It seems odd, talking about a deadline day being a bit of a downer when we have probably broken our record transfer fee paid, but that’s pretty much how yesterday feels.
It would do Jamie Robson a disservice to call it an unmitigated disaster, and despite losing Tayo Edun, I think we came out of that section of the day well. Tayo was always going to move; if we want to tempt players to Sincil Bank, then we need to ensure there’s a pathway for them that doesn’t just lead to the gates but out the other side and up the divisions. We are a selling club – every club is a selling club. In fact, the phrase ‘selling club’ is so utterly ridiculous I don’t feel like I should have to even state it.
However, a couple of days ago I claimed these were a big few days for the Imps and whilst I am a hypocrite at times, I cannot go back on that comment easily, and I won’t either. I am ‘pro-club’, whatever that means, but there’s no hiding my disappointment, and the club wouldn’t expect anyone to. The call I got at gone 11 last night from a club source was a difficult one to take because the obvious anguish was there on the other end of the line. We’d been done, good and proper, not by a dodgy fax machine or our own actions, but a broken chain. Outside of that call, I understand this deal has been planned for a while and that it was close a week ago, only for the parent club to postpone it. Sadly, having a deadline at this level promotes this sort of breakdown. We did have a good rule where loans could be brought in after the deadline, but clubs found a loophole and that facility was closed off. We’re now left picking over the pile of carcasses that is the free agent’s list. By that, I mean players discarded by other clubs and currently out in the cold. It’s not a bad list; there’s some good players on there, but whether we feel it’s a route to go down or not is another thing. My gut feeling is we may turn to it for at least one new face, but it won’t be the squad changer that some like Morgan Whittaker, the rumoured target, might have been.
I find criticism of the club hard to take at times, and there are obviously some angry fans aiming their anger in the direction of Sincil Bank. I’ve seen it asked why we left it until the last minute, or why there was no Plan B. I guess the Plan B thing is obvious; if you have an 11 pm deadline, and Plan A is coming through right up until 10.50 pm, then there’s no chance to implement a Plan B when it fails. Let’s be honest, those running the club are not mugs; they won’t have gone ‘let’s get this player’ and not thought of the consequences. Besides, we had a Plan B in 2017, Simeon Akinola, after Ollie Hawkins fell through. Look what happened there.
As for getting business done quicker, I can’t think the club are reading this and going, ‘that would have been a good idea, wouldn’t it?’. If you want quick business, you overinflate transfer fees or get players who are not of the standard you wanted. It’s all well and good saying ‘no players are better than some players’, but what would you do? If you needed £20,000 for a car, and someone said to you you can have £15,000 now, or £30,000 at five to midnight, would you hold out for the £30,000? What if you were told the bigger sum was 95% yours? That’s where the club was. If they’d moved for a player ten days ago, it would either have cost far too much, or we might have got someone worse than we have now. We held out, and in the past, it has worked (Brennan Johnson was a late target, remember). This time, it backfired.
What I do find depressing is how we developed Rogers and Johnson last season, and yet when it came to entrusting us with talent, big clubs didn’t seem as keen. Why? We’re clearly a good fit for young players, yet Ipswich are loaded up with exciting loans who might not even get a game on a regular basis. I wonder if our model is attractive to some, but to others, there’s little care about development and more around loan fees. Maybe I’m a cynic, but it did feel a little crass in the opening paragraph talking about pathways and progression when clubs seemed happy to simply loan out to the highest bidder this window. Maybe I’m just still pissed off.
Last night, I was asked about squad depth; do I think the squad is as strong as the one that finished last season? Arguably, it isn’t far away, but the answer is no. The defence is the same, and we own all of the players, so that’s good. In midfield, I think we’re stronger, we have more options in the centre when everyone is fit, but it is the final third which causes issues. I look at it this way; our front three last season was Rogers, Johnson and Hopper; that’s the accepted trio. This season, it is still Hopper, with Scully, Maguire and Adelakun vying for the other spots. Is that as strong as last season? No. Do we own all of our players, and therefore are we actually in a better place in terms of owned assets? Yes.
Has this been a good window for Lincoln City? Time will tell, and whilst someone laughed off a suggestion a window could only be judged in a year’s time, that is a fact. When we signed Tayo Edun, did we immediately think ‘that’s a good window’, because we had brought him in? No. Ditto Harry Toffolo. Some players take time to become big players. Nobody thought Anthony Scully would be the revelation he’s been when he stumbled through the door late during the 2020 winter window, but look at him now, and the same applies to TJ. Who knows, maybe Hakeeb Adelakun will be a star this season (he looked great last night). Maybe Lasse Sorensen will settle into the squad and become a key player. Ted Bishop certainly looks assured and nobody can judge Chris Maguire yet as you haven’t seen him play. To write the window off on the strength of Wikipedia and who you perceive to be a good player is like writing off a book because you’ve read the blurb and a mate told you it wasn’t great, although he’s only seen the film.
I don’t think the window has been a success in terms of what we wanted. I think we’ve come up short in one key area (out wide), which is where I always maintained we needed balance. Who knows, the lack of striker might mean Freddie Draper gets a run out, and it means we’ll get to see plenty of Dan Nlundulu, but actually, we’ve more options in the nine role now than we had last season. I didn’t think we needed a new keeper and I stand by that, but we did, 100%, need a wide player and that’s a disappointment. It’s not the end of the world, I refuse to place bets on us going down (Craig, if that’s what you did as you seemed to intimate last night, it’s a bit off the scale), but also I refuse to sit back happily and say everything worked out well. It didn’t, you know it, I know it and I’m damned sure Michael Appleton feels it.
Still, we’re in League One, we have a great chance of a top-half finish, if not better, and we’re getting key players back from injury. We blew Bradford away last night and it isn’t all doom and gloom; it just isn’t all flower, sunshine and swans either. Especially not swans.