City In Unlikely Link With 27-Year-Old Defender

Credit Graham Burrell

The Imps have been linked with a move for Theo Vassell, with journalist Peter O’Rourke reporting on Twitter we’re in a three-way tie for his services.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say I’m convinced there’s little in the speculation. Firstly, it conforms to the rule of three – where there are three clubs linked, it is often a sign of a planted story, looking to drum up a bit of interest in the player. However, that’s not the sole reason I can’t see it happening.

Who is Theo Vassell? He’s a 27-year-old central defender who came through the youth ranks at Stoke. His senior career has been spent in League Two and the National League, with stints at Gateshead, Port Vale, Wrexham and Mansfield. He made his Port Vale debut as we beat them 4-0 in the League Cup in 2018, and then played the whole 90 minutes as we won 6-2 there a few months later.

Vassell being held off by Ellis Chapman – Courtesy Graham Burrell

His stint at Wrexham ended before their promotion to the Football League, and in November 2021 he penned a short-term deal with Salford City, seeking to prove his fitness. He’s since appeared 115 times for them, 32 of those appearances coming this season as they battled against the drop from League Two. His contract with Salford expires this summer, but he has been offered a deal to remain in the north west. The report suggests as well as his current employers, we are in for him, along with Notts County and Mansfield.

There are a number of things that make me question this. Firstly, he’s primarily a right-sided centre-back. If we stay with three at the back, then perhaps there’s space there, but with Adam Jackson, Paudie O’Connor, and Sean Roughan, we already have three very good centre-backs. Lewis Montsma could be staying, and there’s a chance we’ll be looking at Alex Mitchell. I just cannot see us going for a centre-back with an okay record in League Two. I checked his stats – the only thing he ranks top five for in terms of numbers is red cards; two last season.

I can’t see us dipping into the market for a 27-year-old that hasn’t been a strong performer in the division below either, unless we’re looking at fleshing out the squad. We’re trying to build a side capable of promotion from League One, and whilst I don’t know exactly how Vassell has played this season, I’m not convinced a player who has got to 27 without making an appearance in League One fits the bill. Ali Smith, Charles Vernam and Paudie O’Connor all came out of the division below, but none were 27 when they signed. it just doesn’t seem like a move we’d make. I’m not saying he’s not good enough, but I am saying a side-looking top six is unlikely to sign a 27-year-old with no experience outside the bottom division, certainly not as a first-team prospect.

The sort of player I can see us targetting – Credit Graham Burrell

In terms of stats, I wondered if I was missing something, but it appears not. He has fewer aerial duels per 90 than O’Connor, Jackson, and Mitchell and fewer interceptions than Jackson and O’Connor. His number of passes per 90 is lower than all five of our regular centre-backs this season (including TJ), and his long passes per ninety totals are lower than Roughan, Mitchell, and O’Connor. His accuracy is lower than O’Connor’s and within 1% of the other three.

I’m sure Theo Vassell is a competent defender. I’m not criticising him at all, but there’s nothing in the numbers to suggest he’s better than what we have had or have got, nor that he fits the profile we’re looking for. Do remember, though, that we signed Zak Bradshaw because we think there’s life for him at left-back for us, and two of his final positions for Woking were defensive midfield and right wing.