A New Season Dawns
At the end of last season I was more confident than I was at the start but has that optimism survived the summer?

I said at the end of last season that I thought there might be a small number of arrivals and more departures from the squad in this window. I said we needed to move on Jones, Abdi, Westwood (only because we need the money and we have decent cover), Rhodes and Palmer if possible, to reduce the wage bill, lower the age of the squad and to reduce it in size. Well, we’ve manged to achieve one with another looking possible, 2 others were always going to be difficult given their age and wages, and once we accepted the offer for Hunt the last one couldn’t be done. Abdi is truly becoming the new Wim Jonk – he sat out a season getting paid and doing nothing in return too. I had hoped that Venancio might sign and maybe a CM but that’s out of the question until EFL are content to let us sign players – we’re not really in detention, but we have got to write out “must not sign too many injury prone, older players on high wages in future and if going to gamble with FFP make sure you have an escape plan” 500 times. Clearly our financial and Profit and Sustainability and FFP position is as tough as we feared it might be and we are not therefore entirely in control of our own destiny. For the best piece I have seen on where we might be with EFL just now read https://www.mikethornton.xyz/new-ffp-tests/

The injury situation has improved a bit with Hutch and Fletcher back in harness but the futures of Lee and Hooper still look uncertain, and Winnall is a good while away yet from kicking a ball in anger, even if he is wanted/fits in. And of course we don’t know what the due process from the Mansfield Town allegations will result in, at worst it could be very difficult. So the squad, whilst having some good parts, also looks to be lacking in depth and quality in some areas. It’s probably the defence that worries me most as I am concerned about Palmer, about Van Aken and about cover at LWB We are a club in transition towards a new reality and operating model but we need next summer’s transfer window in which 12 players are out of contract to open up the possibilities for significant renewal.

 I only saw the Villareal game in pre-season, I thought we were out-classed overall but we did ok in the 1st half and  should have scored more goals in the 2nd half, but our defending worried me considerably;  I thought Van Aken in particular was all over the place. For me Pudil and Hutch need to be there with Lees as the starting three. So what will happen in 2018/19?   We could see a repeat of 1996/97 when a workmanlike squad that was embellished with Carbone’s brilliance and Blinker’s directness finished 7th in the PL, or it could be 2000/2001 (the infamous PL return ticket) when, burdened with an expensive squad that we couldn’t afford but no one else wanted, we finished 17th in the Championship. We can but hope that it is the former! All this of course is predicated on the basis that we hold on to our better players which clearly can’t be guaranteed as the transfer window moves towards closure. It looks like we will go with either 3-5-2 for some games and 3-4-3 for others which generally served us reasonably well at the end of last season, but we need to tighten up at the back a bit. Taking all things into consideration I think we are a mid-table squad that has the capacity to challenge for a play-off place if we have a fair wind with injuries and suspensions, but it’s no more than that. Our club is at best standing still whilst other clubs are moving forwards.

There is entirely justified anger at the mess the FL has got the Championship into. We daren’t say a word to the PL for fear of losing so-called solidarity payments and we allow the PL to dump clubs into the Championship with the massive financial doping advantage of parachute payments; which either buys them promotion or distorts the transfer and wages market for Championship level players. This context encourages clubs without parachute money to gamble the P&S (FFP) rules in order to try and compete. If you don’t succeed, or if you manage the gamble badly, your club ends up like us – after 2 years of gambling the solids hit the air-conditioning and major restructuring is needed. This is what Forest have done and, now out of their FFP purdah, with a new owner, they feel emboldened to gamble again, but maybe with more of a Wolves type model than ours. It feels like to compete with the parachute clubs you have to be:

  • A boom and bust club that has a go for 2/3 years – Fulham. And if it fails has to re-trench - Us
  • An astute gambler that leaves options open if it fails by having players with value to sell - Wolves
  • A smart club that’s well run and everything falls into place in one season - Huddersfield

I am pleased the club have organised a Fan’s Forum for 6th August as it was just unfair on JL for him to be in the headlights of questioning re our financial position and a possible transfer embargo. I think everyone in football knows our position so there’s no need to be coy, I can’t see how we are strengthening a negotiating position when other clubs know already we need to sell players. Yes, we have to get the balance right and not encourage piles of negative coverage about the club but I think we have to positively manage fan expectations so as not to build up pressure, and try to build a backs to the wall mentality within and outside the club in which we have to all dig in and be together for the club to try to prosper in difficult circumstances. At least the stripes are back and kits are on sale! Anyway it will be interesting to hear what Mr Chansiri has to say on Monday and also interesting to hear the views of fans being directly expressed.

Has the optimism engendered by the last few weeks of 17/18 maintained itself to the eve of 18/19? Overall yes it has, but it is tempered with the reality of our position re the squad, finances and FFP. I have no massive expectations for the season ahead, I am looking for us to be competitive and give it a go, we won’t be at the top end of the league but I think with a bit of luck we still have enough quality to make a go of it. Massive change is coming in the summer of 2019 and we don’t know what will happen then so let’s see if we can make a decent challenge now and, with a bit of luck, be in the shakedown for a play-off place come April and May. It's backs to the wall time! Onwards to a tough start at newly promoted Wigan who will have momentum too.

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