So the window has now “slammed shut” as they say on Sky Sports and our business – free agents apart – is done. How have we done?
It’s important to state at the outset of this piece that what follows is purely the opinion of me, a long term fan. I have no insider knowledge and I can only summarise what I personally see in front of me. Other people may disagree with my assessment of players. In fact I’d expect that, it’s a game of opinions and that’s one of the things I love about football. Nor do I seek to explain WHY certain things happened. That would be pure speculation.
That said, I posted publicly on NSC on Wednesday to say our window had so far been a 6 out of 10 but that we had the opportunity to make it a 9 on deadline day. Sadly, in my humble opinion, we’ve dropped to a five and, if I was a betting man (which I am) who put money on my own team (which I don’t), I’d have a sizeable wedge on us going down. That’s an opinion that needs backing up, so let’s take a look at where we are, position by position.
This is where all our problems begin sadly. For whatever reason (and he’s publicly said it was contract length and “family first”) Stockdale didn’t feel able to sign a new contract (more of this right at the end). From that moment we seemed behind the eight ball. We broke our transfer record on a man who appeared to be third choice at Valencia and has not settled well. While it’s important to stress here that our other new signings have the time and potential to rescue this window, nothing I’ve seen of Ryan inspires any confidence at all. He is too small and parries everything, and the much vaunted distribution seems to be non-existent. Yes he makes good reflex saves but he’s going to have to because we’ll be doing much more defending than last season. It’s no good saving from one striker only to push it out to a second.
Clearly Hughton doesn’t have a lot of confidence either because, on deadline day, we brought in Tim Krul. Now Krul I like, a proven Premier League keeper who knows CH well, and he will immediately challenge for a starting position. However, we had to take him on loan, using up our second loan from a Premier League and meaning the striker deal almost certainly had to be a permanent move.
This is one area where we now have two players challenging for every position, which is what saw our success last season. I have never seen Schelotto play so cannot rate this particular signing, but having another right back also gives us the flexibility to play Bruno as centre back if injury or suspension so dictates. At this stage I cannot call who’ll be the starting RB. Dunk and Duffy were an obvious area where we already had Premier League class and I’m going to go against some opinions and state that what I’ve seen of Suttner I like. He’s solid rather than world beating but seems to have a decent delivery. Our issue is going to be cards. We’ll pick up a fair few bookings at this level and suspensions could eat in to our depth. Schelotto or Bruno paired with Duffy, Dunk and Suttner looks ok. A four of Bruno, Goldson, Hunnemier and Bong less so.
Another area of strength and the one area where the new season excites me. March and Knockaert were born for this level and will create mayhem against the lower sides in our “mini league”. I like very much what I saw of Brown against Atleti, though this is the first instance where our infamous bad luck struck us down, with Brown getting injured less than a half in to the new season. Izquierdo is a genuinely exciting signing. I watched him play against Leicester in the Champions League last season and his pace is electric (he scored a cracker too). No worries so far in this department, with the exception that we cannot reasonably play all four at the same time.
Now we come to a grey area, where players are going to have to adapt quickly. Loaning out Norwood wasn’t a surprise and Sidwell brings a wealth of experience at this level. However, Stephens has started off slowly, an issue exacerbated by another unlucky injury to Kayal, who we’ve failed to replace. Propper initially excited me, having seen his PSV form, but he looks like he’ll need time to adapt. Right now he’s a clone of Stephens only without the ball retention skills. He may well be used to having stronger, faster players ahead of him. Oh dear. Then there’s Groß. Is he a number 10 or a number 8? Played in behind the striker (and occasionally alongside so it seemed against City) he may be in the wrong category here. Either way, again there is a bit for me to get excited about. There were some lovely touches and dead balls against Atleti and a lot of running against Man City. Not the quickest but he may well be someone who can unlock the door for a quick striker. Again, oh dear.
Baldock (injured), Murray (maybe injured) and Hemed. That’s what we have. We got away with it in the Championship, indeed all three scored more than anyone expected at the start of the season. If Baldock was fit I’d even be thinking we could squeak through. Sadly we are going in to one of the toughest leagues in the world with two very similar strikers and nothing else.
It’s here that the buying from abroad strategy looks weakest, yet it’s also here where it might be the most necessary. British players cost and British strikers cost too much. Nevertheless our business here looks risky to say the least. No one had seen Dwamena play and he might have been a revelation. Certainly his highlight reel made the mouth water. But when you come down to plain facts we were offering eight million for a guy who’d cost Zurich a reported three percent of that figure in the previous window and had lit up the Swiss second division. Zurich say the heart defect we found had been found by them also and it seemed there was no guarantee of a work permit. Once this deal fell through, and we have to take our club’s word over Zurich and wish the player well, we were always behind the game – a game we ultimately lost at 1am this morning.
Another big positive that people are forgetting. Some of the key players from last season have been rewarded with new long term contracts, cementing them in the team, costing the club (for that read Tony Bloom) money and boosting their sell on value. This is certainly a continuation of #Together and should not be overlooked.
However, all of that said the lack of a striker signing (again!!!!!!) will hang over this window and I simply cannot see us scoring enough goals. If we’re looking relegation candidates come January then it will be even harder to attract quality.
All in all we’ve done what my wife does in Tesco’s when she’s a bit tired and the kids have been giving her grief. We need eggs. Everyone in the house loves an egg and there isn’t one to be had anywhere so a trip to the shops is called for, despite the fact it’s late at night. An hour later she returns with a bag full of things that were reduced by a pound, things that were two for the price of one and things that will “come in handy”. But no eggs. And now the store is closed.