As part of my chat with Michael yesterday, we picked up on the summer recruitment policy, and how he saw the squad shaping up.
The Imps were slow to move in the market, with a short pre-season courtesy of the play-offs putting us a little behind others, but it has proven to be fruitful playing the long game. Early doors we picked up Lewis Fiorini and Chris Maguire, with Dan Nlundulu, Ted Bishop, Lasse Sorensen, Hakeeb Adelakun and Josh Griffiths following quickly.
Michael confessed that there was a period where he was a little concerned, but only for a brief moment.
“I was a bit worried ten days ago if I’m being honest,” he said. “We knew we were close with so many deals and I did get a bit concerned. There’s just some silly money around, but the deals started getting over the line and we’re in a good place now.”
Once again, the club staff put in the hard yards, with Jez and Michael spending time on the phone with players.
“We spent a lot of time on Zoom calls, phone calls and meeting players. We wanted to give players reassurance on certain things. There was a lot of speculation about myself for a start, was I going to be around, and I was trying to reassure them. I’ve made that mistake before, I know where I am now. At the end of the day, there’s a chance here to get something going and we wanted to get that across.”
Despite being beaten play-off finalists last season, many observers are placing us outside the top six this season, making the Imps underdogs once again. I wondered if that might take pressure off the manager, whereas others who have spent big sums might feel it a bit more.
“(The pressure) doesn’t bother me, but I hope it’s the case with the players,” Michael said. “I want to protect the players as much as I can, and I just hope fans expectations are realistic and there’s an understanding that we’re more than capable of having a season like last year, but it’s going to be difficult.
“I get why we’re underdogs, people are quite realistic with it, especially with the money being spent. I think that’ll work for us, I really do. The thought of 10,000 fans at Sincil Bank… when we’re under the cosh a bit and we get a corner, put in a tackle and the place erupts. That’ll help the squad. When you think about the Sunderland game, there was 3300 there and they were saying how good the atmosphere was, I was laughing! I thought ‘really? Get ready for next season!’, there’s only a few who have experienced that.”
The return of fans is obviously high on the agenda and there are ways that we can help the team, but it’s not as obvious as you might think.
“It’ll be an exciting time for the players and the fans can play a huge part this year, just helping us out. It might not be for us to go and get a winner, or make a team cave in and lose 4-0. The biggest part the fans can help us with is those little fifteen minutes spells where it drops a bit. There were times we conceded two goals quickly at home and I think the fans can help get the players up again in those moments and stop that happening.”
In terms of the current squad, Michael confesses that the squad is in good shape, but possibly not quite there on two different levels.
“I think we’re two players short of my minimum, and anything beyond those two players is a bonus. I’d like to see another striker in the building as we were so reliant on Hops last season. I think that’s the reason he got injured because we were so reliant on him. Young Dan (Nlundulu) has come in and he’s such an infectious character, the lads love him and he’s got a big smile on his face all the time. It’s his first season on loan and he’ll make an impact, but I think we need someone who is capable of taking the mantle from Hops if we feel he needs a rest, or alongside him, if we want to go with two upfront.”
The other area is one many fans have identified and one Michael is also aware of. Whilst some fans await the possible return of a certain Premier League youngster, Michael was only drawn on the need to bolster at the back.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to notice we’re a player short in defence too, and I think something will happen, but it’s about timing. We’re ok, we’re in good shape, but it’s about knowing whether to do something now, but possibly then miss a chance further down the line. In terms of personnel, potentially we could go for one or two young loans to fill wide areas. We’re not a million miles away but we’re not the finished article.”
Whilst player signings are the headlines acts of the summer, for Michael the concern is not around the personnel, but the different stages they’re at.
“The biggest concern for me is to get the balance right early doors. We’ve got players who are not fit for the start of the season, players who are not ready for ninety minutes and then we’ve got ones who are clearly not ready for ninety minutes because we only signed them a week or so ago. We have such a mixture within the group in terms of fitness, so it might be mid-September before we get a group together who are all together fitness-wise.”
When that does come together, Michael believes we could once again overachieve, and make a mark in the third tier.
“With the nucleus that we had from last year, the ones that we’ve brought in are the right type to complement them. Hopefully, one or two more will give us another good chance to over-achieve again. I’m not trying to play it down, the reality is if we want success we’re going to have to overachieve.
“I think we’re capable of doing it, I think we have a style of play that people respect and find it difficult to play against. We just have to stay resolute.”