Duo Free to Depart Sincil Bank – Analysis

Credit Graham Burrell

Lincoln City duo Zack Elbouzedi and Max Melbourne have been told they are free to leave Sincil Bank this summer, if they get clubs lined up.

The pair spent the second half of last season out on loan in League Two, with varying levels of success. In their absence, the Imps have progressed and it seems they are being deemed surplus to requirements for the season ahead. As reported by local media, they have spoken to Michael Appleton, who has been typically frank about their future.

“I’ve had a couple of conversations with them before they left about how important it is to be playing and how, as a club, we want to improve and get better and better,” Appleton told LincolnshireLive. “The honest conversations I’ve had with those players are that if there is an opportunity to get regular football, whether that’s going out on loan or a permanent move, then that’s something both parties will try and make happen. I don’t want to have them here if I’m not going to use them that much. It’s not my style, I’d rather have a difficult conversation with someone and say ‘go and play regularly, continue your career and keep developing rather than standing still.”

It isn’t the first time we have heard those sort of comments from Michael, the same was said of Ben Coker and Tom Pett at the start of the season, and of Aaron Lewis in January. When Michael says you’re not going to be used, then I’m afraid your time is up. Is it the right move by the manager? Only he knows for sure, but here is my take on the two.

Zack Elbouzedi

Credit Graham Burrell

It’s a shame for Zack, because he is the first of the Michael Appleton signings that will perhaps be deemed not to have been a success. He was the first player to arrive under the new regime, and it never really happened for him. I thought he was disappointing in the games he played at the end of the aborted 19/20 season, but as we know it can take players lots of time to settle. With the benefit of the summer behind him, I felt he might kick on. In pre-season I liked the look of him, he had bulked up and certainly has plenty of pace, but his chance never really came.

He was outstanding in the EFL Trophy against Shrewsbury and Accrington, which again I felt would give him a leg up into the first team, but if anything he suffers because he’s an attacking player. In my eyes, Michael’s football relies heavily on those wide areas, and if he can accommodate A- players at the back and in the centre of midfield, he does want A* players in those wide areas. Any incomers from the top flight will likely be in the wide areas and that makes it harder for a League One quality player to break into the side. What chance did Zack stand when a £4m teenager from Manchester City joined on loan? Very little.

The decision to allow him to find another club might not have been that hard given his Bolton spell. He did okay there, but few Trotters fans seemed to be clamouring for him back. What you have with Zack is a player that needs more arrogance and self-belief. Personally, I think there is a League One quality footballer in there, but he needs to believe in himself more. I felt at times he was too nice, and as Patrick Bamford has shown in the England setup, too nice can work against you.

Max Melbourne

Courtesy Graham Burrell

I think Max is one of those unlucky players, a bit like Sean Long and James Wilson, who could get into the team and could do a job, but circumstances have made it difficult. The problem is he’s a left-back, but Tayo Edun appears to be better, and Cohen Bramall is the alternative, so Max doesn’t get in there. We have three good centre backs in the side and I wouldn’t be surprised at another joining who can cover right-back (or vice versa), which makes Max’s role redundant. As a third-choice left-back and fourth-choice centre back, his is a wage we can use elsewhere.

With Zack, the issue is belief and demonstrating what he can do, having been kept out of the side by a Premier League loanee. With Max, it is different. I got the impression he wanted more chance to show what he could do under Danny, having spent much of his loan on the bench. When he joined permanently I thought he’d get a chance to shine, especially after his outing against Blackpool last January. Unfortunately for him, he started the season injured and Sean Roughan got the nod, then when Tayo hit form, he kept Max out. Had the former West Brom man been given a run of games, I think he could have settled into the side, but his injury came at the wrong time.

His spell at Walsall was impressive, I know a few of their fans would love to see him back there, and that’s partly why I’m surprised. If we could (or can) sort a loan for him, I think he could grow into a player capable of challenging for a first-team place. It wouldn’t surprise me if he leaves on a permanent deal, but I think there’s value in Max. That’s not saying there isn’t in Zack, but he needs a clean slate and a club to take a chance and instil belief in him. Max already has the confidence in his play, in my eyes at least, and just needs games. I think a full season in League Two, with someone like Walsall, Bradford or Oldham (a bigger club with promotion aspirations) could see him develop quite quickly.

Theo Archibald

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I know, he wasn’t on the list, so why am I mentioning him? It struck me that he wasn’t one of the players that got spoken of as being allowed to leave. In fact, I didn’t realise he had a longer deal than a year, and so this was another hurdle for him to get through ahead of next season. He’s been retained, he’s not been told he can leave (or it’s not public) and I wonder if there might be a future here for him. I hope so: I’ve liked the idea of Theo Archibald ever since he signed. He’s a natural winger, he’s got pace but I like his technique too. He didn’t get much of a chance last season, he arrived behind everyone in terms of fitness, then had the late lay-off with Covid-symptoms and he never really got going. I firmly believe when he does get a chance, and if he does start the season fit and raring to go, he could be the secret weapon already lurking in our pack.

I might be way off the mark, he might be outside Michael’s plans and we just don’t know it yet, but 2021/22 could well be the year the former Celtic and Brentford man breaks through. I’m backing him to be a key part of our squad this season.