An interesting sub-plot to City’s summer transfer plans is the fate of Ricky van Wolfswinkel – the proverbial and literal big-name signing from two years ago.
A year on loan at St. Etienne did not convince the French club to take up the option of making the switch permanent. A figure of £4.5 million had reportedly been agreed; just over half of the sum that City paid for the Dutch striker 12 months earlier.
Despite a flurry of early goals in Ligue 1, an underwhelming season has left Ricky with the prospect of being ‘returned to sender’ and those running the club with an important decision to make. It also provides the supporters with a vaguely uncomfortable point of debate – namely, whether the most expensive signing in club history might just have been a complete waste of money.
These same supporters helped finance the £400,000 signing of Grant Holt through foregoing rebates on their season tickets. The fact that the club may have been so profligate on replacing our legendary number ‘9’ is therefore difficult to accept.
This, alongside the fact that Ricky is widely seen as being a pretty decent bloke, has led to an understandable desire to look for a fairy tale ending rather than simply cutting our losses.
Those calling for him to return to the fold will cite the fact that we now have Alex Neil in charge. The turnaround in fortunes since his arrival from Hamilton certainly suggests that City have a manager who can get the best from his players. He’s currently a man with a Midas touch and an ability to make a crock of gold from a crock of something far less palatable.
However to suggest that this will lead to Ricky becoming the free-scoring striker needed to secure Premier League survival is to overlook a number of things.
It’s true that Chris Hughton’s tactics did little to help Ricky shine (or anyone in a yellow shirt for that matter) but Neil also favours the lone frontman and already has three to choose from.
Cameron Jerome has the strength and physical presence to bully a centre-half, Lewis Grabban has pace and a willingness to run the channels and Gary Hooper has a natural eye for goal and is by most accounts the best finisher at the club.
Ricky sadly showed none of these attributes. And if a player simply isn’t good enough, there’s little that Alex can do. Ask Luciano Becchio, or Tony Andreu for that matter.
Andreu was signed by Alex Neil from Accies and was the SPL top scorer at the time. He was, on paper at least, ideally placed to spearhead the promotion push but the player struggled to cope with the demands of the Championship and Alex quickly realised there were better, more equipped options available.
Ultimately Ricky represents the ‘ghost of Christmas past’ and not a very pleasant Christmas at that. City retained most of the squad that were relegated, a squad lacking in confidence with the stigma of relegation and failure hanging around their necks.
Through hard work and endeavour over 49 gruelling games they turned that round together. They have a team spirit that was forged on nights at Blackburn and Huddersfield through dramatic late goals. A spirit tested in the face of a hostile crowd and the aerial bombardment at Portman Road in the play-off semi-final. A bond that was cemented as they climbed the Wembley steps to celebrate in front of a jubilant Yellow army.
Ricky wasn’t there. He’s become a reminder of a time when the club were under-performing and divided and I can’t see a way back for him.
I hope I’m wrong but in most fairy tales it doesn’t usually end up well for the wolf.