“Have you thought of an ending?”
“Yes, several, and all are dark and unpleasant”
Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
So, it’s over – no more City games for a while. Worse, Alex Neil has made life difficult for us pundits by summarising the reasons for our failure better and more succinctly than we could.
Alex Neil – surely the key piece of the jigsaw puzzle whose picture reads “We’ll be back”.
“The experience of defeat, or more particularly the manner in which a leader reacts to it, is a crucial part of what makes a winner.” It’s way too early to talk about AN in the same breath as the author of that quote (another Alex, of course). But over the past week I’ve seen some similarities.
Something in the look, in the voice and the words – something that speaks of a man who’s bowed by defeat but not broken; who’ll come back stronger and smarter. A quiet steel.
For now, we’ve lost our steel in the Chief Executive’s office; we need to recruit some more steel on the field; but at least we have it in our manager.
There’ll clearly be significant arrivals and departures on the playing side this summer. I have no inside track, no idea who they’ll be – so naturally I’ll devote the rest of today’s article to it.
We’ll bring in fresh faces, for sure. But there’s an underlying imperative. If any reader has been involved in managing a business whose income dropped 60 per cent at a stroke, they’ll have an idea.
Under David McNally’s direction, we’re as well prepared as any club could be to deal with the shock. However, there’s no getting away from harsh reality.
Our playing budget – ie. transfers plus wages – has to come down, significantly beyond where the relegation clauses (vital as they are) can take us.
I’ve seen suggestions from fans about our summer business, including some who want to keep all our top earners and most valuable assets, then add some. Unless Bournemouth’s billionaire suddenly feels an irresistible urge to relocate to Norfolk, that’s not on. Nor anything like it.
What we can do is something like a repeat of two years ago when we last came down. We sold two of our high earners (Snodgrass and Fer) for big bucks, enabling us to buy some cheaper players (including Jerome and Grabban) who could make a big impact for us in the Championship.
Yes, it’s short-term and leaves us with a new challenge if we manage to go up. But what’s the alternative? We know from bitter experience that once you have a couple of seasons in the Championship, it becomes even harder to escape. Our loan to the Endsleigh wasn’t the quick one we envisaged.
Part of determining who stays and goes, of course, is what we want. Another element is what they want. We’ll only succeed if we have a squad of players who share a full commitment – as in 2011 and 2015 – to the cause of getting us back up.
It would be sad, but surely understandable, if Timm Klose wanted to keep playing in the top division of a major country. Nathan Redmond has to be another likely departure; unless he’s desperate to sign a new contract with us and see it through – and perhaps even then – we can exploit the interest of multiple Premier League clubs to get a good price for him this summer.
(I’m assuming, by the way, that we can quickly put in place an experienced and skilful negotiator for these dealings. It may be easier said than done, but that’s another debate.)
While I’d be surprised if Klose and Redmond didn’t leave us, I’m not so sure about Steven Naismith. He strikes me as someone who won’t have made his move to Norfolk lightly or with a short-term view.
He’ll be disappointed with his contribution since January; my guess is he’ll want to stay and, with a full pre-season under his belt, show us what he can really do.
It would be disappointing if one or two of our young players returning from loan didn’t press their case in pre-season and make a mark in next season’s Championship campaign. That said, it’s clear we also need fresh blood.
Like last summer, the priority positions are central defence and up front. Given that we’re now a bigger fish in a smaller pond, we should be an attractive proposition to ambitious Championship-level players and ought to have more success than a year ago.
I’ll leave it to others to list all the players they fancy the look of. Aided by a scouting set-up that’s much stronger than we had a year ago, Alex Neil will know the kind of characters he’s looking for; that’s enough for me.
I meant to leave room for my Season Awards – that’ll have to wait for another day. There has to be one for the Ipswich fan gloating that City have now had three relegations this century, to Ipswich’s none. We just have to find the right category for him.
Meanwhile let’s sign off with another thought:
“Though no-one can go back and make a new start, anyone can start from now and make a new ending.”