The Knowns and the Unknowns
With safety now secured, what lies ahead?

I was in the Algarve on Easter holiday for the defensive catastrophe at QPR and the win at Hull. I kept up with developments via Twitter and Live Score; for the first half of the Hull game over lunch and a beer, and the second half whilst simultaneously watching Quateriense take a first half lead in a 2-0 win in the semi-professional Algarve League! Much relief all-round that we got the result we needed to secure safety with 3 games to spare, and that Jordan Rhodes had a decent game plus hitting the net. Following the Bristol debacle I would have taken safety after the last game of the season but to have it now is excellent. The weight that had been previously resting on JL’s shoulders was all too evident after the Hull game when he looked a different man with a smiling face.

I have referred previously to the comparison of JL and Meggo in their respective first seasons at S6 – they both came in with the club in a bit of a mess and with 20 league games left. Meggo, after 17 games had W5 D4 L8 with JL at W5 D5 L7, not a great deal of difference there then; Meggo finished off with W1 D1 L1 and we will see what JL will do over the last 3 games. In the following summer, despite tight resources, Meggo built the core of the side that won promotion in 2012, if JL could achieve a similar feat he will be a bit of a hero. JL had a really difficult gig when taking over our hot seat due to the loss of confidence and the scale of injuries, added to this was his inexperience of the Championship. I recognise that we have had some really duff performances during his time with us but I think he has done enough to deserve our support for a new season in 18/19. He should have the opportunity to show us what he can do after a close season.

Where we will go from here is anyone’s guess really. The Championship is a really tough league both football wise and financially. It would be great if clubs were at least 51% owned by fans, if FFP meant that clubs had to break even each year and owners were not allowed to fund losses with loans, and if PL clubs didn’t have £40m of parachute payments. We would then have a level playing field that was only distorted by a clubs ability to attract attendances for home games and the consequent cash that goes with it. But we don’t have any of that. In fact we have a field that is as level as Sheffield’s Seven Hills, particularly due to parachute payments for some clubs and the limits of FFP affecting others. A club has to be very smart to plot a way through it, such as Brighton and Huddersfield did by bringing together good recruitment, a top manager, a team with an identity and a ‘one club’ mentality. Unfortunately since May 2016 our recruitment hasn’t been good enough, neither have our players/managers, injuries have done enormous damage, the team has lost the identity it had in 15/16 and we have been a divided club and fanbase.

There are so many unknowns about the future that it is simply impossible to make suggestions about who should go, stay or arrive on the playing front. I assume that JL will be here as he is now talking about what needs to change for next season, including that things have to be done differently regarding fitness. The unknowns include:

  • How will we approach compliance with FFP? Go for broke? A rabbit out of a hat? A managed reduction in expenditure? And over what period?
  • Will we contemplate selling players? Either for financial and/or squad re-freshening reasons? If yes which ones?
  • Will we have to give some players away or write off contracts to reduce the wage bill?
  • Will we receive unwelcome offers for some players that we have to accept because we need the money, or because the player wants to go?
  • Which currently injured players will be able to make it back to the sustained fitness levels needed?
  • What money will be able to afford for new signings?
  • Will we exploit the Premier League loan market more aggressively?
  • Will our recruitment be more effective that it was in summer 2016 and 2017?
  • How many players from the Development Squad are ready to step up?

We know that we need a refreshed squad and that we need to reduce the age balance of it. We know the timescale for when the transfer window shuts. But in some respects we will not be entirely masters of our own destiny given the some of the unknowns. When you look at all of this I think we have to be realistic about our expectations for next season. At the moment I believe it will take 2 or possibly 3 transfer windows to do the business we need to do. We might have a fantastic summer and be fit and firing for a promotion battle – I hope we are – but I suspect that won’t be the case. My gut feeling is that if we are 13th or above at 1st January 2019 we will have done well and that might give us an outside chance for a late run at a play-off place at best.

Whilst the summer window malarkey goes on the club also need to find a way to try to bring us back together as a club and fanbase all pulling in one direction because that will be needed next season. The club needs to send out a clear and realistic message about what is possible next season and try to engage fans in playing their part – creating something that they can feel part of, not something that they just interact with as customers. We need to see there's a plan that has credibility. The team needs an identity, the club needs a philosophy – fans need something to believe in, not just loyalty to club. As fans we need to be more patient and understanding, and less trigger happy to fire off criticism at the club, players and staff at every little thing that goes wrong, there will be a few of those of time and we will have to get used to them. Patience will be needed.

In the short term we can all chill a little bit and try to enjoy rather than endure what is left of the season. Relax whilst you can!

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