to find out.

I’m not sure why Chris Hutchings signed Olembe. It looked like he was short-term cover once Leighton Baines left, but then Kilbane got stuck at left back ahead of him. When he did make the side it was in midfield and his performances were, well, underwhelming. He never looked a bad player, but always looked like the best he’d get from you was a shrug, if you know what I mean.

Enough was said about Aghahowa last season and I don’t want to go over old ground. The excuses had pretty much run out for him and whether he wasn’t suited to the club, the league or the game hardly matters, suffice to say that in a season and a half he managed exactly none of what he was bought to do.

Granqvist is a bit of a different matter. He’s young and although he looked a little on the slow side he never did that much wrong. Whether he’d feature much ahead of the other centre-halves at the club is one thing, but with Bramble and Scharner about he must have fancied his chances, surely.

I’m sure that most of you would forgive me for forgetting to include Andy Webster on my list, but for the sake of completeness and the pedants amongst you, he’s finally made his move to Rangers permanent. Whatever went on is now over and it’s probably best to sweep the whole thing under the carpet.

Shake it all about
So that’s the clean cut moves out of the way, but there’s been plenty more been going on. Remember Maynor Figueroa? He was the Honduran left back who joined the club on loan last January, saw Kevin Kilbane preferred to him, but then got his debut against Man Utd on the last day of the season. Well, he might be back, he might be coming back or not. Certainly things have gone quiet on that front.

One player who won’t be joining him just yet, is his team mate back in (where?) Hendry Thomas. Despite playing kiss/chase for a couple of months, including a dirty weekend in Florida, it turns out that Thomas hasn’t played enough times for Honduras to get past the red tape at the Home Office.

That’s the end of t
hat then? Possibly not, word coming out of Honduras is that we bou

ght the lad anyway and, like the flash gits that we are, are looking to loan him out until he’s met the criteria. It might sound like someone is having a laugh, but a quick check of the Monaco website suggests that there’s some truth in the matter.

Amidst the expected multitude of strikers that the club have been linked with is one familiar face. He might have already made the club look daft once, but like a soppy teenage girl we’re back for more. Two years ago the price was £8.5 million and £50 grand a week, after a couple of average years it gone up and Everton are seemingly holding on for £12m.

Whether that’s his genuine value is one thing, but he’s English, an ‘international’ and under contract to his club. Neither him or Everton are willing to lose money by admitting they want a move, so anyone who’s interested will have to pay a premium or leave well alone. For me, Zaky represents an unknown quantity for next season and Bruce should be looking for a player whose abilities are known and will take minimal time to settle in.

Johnson fits that bill, and may do well at a ‘smaller’ club than Everton and alongside another forward rather than ploughing a lone furrow. Whether there’s better deals open to us at £12m is the question. If Johnson is genuinely prepared to join Latics then the answer is probably not, if he’s ready to use us to get what he really wants (a move to London?) again then why bother embarrassing ourselves.

Mainly through the Kapo deal, but Siberski, Kilbane and Taylor have all been linked with moves away. Chances are that they are all on the expendable list, but unless good offers are received none will move until replacements are on board.

It seems a different matter for Marlon King though, it looks like he’ll be joining Hull in the next couple of days after Cardiff decide that they couldn’t justify spending money on both his transfer and his wages. Seeing as that comes from the man who once had the most expensive fish tank in football (I don’t know, I might have been), you have to be concerned as to how much we’ve actually being paying him to not score goals.

I’m avoiding talking rumours, but needless to say they’ve been out there, none of them that exciting. Obviously, and tediously, the focus has been on strike power, but when the links come from as far and wide as Mexico and Qatar then you have to wonder what affect any of these men will have trying to ply their trade in this country.

Last up, let’s save a special word for Mr Scharner, he’s still not signed his new contract, none of the links have come to anything and it still appears that he wants to wait for the clamour to sign him once he’s available for pre-contract talks in January. Good luck with that Paul, here’s hoping that Steve Bruce doesn’t get bored of playing games with you and signs your replacement now, eh?

I’ve waffled on for way too long now, so I’ll sign off with a “How do?” to the new lads, a “Si thi” to the leavers and a “get it sorted” to those that are still humming and hah-ing

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