By Alex Scott
Part two of Alex’s assessment of what the players will be aiming to achieve this season (part one is here).
Alan Connell is a tricky one. He’s not played at this level in a while, and the last time he was here he bagged two in 34 appearances. He was in basically this same exact spot a year ago with Swindon and got bombed down back to League Two. So I’d imagine he has a lot to prove to himself, to break out of his mould.
But what would he class as a successful year? It’s hard, because if I were him I’d be massively, if silently, bitter and frustrated, and desperate for Wells to do one sooner rather than later. But he’s shown none of that selfishness. We can infer that he’s a better person than me. So maybe being in a successful side, coming off the bench often and bagging 10-12 goals would do him fine? Perhaps just getting a proper run in the side at some point?
Then again, maybe I’m undervaluing the SuperSub label? Connell is invariably on the pitch at full time, in the position to score the important goal to turn a draw into a win (Torquay), or a loss into a draw (Aldershot). Isn’t that the most fun role to play? Always being in the position for glory? In addition, he should be able to preserve his fitness, and future career prospects, more effectively than a comparable every-week starter. But those players get paid more. And Connell is out of contract this summer.
Turning 31 this season, you’d think if he was ever going to get a decent payday as a starting centre forward, it sort of has to be now. For Connell to set himself up (at Valley Parade or elsewhere), he needs a run of games, and more than that he needs to prove he can carry the load as an every week goal-scoring number ten at this level. As much as I like him, and I really do like him, that is still a question. And when you put yourself in the shoes of a League One manager next summer, it’s one I need answering before I target Connell as a free agent.
If he can answer that, whilst also keeping the wear off the tires, he will be in a great spot headed toward next summer.
Carl McHugh only received a one-year deal in the summer, to the surprise of some. With Wells and Hanson (the last two great prospects brought through the club) being locked up on long-term deals relatively quickly, it was notable that McHugh’s commitment was only for a year. Now this could tell us that the club don’t rate him as a “great” prospect, which is perfectly possible. Or maybe he thinks that being a free agent next summer, at only twenty one years old, will be a good thing. If that’s what he thinks, I’d be inclined to agree. I always think the argument that “Oh Player X should stay and continue his development with us (Team Y) and move later” is a crock, masking personal bias with faux-rationality. If Player X can get into a better situation elsewhere, he should go.
But in the case of McHugh, I think that point is sort of valid. The management have shown the ability to mould and grow players under their tutelage, with McHugh himself a decent enough example of that. He’s also one injury away of starting for what should be a-sort-of-decent League One team. At twenty, that’s a pretty good spot to be in. Then he can survey the surroundings next summer. It would have been a bit reckless to sign a three-year pact here in June after the arrival of Michael Nelson, and the re-signing of Davies, leaving him fifth in the ranks for centre half, which I imagine is his ideal position.
It’s definitely a more lucrative position moving forward. If McHugh can stay fit, play 15 or so games to a decent level, he could easily make a switch to a lower-Championship team next summer as a prospect, and still have time on his side to establish himself. Or stay and be a “First-Change” centre half at Valley Parade. The Irishman’s hand is strong, and there is no reason to go all in just yet. A season checking round the table should do him just fine.
Andy Gray has had a tough start to his Valley Parade return. Coming in mid-season is never easy, especially when you’re expected to sell Nahki Wells and not look terrible in comparison. Then he gets injured in pre-season taking away any and all momentum he would have been looking to build up. So now what? He’s due to arrive back in the squad in August or September, a couple months behind everyone else, and without a clearly defined role in the side.
He isn’t the SuperSub, the guy you go to when you need a goal. He’s never really been that. He can’t play with Hanson or Connell without the side around him improving their ability to play without an out ball over the top. He hasn’t shown the ability to replicate Hanson alongside Nahki Wells, although that should be within his capabilities. So what is his role? In what way can he succeed? He is out of contract in the summer, and on the slide down the leagues. If he can somehow show enough in fitness and goals to entice another League One or more likely, League Two side to offer him a one-year deal as a starter next year, I’d imagine he’d take that.
