Before we start, I’m not going to criticise Danny Cowley at all. Maybe, at times, the whole ‘in Danny we trust’ thing goes a bit far, he’s human like you and I and he does sign a turkey or two, JMD for instance. Luckily it isn’t Christmas dinner everyday and he’s got a better than average record in player recruitment.
However, in the main he has improved the squad year on year, adding real quality each summer and again in a January. The improvement in his first summer was obvious, in the transfer window that year he brought in the likes of Lee Angol and Billy Knott who took us one step further. Last season was an even bigger summer, Matt Green and Michael Bostwick in particular we big signings.
Then in January, despite it not seeming so at the time, we had another influx of very good players, Tom Pett and James Wilson as well as Lee Frecklington, taking the squad up another notch. Two of those may be slow burners, but all three will be integral this season.
So far this summer, he’s been very astute again, where Alex Woodyard goes, Michael O’Connor comes in. Bruno Andrade is perhaps the most under valued summer signing so far, in my opinion his arrival was almost as seismic as that of Bozzie last season. Andrade is incredibly hot property and there isn’t manager in League One and Two that would turn him away from their squad, especially not the Posh fat controller.
Danny has always said he brings in quality, he signs players who improve the current offering only. Whilst that seems like a sound policy, are we missing in a trick in always wanting to improve the current squad? Is there an argument that maybe, just maybe we should look for a project, a gamble if you like, someone who is unproven and untested but could just come up trumps.
Last summer, Cheltenham took a gamble on a player with 50 goals in two seasons for non-league Greenwich. This summer, if they pushed hard enough, they might be able to move him on for £500k. Without Eisa’s goals, the Robins might have struggled but when he arrived, he didn’t improve their squad, certainly not on paper. He was an untested player with Greenwich and Corinthians on his CV. He wasn’t even a name the football world were touting as one for the future either.
It doesn’t always work, but both Portsmouth and Peterborough have done the same with varying levels of success. Danny Lloyd hasn’t done badly since he turned up at London Road from the National League North, whilst Jamal Lowe settled very nicely at Fratton Park after plying his trade in the National League South. Neither immediately improved their respective first teams, but we’d have both in our squad at the drop of a hat.
Andrade may have come from the National League, but he does clearly improve what we have in the attacking midfielder / secondary striker role. You can’t argue with his goals per game ratio, his assists nor his pedigree. He was a name that I’m sure a hundred scouts had whispered in meetings with managers up and down the country so I wouldn’t count him as a gamble. What about Niko Muir though? He bagged 40 for Hendon last season and has just joined Hartlepool. I wouldn’t dare bet against him slamming in another double-digit haul this season. Could he have been a project, a squad player happy to force his way into the side, Mo Eisa style?
He’s not the only possible gem out there. 24-year old Aaron Williams scored 24 times for Brackley in the National League North last season, he came through the ranks at Walsall and has spent time at Peterborough and Newport. Is he maturing into a player worth a look? Or Jason Prior, the 6ft 1in striker with 23 goals for Havant and Waterlooville last season and over 100 for Bognor Regis Town in past campaigns? The same side just picked up 22-year old Alfie Pavey, a former Millwall youngster who slammed 22 in for Dartford last season.
The point I’m making is that Cheltenham found place in their squad for a gamble, a roll of the dice that ultimately paid off. There’s plenty that do not work, Nicke Kabamba didn’t take at Portsmouth and ended up back in the National League, but they gambled on a few players at got it right. We’ve done the same in the past, Imps of a certain prestige will remember David Ridings joining from Halifax and achieving nothing at all. It is a risk, won’t deny that. Nobody would be happy if we announced Alfie Pavey and then didn’t bring in another striker, but that isn’t my suggestion.
I also know some of these players earn good money in their full-time jobs and don’t want to step up, I appreciate location is a big factor as many won’t relocate unless the money is sufficient, but if they’re hungry for league football, they’ll move. Niko Muir, a player I’m convinced you’ll hear lots more about this season, moved almost five hours up the A1 from Hendon to Hartlepool. He wanted it badly enough, he won’t be the only one.
If location is an issue, what about Lee Shaw (main picture)? He’s the 23-year old Grantham striker with over 50 goals across the last two seasons, there’s no location issue as he’s from 20 minutes down the A1 and surely he would relish a stab at the Football League? He might not save our day, he might be another Rory May or Niall McNamara, but he might be a Simon Yeo or a Gary Taylor-Fletcher.
I’m patient enough to realise that we’re going to have a good summer even if our business wasn’t done before the nights start pulling in and I’m respectful enough to understand our management team are doing what they feel is best for the club and its progression. They’re more qualified than I, but I can’t help but feel that by only improving the squad and not buying a ticket in the non-league lottery, we’re missing out on a potential jackpot. After all, what is the worst that can happen? Boston United get a striker on loan at Christmas?