In less than a month, the January sales commence, not on the High Street but in manager’s offices nationwide. Every single football club believes their fortunes can be turned around with a shrewd signing or clever manipulation of the loan market.
The next few weeks will be full of speculation, half-truths and the ‘ex agents’ suddenly reappearing on Twitter after their six-month holiday. everyone will be in the know, whether it’s Harry Anderson going to Blackburn, Matt Green to Salford or us signing Stefan Payne.
It’s already started, I was asked if we were signing Payne in the window yesterday. Payne has already turned out for Shrewsbury and Bristol Rovers this season so I’ll let you work it out. Still, nothing beats a good rumour, right?
I’ll attract some criticism though because there will be articles on the rumours with substance, the sources that are usually good and the possibilities. It’s an exciting time if you like the glamour and glitz of transfers, but for a manager it must be incredibly unsettling.
Everyone is going to have an opinion on who we should sign and why, but I’m wanting to address something I’ve seen already, the unrealistic target. In days gone by, maybe suggesting us signing someone like Charlie Wyke was unrealistic, but these days there are others who, put simply, we will not sign at all.
Firstly, a name I’ve seen on people’s wish list is Jayden Stockley. Although this point is not only about him, it is captured perfectly when considering the former Aberdeen man. Yes, he’s in League Two as we are. It would be reasonable to assume he earns around £3k a week, Tyler Walker is thought to be the highest paid on £5k a week and there’s little chance Stockley will be on that. So feasibly yes, he’s our level and he could fit our wage structure, if we were to shed an earner or two.
That doesn’t mean he’s a legitimate target. Firstly, there’s the fee to consider. Remember Christian Doidge, the Forest Green man who everyone thought we ought to sign? He joined Bolton for £1m. It’s perhaps more than Exeter could expect for Stockley, but even at £250,000 he’d be too rich for us. We only spent money in the summer we’d earned from transfers and Clive Nates has said time and again there will be no excessive spending that puts the club in danger. That means no Jayden Stockley, no James Norwood and no Padraig Amond.
Unless there’s a very good reason, a League Two club will not sell its main striker to a rival during the season. It is crazy to even consider it and I’ve even seen us labelled as ‘unambitious’ for not targeting those sorts of players. Why would we? John Akinde had a better record than any of them and he’s not flavour of the month with everyone. How many times would fans want us to spend a six-figure sum on a player before we went broke?
In a perfect world maybe we would just buy a player who scores 20 goals a season, but this isn’t Football Manager. There’s more to it than just goals scored in the past. Think of it like this, I once employed a top sales rep at one of the Builder’s Merchants I used to manage. This guy could sell vacuum cleaners and furniture polish on he Nunsthorpe Estate, he was that good. He came to my branch and his sales dropped off, not because he wasn’t good at his job, but because the products were slightly different and I asked him to do other roles as well. As a manager, I had limited staff and needed versatility, but he thrived on doing one thing only. He left me and as far as I’m aware, is doing very well now
If we did sign Stockley, there’s no guaranteeing our method would suit his play. Would he be too similar to John Akinde? Does he fit with our patterns? Personality wise, would he get on with the rest of the squad? You might think all this comes secondary to goals, but it does not. Football has been trivialised for you and I, made easy by Football Manager and FIFA, but it isn’t straightforward. Ask Joe Allon.
Finally, why would these players move to us? They’re highly successful in League Two, scoring goals, why would they sidestep? Would you move hundreds of miles to do the same job you do now somewhere else? Uproot your family and everything just because a different company wanted you on the same money? No, it would need to be a once in a lifetime move. Sadly, Lincoln City is not the huge draw many of our fans think. We’re better than we were, but we’re not going to sign someone like Stockley.
The other players I see us linked with are the likes of Danny Rowe and Macualey Bonne because (and I quote) ‘they know where the net is’. Yes, in the National League they do and James Norwood is proving that making the step up is possible for the right player, as is Andy Cook.
Would we have sold Sean Raggett to a League Two club in the January 2017 window? No. He was helping us towards promotion and stepping up one division wouldn’t have been enough. Bonne isn’t going to move to League Two and if he does, he’ll cost some mug a six-figure sum.
Where would he fit in our team? Scoring goals is one thing, but what role does Bonne play and how would it fit with us? He’s slight, we saw him get a whack against Barrow when he played for us and he disappeared after that, so we know he’s lightweight. He can put the ball in the net, but he’d need to be part of a 4-4-1-1, probably playing the McCartan role. It wouldn’t be as easy as saying ‘drop Akinde because Bonne can score’, he’s not the right type of striker. The same can be said for Rowe, those suggesting we take a chance on him ought to think what role he plays, how he’d fit in with our patterns.
I’m not saying we won’t pluck a player from the National League, I’m not saying we will, but I can state for certain it won’t be one of the headliners. Their price is increasing based on performances, not quality. The transfer market fluctuates and players values are falsified by a decent run of form. Leyton Orient can name a price for Bonne, but would he be as effective in League Two, or League One? If there was ever an instance of a player’s value being inflated due to a couple of decent performances, look at Johnny Margetts.
The transfer window brings all sort of expectations, but it just bemuses me when I see someone write ‘good shout’ next to Bonne, Rowe or Stockley. They are not good shouts, not one bit. Shay McCartan is the sort of player we need, a player with talent who is down on their luck elsewhere, someone we can love back to life, someone whose value right now isn’t reflective of their potential. The real value is not in typing ‘leading scorers’ into Google and selecting the top few, but in find a player that has 90% of Imps’ fans turning to the search engine wondering who the hell he is, yet months later singing his name like a true hero. Just like Tom Pett last January, or to some extent McCartan in the summer.
If Danny achieves that, he’ll have had a great window.