Fans of Only Fools and Horses will remember a scene where the character Trigger (a street cleaner) proudly boasts of having had the same broom for over 20 years.
“This old broom has had seventeen new heads and fourteen new handles in its time” he states, prompting quizzical looks and the obvious reply:
“How the hell can it be the same bloody broom then?”
Over the next few weeks, Alex Neil and David McNally face an important challenge: improving the quality within the squad whilst retaining its fundamental sense of identity.
Or to put it another way, to stick a new handle on our old broom.
The dilemma for any promoted side is to gauge the extent to which you keep faith with the squad that got you promoted rather than relying on new players who are arguably better equipped for a higher division.
I recently suggested that a key factor for us next season could be the team-spirit that currently exists within the dressing room. We have a group of players who went on a collective roller-coaster ride that ended in jubilation on the Wembley balcony.
The question now is how many of them will stand together once more on the opening day against Palace and how many will find themselves frozen out by new arrivals? How much of the chemistry and team-spirit will remain as a result?
It’s a juggling act that Paul Lambert mastered as he transformed the group of players he inherited in League One into a squad that secured top flight safety – all within the space of four transfer windows.
Approaching each window, Lambert would signal his intentions to “bring in one or two, to give the lads a hand.” What he actually meant off course was that he was going to replace those players whose ability couldn’t keep pace with the club’s meteoric rise through the divisions.
However the inference was always that it would be minor tweaks and that the squad and its precious team spirit would remain intact.
In many respects he was lucky that the club’s rise was mirrored by that of Grant Holt, who provided stability throughout the Lambert years. He was the club captain, multiple Player of the Season winner, leading goal scorer and a big figure in the dressing room (not a dig at his waistline).
Holty became a talisman and alongside Wes Hoolahan and Russell Martin, provided the club with consistency and identity. The overhaul of playing staff that took place under Lambert was significant but it always felt like a gradual evolution with Holty as the figurehead.
All good things come to an end of course but when we swapped our number 9 for a flashy expensive new one, it left a massive hole (again not a dig at his physique) and fundamentally changed the dynamic within the team. Snoddy’s attempt to take over the mantle was perhaps as successful as his attempt to take over penalty duties.
It wasn’t the first time either. Promotion in 2004 saw the departure of two big characters in Iwan Roberts and Malky MacKay. City legends who helped define the title-winning side but who were deemed surplus to requirements immediately after.
In both examples, it ended in tears the following season and whilst I’m not suggesting this was the sole reason for either of those relegations, there’s so much more to building and sustaining a team than simply bolting on expensive new signings. If that were true, Man City’s millions would have bought the Champions League a long time ago.
The off-season is a trying time for any football fan. There’s an understandable clamour for transfer news and questions over when and where the club is going to splash the cash.
It’s fun to speculate of course but some folk seem all too keen on slotting each new rumoured target into their starting XI with little regard for who makes way and what that does to the balance of the team.
Let’s not forget that unlike our last two promotion-winning sides, Alex Neil already has a squad packed full of Premier League experience. He also has characters such as Wes and Russ that have been an integral part of the City journey through good times and bad.
Yes we need to strengthen but if it was down to me, I would leave the majority of the squad unchanged and (as a wise man once put it) just “bring one or two in to give the lads a hand”.