Nominal club-captain Ricky Ravenhill is in a similar spot to Gray. A solid run toward the back-end of last season replacing the exhausted Doyle masked a disappointing season for Ravenhill, and his relative limitations were exposed in the play offs when Nathan Doyle acted as the catalyst to push City to reach their potential. Since then Jason Kennedy has been recruited, and Ravenhill has slid down the pecking order once more.
He has a limited skill set, but he can absolutely play a useful role, but in this team it’s questionable whether that role is wanted. Maybe a couple of injuries, and his appearance in the team either improving or not detracting from the output could prove his worth as he enters the free market would be a decent success measure, but is that likely in League One? It’s clear that the harder the situation the team is in, the more dogged the approach needed, the better for Ravenhill. So maybe he should be rooting for some adversity out of the gate? More likely he will find a new home next summer where he can be in a position to actually succeed, rather than just be.
Tuesday saw the culmination of the Raffaele De Vita transfer saga, (to the extent as a fait as accompli as that could be classed as a saga), with the Italian penning a one-year deal at Valley Parade, and one would imagine, heading into the squad for Saturday. Only 25, De Vita has made almost 75 appearances in the last two seasons for Swindon; two seasons in which they got promoted and lost in a League One Play Off Semi Final. He rated out quite highly in the excellent Swindon Town website, “The Washbag”‘s Player of the Season Awards, as well as appearing frequently in this goals analysis piece from halfway through last season, and this from around the same time. He started the vast majority of games last year until Paolo Di Canio’s departure (with the side top of League One), before falling out of favour late in the season during Kevin MacDonald’s ill-fated tenure.
I don’t really know how to mark Luke Oliver’s success measures either. He was at the peak of his powers twelve months ago, now none of us know where he is at all. He has no positional versatility, and is fourth choice centre half. He will rarely make the bench unless Nelson is injured, as McHugh’s versatility will outgun him. He’s also coming off a horrific injury, and is on the back nine of his career.
If Luke can stay fit, and demonstrate as such in whatever opportunities he can get his hands on, he may be able to play his way back up the defensive ranks, he has shown the ability, and was preferred over McArdle last year at centre half. If not, he’ll be looking to show others watching that he has recovered fully from his injury, and able to play again at something close to where he was. I’m rooting for him.
I’ve left Nahki Wells to the end because I don’t really want to write about his aims for the season as they will make me sad. Disclaimer out front: I am the biggest Wells fan, and apologist, around. No one here thinks he has more potential than I do. No one overlooks his weaknesses as blindly. I want him to stay here until next summer, because I like him, and I like watching him, and I don’t really care about obtaining “value” at this point. But if you’re Nahki Wells, and you are at Bradford City this time next year, will this season have been a personal success?
Forgetting meaningless clichés and criticisms for a second, if he hasn’t outgrown us in the next twelve months, something has gone wrong. If I’m the Bermudian (I’m not), I’ve got my eyes firmly placed on the top of the Championship. This season is an act of personal demonstration to show those teams watching that he is worth investing in. He doesn’t owe us a thing. If he starts the season well, proving his merit at this level, he could (and probably should) go in January.
Like so much of the squad, he is playing for the shop window, as he did for most of last year, and we benefit from that. That is not a problem for the fans or the club. No one wants him to stay more than me. But I also want him to achieve his potential, and delusions of grandeur aside for a moment; he can do that far better and far more effectively than at Valley Parade. Nahki Wells could be a star, and is our best player. Now is the time for him to start achieving his potential, wherever that needs to happen.
The looming instability of next summer will be an interesting prism through which to watch this season. Everyone’s eyes will be fixated on it. With everyone playing for something, the desire should be high, and the club should benefit. And as long as the manager hangs around, it should be fine anyway, he has shown his recruitment skill many times over. But for some of these players that will be of scant consolation. Now is their time.