Here we go folks, after the unexpected promotion from Blue Square Premier the Motormen were preparing to face the much tougher opponents in League Two! I had faith in the youngsters who pulled off an amazing season in Blue Square Premier but I was perfectly aware that the squad needed some improvements in order to cope with the new requirements in a superior division. Let’s see what happened during pre-season…
First of all, the club finally turned professional! It was something that I did unofficially right from the start as I gave full-time contracts to every employee at the club, playing or non-playing, but I guess we have a better reputation now.
Although the club had almost 100K in the bank the board was not generous with me as they offered identical (and rather low) budgets for all the possible expectations. I chose a mid-table finish but that was just out of pride :)
The media prediction was that we were going to finish 24th, as usual, and the bookmakers were not optimistic about our chances either.
Anyway, you know that I don’t care about their predictions too much so I started to work on improving the club. The first thing that I did was to bring in a few more and better coaches, that part of the club is essential for developing our young players. Unfortunately the effort is severely hampered by out poor training facilities and the board said that they don’t have enough money to improve them. They did give me an extra thousand pounds for the wage budget though and also agreed to allow more coaches and scouts at the club.
Being on a very tight wage budget I offloaded 12 players and also released almost all the new under 18 players. Those deals brought 10K into the club’s coffers and although I had around 3K in the transfer budget I opted for free transfers. I brought in a total of nine new players, eight on free transfers and one on loan.
Now let me introduce the new faces. Although goalkeeper Adam Street had a pretty good season in Blue Square Premier I decided to bring in a new goalie, one that is more adapted to the sweeper keeper role. The fans were a bit angry that I sold Street but I believe that Martin Hansen will do a much better job. He is a Danish under 21 international and he spent five seasons at Liverpool. He didn’t get any chance to break into the first team there and I hope he will seize the opportunity to play regularly at a lower level. James Dunn will be his backup, I still believe that he can make some progress and fight for a place in the first team.
Our defense’s left flank didn’t perform too well last season so I decided to rebuild that area of the team from scratch. James Campbell is one of the two new left backs, a player that came through the youth ranks at Arsenal but never appeared in the first team. He has good attributes overall but he seems to be a bit slow. That could be fixed if he loses some weight, his height/weight proportion makes me think that he’s a bit chubby (that doesn’t show in the photo though).
The second left back joined us on loan from Middlesbrough, his name is Matthew Dolan and he will be a good competitor for a place in the first team. He can also provide cover as a central defender or a central midfielder. Boro didn’t want any wage contribution or fee for his loan so I guess it’s a great bargain for the club.
The right flank of the defense remains unchanged, Michael Duckworth and Jacob Hronec will be covering that area. For the middle of the defense I decided to keep two of the players that performed very well last season, Fraser Kerr and Oliver Nicholas, and brought in two exciting prospects. First there is Irish youth international Derrick Williams, a quick defender with very good technical abilities. He also has pretty good mental attributes so I think that he might develop into an important player for the club.
The other new centre back is Daniel Pappoe, a tall, strong and quick lad that joined us after being released by Chelsea. He spent four seasons with the Blues and even managed to appear in two Premier League matches! He is only 18 years old and I expect him to polish his skills and become a top defender, at least for the lower leagues.
On the right wing I decided to keep only Pietro Palladino, a player that has served us well for the last two seasons, and brought in regen Joe Griffin, a former Chelsea player. This was a last minute deal, he joined the club after the last pre-season friendly, but I hope that his technical skills will give us the edge in certain games.
On the left wing Sam Hart will have to compete with a good new signing: Jacob Walcott. He is Theo Walcott‘s less famous cousin, a former Reading player that already has some League Two and League One experience despite his young age.
For the central midfield area I decided to keep my favourite youngsters: Matthew Ball, Nathan Rooney, Oguzhan Ozyakup and Shane Williams. They will have a tough competitor for a place in the first team: experienced Scottish player Peter Leven. He seems to be the best midfielder at the club and he has loads of experience both in Scotland and in England (he started his career at Glasgow Rangers and his last club was MK Dons in League One).
For the attack I decided to bring in another infusion of experience from Scotland: former Rangers player Darryl Duffy. He played a few seasons in the Championship after leaving Rangers but he also has loads of experience in League Two and League One. He is a pretty good finisher and I hope he will score quite a few goals to help our cause. I had another four strikers at the club before signing Duffy and I really didn’t want to let any of them leave. The friendly games were a test for the four strikers and in the end I decided to keep Danny Uchechi, Omar Koroma and Akwasi Asante. Julius Gombala left the club but not on a permanent move, he joined Wrexham on loan for five months (with the wages paid in full by the Welsh club).
My new assistant manager seems to be fairly confident but I agree that we need another midfielder, one that would be equally adept for playing on both the right and the left wing.
I arranged another batch of exotic friendlies for my team and they went pretty well as we grabbed seven straight wins. Omar Koroma was particularly impressive during those friendlies but I was quite pleased with the whole team.
For the last friendly I invited Premier League side Newcastle to Rivacre Park. It was a sell-out and a very good game but we lost it eventually due to a corner kick goal. If you look at the stats though you would see that we were the better team throughout the game, we had better possession, more shots and last but not least, four clear cut chances! We would have deserved a famous win but I was very pleased with the team’s performance.
We have 23 men in the squad, the youngest squad in the league, and I will be looking to add just one more player: a right/left winger to provide backup for both flanks.
We are a bit over the wage budget though so I will probably try to bring in a loanee. Unfortunately the board were unable to find a parent club so I will have a pretty difficult task. That’s how our pre-season went, I am fairly optimistic but we will have to wait and see whether my team is good enough for League Two or not. Thanks a lot for reading, I’m looking forward to reading your opinions about the new transfers.
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