Tom Bevington’s latest article: we’ve lost the likes of Gary Cahill in recent years… and replaced him with Tim Ream…
Ever since the great Premier League days – which are quickly fading in the memories of youngsters like myself – our team has never really performed to the standard we expect.
Why? What critical players were never replaced as our Premier League “stars” rapidly leaked out of our team?
Unsurprisingly if you look at every area of the pitch, we`ve struggled. Defensively, we`ve lost a number of key players. In our relegation season Gary Cahill went in January for £7 million, with the club keen to gain some funds rather than lose him for nothing in the summer. In hindsight, losing such a key player in defence halfwaythrough the season has potentially cost the club far, far more than the £7m we got for him.
It`s unbearable to think that he could have been the difference between relegation and survival. Our survival ultimately came down to a failure to hold onto leads in the final 2 games of the season, with Cahill in our ranks it is very realistic that things could have turned out differently.
We managed to replace him somewhat with Craig Dawson, unsurprisingly his short loan spell at Bolton coincided exactly with our best Championship form. Like our relegation season, we lost him at the wrong time with 2 games to go in our Playoff bid. Those 2 games saw us gain 2 points when 3 would have guaranteed our Playoff spot. Dougie, of course, turned down the chance to extend his loan deal for the final 2 games, for ethical reasons, as
his didn`t feel right “bending” loan rules.
Nice one Dougie, that worked out really
well. That summer we failed to replace him and went to pot once more.
Looking past that season, many different reasons and people are responsible for our
failure to bounce straight back to the Premier League.
One of them is the failure to replace the likes of Gretar Steinsson, who was an established and reliable top flight full back and later on, Marcos Alonso. Obviously there wasn`t much we could
do to keep Alonso, but our compensation fee for what clearly is a high calibre player has been described as “small”. We don’t actually know what “small” means, but if we had to pay over £500,000 all in for Rob Hall, Alonso should have gained us a couple of million, such is his quality compared.
As a result of these departures, over the last couple of seasons we have looked short in the fullback department, leading to numerous short term loan signings, and players playing out of position.
In terms of performance this has led to a lack of aggressive pressing, and attacking intent from wide positions, which has been worsened because of our shortage of wide midfielders.
Many of the best teams in the world attack with a winger and a wingback on both sides of the pitch, and we have never had that.
Not too long ago, we had 4 “quality” wingers in the squad, legends Martin Petrov, and Ricardo Gardner, as well as Chungy and Chris Eagles. Eagles scored 12 leaguegoals in our first Championship season, it`s a shame how it turned out for him at Bolton, we definitely could have used those goals over the past 2 seasons.
Whatever you think of these players, no one can deny we had options, now we have just Liam Feeney as our only true wide midfielder, who has no hope of providing the creativity
that those men did on his own.
The final key area is the centre of midfield. The gritty, passionate players we once had at the spine of our midfield are no longer. Nigel Reo-Coker departed for Ipswich after we were relegated, a strange career move. Nonetheless in his only season at the Reebok he showed passion, leadership, and grit that we badly missed since. With a few months left in our final Premier League season, we were also left without Fabrice Muamba, who was an effective defensive minded midfielder. His loss could
have been the difference between relegation and survival. This was completely unforeseen, but the main thing is that he is still alive and well, football is completely unimportant in this case. That said, we miss him playing for us.
Although we have players to play at CDM, they aren’t of the same standard, and don’t have the
same grit or ability to nullify an opposition.
A recent article by LoVS suggested we should try to coax Joey Barton to come to the whites. He would be ideal, and his natural aggression, passion and leadership is something we desperately need.
Unfortunately seeing Joey Barton play for us isn’t likely. Although recent rumours suggest Neil Lennon wants to sign Wilson Palacios on a free transfer from Stoke. He`s a different player to Barton but would definitely be a quality signing, and would walk into our first team at CDM.
This clearly doesn’t cover every key player we`ve failed to adequately replace, that
considered, Neil Lennon has a big 6 weeks of business coming up.