The season which starts tomorrow will be the third for this blog and, just as in the other two, I’ve set out what the next nine months might hold for the club off the field, our manager and our team during the week before the big kick off. However, increasingly I find myself thinking that the time to do such a review of the team’s chances is the first week of September when the current transfer window has closed. As things stand, the season starts with a kind of halfway house which lasts four weeks as teams await players earmarked to play a crucial role for them and/or include some who are widely expected to depart the club at sometime this month. It looks like the latter will certainly be true of our first opponents, West Ham, on Sunday because, increasingly, it seems we could be facing the likes of Scott Parker, Mark Noble, Carlton Cole and Robert Green who have all been linked with a return to the Premiership this summer – I’m guessing Sam Allardyce won’t be the only Championship manager wondering what sort of performance he’ll get out of some of his big name players this weekend, will they be giving their all or will they be looking to take things a bit easier and not risk picking up an injury that could wreck their chances of a return to the top flight?
As far as City are concerned, apart from the occasional rumour we’ve had about Peter Whittingham and Jon Parkin, there’s nothing to indicate that any of those currently here will not stay with us beyond this month. Some of the younger players who are not really first team candidates may be loaned out, but, essentially, Malky Mackay is one of those managers looking to add to his squad rather than facing up to the loss of some of his better, but very highly paid, performers. Our manager talks of one or two new players coming in during this month or, possibly, early next month in the loan window, but given that he often talks of twelve players having gone out and nine come in so far this summer, I wouldn’t be surprised if that “one or two” is actually two or three – or even three or four.
I don’t think there is any doubt about the identity of one of the players we are looking to bring in. Craig Bellamy, seemingly, wants to come here again and, for what it’s worth, the Media Wales hacks talking here believe that, firstly, Malky Mackay wants it to happen (he has no doubts concerning the sort of influence Bellamy may have in the dressing room) and, secondly, that it will happen. With our manager being diplomatically tight lipped on the matter at the moment, this is no more than speculation, but it’s hard to avoid the feeling that a poker game of sorts is being played out here by Bellamy and his employees. There has to be a decent chance that Man City will eventually decide that, although the money they will save is chicken feed by their standards, it might well be worth their while loaning him out once more to us so that we will pay part of his wages again. Alternatively, his parent club may even pay up a portion of his deal so allowing him to come here as an out of contract player.
I might be wrong, but the fact that, after July being a month which saw pretty frantic dealing, albeit justified in the circumstances, in the transfer market for the club, Malky Mackay appears to be adopting a more patient policy in which he waits to get his men in August suggests that he views these as, potentially, very important players for us over the coming nine months. Rather than look to get more, possibly inferior, players in quick, he seems prepared to go with a squad which he acknowledges is not big enough yet to wait for what he sees as the right players to become available – with what looks like a pretty testing set of fixtures to be played this month, there has to be a risk that we will find ourselves in a poor position come late August/early September, but with just under 90% of the season still to be played at that time, it’s hardly as if the position would be irretrievable.
There are confused signals as to whether there is the money available to be spent on substantial transfer fees or not. The fact that we, reportedly, bid £2 million for David Goodwillie (who signed for Blackburn yesterday) and that Malky Mackay has admitted enquiring about Nottingham Forest’s Luke Chambers, who would surely cost the club a seven figure fee, suggests that there is, but, if we do have to find £30 k plus a week for Bellamy’s wages (I’d also expect us to try and arrange some sort of permanent deal with Slovan Bratislava for Filip Kiss in the January window if his loan spell is going well), then, perhaps, loan signings might be the way we have to go?
If that is the case, then it’s encouraging that Malky Mackay seems to have had the ability to attract a better quality of young loan player to Watford than we were able to manage over the period he was in charge of that club. Leaving aside Aaron Ramsey and Craig Bellamy (who were both special cases), players such as Tom Cleverley, Henri Lansbury, Jordon Mutch and, not forgetting, Andrew Taylor made more of an impact at Watford than any of the other young loan signings (and, arguably, the senior ones as well) we made over the previous last two seasons – it appears that our new manager is both well connected and trusted to handle the players he is loaned in the right way. Therefore, I’d like to think that any loan signings we make would be an improvement on Eddie Johnson, Kelvin Etuhu, Andy Keogh, Danny Drinkwater and the rest and that they would make a real impact on the first team rather than the peripheral figures that most of our previous loanees have been.
As of now though we have squad which includes only the nine new players (ten if you include the returning Anthony Gerrard I suppose) and so it’s probably best not to get ahead of ourselves and speculate how things will go once we’ve got a few more of the right quality in – it might be that, for whatever reason, we will have to make do with what we have got, so how would the current squad fare over a forty six match campaign? If you look at the different components of the team compared to last season, I don’t think things look as bad as some would argue. In goal, Marshall and Heaton might have their critics, but I’d say there are plenty of Championship clubs who’d like to have a pair of keepers of their quality – as long as they avoid injury, then things have to improve in that position compared to the situation we saw at the end of last season. As far as the back four goes, we could do with a bit more pace in central defence, but the return of Gerrard and the introduction of Taylor has to mean that we are stronger there as long as those who played for us last season, broadly, maintain their standards from then. Midfield is tougher to judge – we don’t have many wingers or natural wide players and an on song Seyi Olofinjana would take some replacing, but, I enjoyed what I saw against Parma from our midfield and I’d like to believe that we will have more strength in depth there and be more of a cohesive unit.
The area that I feel least confident about is up front. Our preferred pairing are both over thirty and much of the success they have enjoyed during their careers has been down to their pace. Experience can compensate for any loss of pace that Earnie and Miller may suffer from over the coming months, but I think we are relying an awful lot on Kenny Miller being able to reproduce his Rangers form in the blue of Cardiff. I’d not rule out Joe Mason and, possibly, Rudi Gestade making an impact this season, but, as things stand, we have lost five players who contributed a total of sixty one goals last season and, looking around the squad as it is now, I’m struggling to see how we’ll come up with them this time around. This is the main reason why I see us as a team destined to finish in the eighth to fourteenth range of the league at the moment – we could be in for the sort of season we used to have in the early years under Dave Jones where we would be play off candidates for some time before tailing off as a lack of squad depth counted against us – but, with those two or three additional players I talked about, then my expectations might begin to change!