I know the list it isn’t out yet, but there’s a real indication of the calibre of our squad in this season’s retained list, in that it isn’t very big at all!
In years gone by we’ve been sweating on players, right back to Keith’s era. Sometimes we’ve been worried about losing them, in some cases (Mo Fofana) we’ve been worried about keeping them. This season, bar perhaps two names, there’s no real controversy or discussion to be had. All of our top players are on deals to keep them at the club, any departures will be for money and will probably be planned and we’re in a position where we’re simply building, not rebuilding.
Last season, Exeter last Ollie Watkins and Ethan Ampadu and had to patch up some of their top seven side, this season they remained in the top seven. Now, we’re keeping the skeleton of our team and adding just a few bits here and there, we’re likely to be in the same position again next season as a bare minimum. Going out of the play offs hurt, but it wasn’t a disaster, not by a long shot.
Firstly, shall we deal with a name that is NOT on the retained list. There’s been no announcement, but you’ll notice Nathan Arnold is contracted until the end of next season. I’ve not chatted to Nathan for a while, besides him wishing me luck with my op, so I don’t know whether the intention is to stay or not, but finally it seems clear that at some point he has been given a one-year extension to the deal he signed when he first joined us. It is my sincerest hope he remains as a Lincoln player, happy to be used sparingly if need be, but still having an impact. He’s clearly got another path mapped out too, one helping young people across the world through his own experiences and I hope he can continue to do that whilst being available for us.
That may be controversial, but I recall matches at home against Coventry or away at Rochdale where he showed he is a League Two quality player, no matter what anyone thinks.
The two names that will spark a bit of discussion are Sean Long and Elliott Whitehouse. I’ll start with Sean, possibly the unluckiest player in the squad. The clear assumption was that he would be our first-choice right back. He was handed the number 2 shirt, he played their in pre-season and turned in good performances too. He’s got the potential to be a sound player and with a full season under his belt he might just have been on a longer deal already. Instead, just before the season in which he was going to break through started, we sign a former Welsh international and former Premier League player still essentially in their prime.
Sean’s season was ruined not by injury, not by his own form, but by pure chance that we attracted a player of Neal Eardley’s calibre to the club. Whenever Sean dropped in the side he looked hungry and fit, but his chances have been limited. I guess much rests on the player and what he wants to do next. I can envisage him being offered a one-year deal to remain at the club, but then much depends on the other offers put to him. Given his limited game time I’d expect the options would be outside the Football League and I hope he chooses to stay as a back up. I’m not convinced James Wilson is a right back, I think Danny was maybe trying that out as the season died down to see if he could free up a squad space with Sean, but I don’t think the experiment worked.
My fear is around Elliott Whitehouse, a player who has won lots of fans but hasn’t really settled into any consistency or rhythm. He’s a likeable lad, but then I write that about a lot of our players. He’s down to earth, he works hard when he’s given a chance and in some games, he looks really good. He shone in the 3-1 win against Grimsby and he’ll forever be remembered as the player who scored our first ever Wembley goal.
Football is not a sentimental game though and if Elliott (pictured top) is offered a deal it will be one year, no more. I’m not convinced Danny sees a future for him, he’ll be looking to recruit someone with more of an instinct in the box, a player who might not have skied the chance against Exeter. It’s harsh on Elliott, he’s never fitted into our system and he suffers from not being Lee Frecklington. Will he be happy playing second fiddle to Lee, only coming in when there’s an injury? Will our management settle in retaining a player who, without sounding too negative, hasn’t proven he has the quality to perform consistently at this level? My gut feeling is we’ve seen the last of Elliott in a Lincoln City shirt.
Billy Knott has gone, it hasn’t been announced but he’s done it himself on Twitter. Billy has an insane amount of talent but is a flawed character with demons haunting his every move, casting a shadow over any inkling of football ability he has. I suspect a move to a non-league club close to home where he can shine, but also remain close to his family unit. In that respect, he might not be all that different to Adam Marriott, a player we know could do a job in League Two, but has personal reasons for wanting to be a bigger fish in a tiny pond.
Jamie McCombe is unlikely to be offered a playing deal, but there’s no surprise there. Richard Walton is also highly likely to be released, with Michael Antkowiak knocking on the door from the youth team. Richard isn’t a terrible keeper, but he hasn’t shown he’s Football League quality, nor did he manage to show he’s National League North quality either. He’ll rock up at Spalding or Lincoln United and forge a good career as a non league journeyman, I just hope he also has a career to fall back on. It’s a harsh life.
Finally we come to Cameron Stewart. I can’t see any situation where Danny offers Stewart a deal to remain at the club. His performances were ineffective, he looked to be skilful but lacking the fight to perform at this level, or indeed any level. He looked like a footballer who had once been someone, but no longer cared enough to reach those heights again. Of course, with his Manchester United pedigree someone will give him a contract, Salford City maybe, but his squad place will need freeing up for the obvious influx on new faces we see.
As for the loan players, we’ve already seen social media posts from Scott Wharton and Jordan Williams saying goodbye, statuses that I don’t believe suggest they’re coming back for more next season. I wouldn’t entirely rule out a move for Danny Rowe, but with the change in personnel at Ipswich it might make it more difficult. A new manager might give him a fresh start, or they might see him having a stuttering spell at Lincoln and decide enough is enough. I wouldn’t be against a move for Rowe.
Another player we’ve had this season that I wouldn’t rule out a move for is Josh Ginnelly. I know Danny was a big admirer of Josh and he believes he can turn into a superb player, but he was injured early doors and never quite caught up. He’s been released now and I think he is League Two quality. I certainly wouldn’t bet against interest from Danny.