I’ve been plotting a series of issues that face the club as we step up a division, although in a week where we’ll be given the trophy and celebrate once more, it might seem a little crass to go into the issues concerning the club.
That said, Danny will always focus on the next challenge and will have one eye on the future, which is why I’ve decided to run another article pointing out the issues and challenges facing us next season.
It’s too easy to say things like ‘we need a bigger budget, that much is blatantly obvious and I wouldn’t want to simply go over the same old issues. Today, I want to focus on what I’m going to call the contract dilemma.
I’m not talking about the out of contract players we still have to strike a deal with, or not. Matt Gilks, Michael O’Connor and Sam Habergham’s future will be decided one way or another and they’ll either stay or they won’t. I strongly suspect there’s at least one of the now-famous ‘Danny contracts’ coming up, the deal which offers them a further season if they want it, but leaves scope for them to move elsewhere on more money.
That’s common place at our club now and I can see the benefits of such an offer. If I recall correctly, only one player has signed one of those offers, that being Callum Howe. I can see Sam signing a new deal and staying put, but I’m fearful Michael O’Connor may not. It’s going to be tougher for him to get matches next season and maybe a League Two club will be on hand with a two-year deal.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Chesterfield are interested and, if they’re relegated, there’s scope for Scunthorpe to make a move too. This isn’t disrespectful to O’Connor, but football is a tough business and we do have some good midfielders. Furthermore, we’re likely to sign at least one in the summer and there’s young Ellis to consider too. He’ll be involved more this season after impressing with the Spireites.
The contract dilemma to which I refer is players with one year left on their deals. The club and Danny are in a very tough position when it comes to these players, or at least some of them.
The players out of contract next summer are; Grant Smith, Neal Eardley, Jason Shackell, James Wilson, Harry Toffolo, Lee Frecklington, Harry Anderson, Michael Bostwick, Tom Pett, Ellis Chapman, Bruno Andrade, Josh Vickers and Matt Rhead. Some of those can be discounted from this article, those who are likely to be left until the end of the season as they were this campaign.
There’s got to be a decision, at some point very soon, about possible extensions. I’d wager the likes of Neal Eardley and Michael Bostwick would be safe to offer a one-year extension if they wanted it. We know they’re going to be comfortable in League One and they’re of an age where their legs will see them through two more years before maybe they look at their options. Not every thirty-something is going to be in the shape that Jason Shackell is in, but you’d imagine ours are, with the hard work the sports science team do.
The players I’m talking about here are Harry Toffolo, Harry Anderson, Tom Pett and Bruno Andrade in the main. What we have in those four is talent, we know that. They’ve all been key players this season but, few of them have experience outside the bottom division. They’ve proven themselves to be good players and in our minds we think they’re League One quality.
Here’s me playing Devils Advocate; we think they’re League One quality but there’s a big difference between that and actually proving it. I’m not talking them down, not at all, but look at our National League squad. I remember thinking each and every one of them could hold their own in the Football League. After beating Ipswich it felt like we were destined for the third-tier and so it’s come to pass, but we’ve done it be evolving. Alan Power, Terry Hawkridge, Adam Marriott, Nathan Arnold, Bradley Wood and Paul Farman all fell by the wayside, despite being part of a side I believed could comfortably settle in the higher level.
The four lads I’ve mentioned have all been excellent this season, Toff hasn’t missed a game and Harry’s bullish aggression is refreshing on the flank. Tom Pett’s conversion to central midfielder has been a huge success and Bruno is an exceptional talent on his day.
Here’s the question; do we offer them a new deal now? That’s the problem facing a cautious manager. The obvious answer is yes, but suppose in six months it becomes clear that one or two are not up to League One football. That’s a squad place taken up with a player who hasn’t made the grade. The club could find itself carrying a player not up to scratch on an improved deal.
However, err on the side of caution and you get a Josh Maja situation. Maja ran into the final year of his Sunderland deal last summer and wasn’t offered new terms before the season. Within weeks he’d started impressing and by the time Christmas came around his performances marked him out as a star player. By then, he didn’t want the new deal and he ended up leaving for around £1.5m instead of walking away for free in the summer.
It’s not an easy choice to make and you know whatever the club do, some clever-arse will be spouting off if it went wrong. Let’s say we offer Tom Pett a one-year extension and he struggles in League One, someone will claim we shouldn’t have done it. Let’s say we don’t tie Harry down longer in the summer and he’s scores five in five at the beginning of the season, the club will be wrong for not getting the business done.
I call it the Lee Angol effect. I saw on social media yesterday someone claiming they were right the whole time, we should never have signed Lee Angol and his lack of game time proves it. We should have saved the money and put it towards next year’s budget, ditto James Brown and Jordan Roberts.
Imagine being that guy, knowing in January we weren’t going to get any injuries. I wish I had the super power of hindsight. Angol and Roberts didn’t necessarily flop, the set of circumstances needed for them to get into the first team never came around. We won the league, we didn’t need to change things and our top players remained fit. If John Akinde had been injured, or if we’d lost a couple of wide players, then you’d have seen the impact the signings could have had.
It proves that the club will always be the subject of criticism, whichever decisions they make and as this season peters out, one of the challenges facing Danny is making the right call on a handful of contract extensions.