I’ve woken up on this damp Bank Holiday Sunday to the news that Matt Rhead has handed in a transfer request, his second in as many weeks. I think the fact Rhead was unsettled was the worst kept secret in the city, not even a clever Bob Dorrian interview could throw us off the scent. I just can’t work out whether I’m upset or sending him off with my blessing.
My very first feeling upon reading the news was anger, purely because anyone who rejects our club in essence rejects the fans too, and I don’t handle rejection well. I remember when Daryll Clare allegedly drove to Lincoln with the intention of signing, but received a phone call and a better offer in the car park outside the ground: I immediately hated him from that day forth. Even typing his name made a little bit of sick come up into my throat. I hate Daryll Clare.
Matt Rhead has just had the best season of his career, scoring more times for us in one campaign than in over 100 appearances with Mansfield. Aside from a prolific spell with Congelton he hasn’t ever truly been a top goal scorer. It seemed very harsh to me for him to immediately want to cash in after one good season. After all CM gave him a two year deal for a reason and now he wants out it feels like a slap in the face. We ‘made’ him so to speak and now he wants to repay us by jumping on the cash express bound for the back water of Barrow in Furness. Terrific.
However once I moved on from that initial pang of ill feeling I began to see the bigger picture, something I’d already commented on in the past. Matt Rhead is 31 years old and so arguably has passed his peak of physical fitness, and lets be honest fitness isn’t what his game is about. If Barrow do come in with £90k, or even maybe £75k we’d be crazy not to take it. I’ve heard similar figures banded about for Akinola of Braintree and there is very little comparison between the two. Rhead’s star is as high as it will ever be now and I strongly doubt he’ll have another 20 goal season in his career. Someone young and hungry like Akinola or Dale Southwell would be an investment which could earn us big money. Besides we paid nothing for Matt Rhead, he doesn’t owe us anything.
When Barrow came in for Liam Hearn he immediately caved in and spoiled what could have been a great season for him. When the same money laden minnows made the call about Matt Rhead there was no fuss, no tantrums and no disappearing act. He stayed put, quietly and with dignity and continued to score goals. There are those who felt his latter season form wasn’t as strong as it could have been, but against Woking his introduction made a big difference. He never let the rumour or speculation affect the effort he put in and I think as fans we should respect that.
If you take away the goals (which seems silly to do with a striker, but bear with me) then what type of player is Matt Rhead? He’s strong but ultimately lacks mobility. He’s good in the air but rarely gets off the ground when challenging for the ball. He was an unknown quantity early doors, but eventually teams got to understand how to frustrate him and nullify his threat. Some fans argue that our dip in form came about because opposition defences got wise to him and we had no plan B. Going into this season those same teams know all about him and that’s why I doubt he’d get another 20 goals.
He’s undoubtedly a talented player when he wants to be, the overhead kick from outside the area and that delicious chip against Eastleigh prove that he can play a bit, but when you need a runner and someone willing to chase balls down then he isn’t your man. In games where we had a lack of possession last season having Rhead on the pitch was almost like having ten men. He did divide opinions, my old man hated him casting him as lazy, arrogant and slow. I liked him, I liked the way he drew defenders to him and allowed space for other players, and I loved his niggly tactics to unsettle keepers and defences. If the opposition fans hate one of your players it’s because they are effective, and there was lots of hate for Rhead. However when things got tough he was often anonymous, not through a deliberate lack of trying but through a lack of energy and stamina.
I never saw how he’d fit with the high energy philosophy of Danny Cowley though, his physique and lack of pace could have been mistaken for a lack of commitment. I envisaged him being an impact sub and a bit part player as a new young and vibrant Lincoln team emerges under the former Braintree boss. Danny Cowley openly stated they’ll be looking to sign young players, and with or without Rhead that would have meant at least one striker. If that striker was someone like Dale Southwell, someone who can run chase everything down, how long would Rhead have been a starter? I’d fully expect us to sign two or three forwards now, and I would put a months wages on them being young, hungry and full of running. Whether they get 20 goals in another thing entirely.
So I think it’s appropriate to thank Matt for his efforts last season, and for remaining focussed on the task when other weaker players would have had their heads turned. Whatever your personal thoughts on his style he did score a lot of goals, probably the goals that saved us from a relegation battle. He came for free and he really owes us nothing, especially given that a fee will come our way as well. At 31 he isn’t a Premier League star being greedy and following the cash, he a bloke just like me and I imagine he’s painfully aware that his career will come to an end in the next couple of seasons. He needs to go where the money is to set him up for life after the game, because he won’t be retiring and sitting back on a throne made of gold like Ashley Cole, he’ll be dropped into the real world of 9-5 and expected to cope. You can’t blame him looking for a few extra pound notes now his stock is worth more than it ever has been, and I certainly don’t begrudge him putting a few more beer tokens in his bank account in preparation for his life as a hod carrier once non league football ceases to pay his wages.
So good luck Matt, thanks for the memories and for the love of god don’t come back and score against us next season.