Given the events that unfolded in London late last night it feels a little puerile to be commenting on events at a football club, but in the spirit of not letting these bastards change how we go about our daily lives I’ll write it anyway.
I appreciate it’ll be too raw for some to re-engage with everyday stuff, like football, so no offence taken if you don’t want to read on. But …
The pending arrival of Marley Watkins feels a bit more significant than simply being the first new face of the Daniel Farke/Stuart Webber era. In terms of the new template he ticks nearly every box.
At 26 years-old Watkins can’t obviously be considered a youngster but given his footballing background and his career trajectory he’s most certainly hungry. And in a hurry.
While born in south London, Watkins was raised in Wales and progressed through the ranks of Swansea City as a schoolboy only to be released while still part of their academy. Cheltenham Town was his next stop before dropping out of the Football League to spend a season at Bath City, quickly followed by another at Hereford Utd.
But it was at this point, aged 22, that his career finally kicked into gear when he signed for Inverness Caledonian Thistle, making his debut in a 2-2 draw at Celtic Park. Two impressive seasons there, which included a Scottish FA Cup winners medal, were sufficient for Barnsley to take the gamble.
Watkins wasn’t part of the Barnsley team that beat City 2-1 on that telling afternoon in South Yorkshire but he was, for most of the season, a key cog in Paul Heckingbottom’s well drilled Barnsley side, who defied the odds along with those who predicted a Championship season of struggle.
Whether or not Farke had any involvement in the deal, it’s clear he’s been well briefed by his new best friend, and it’s also clear this was a signing very much driven through by our new sporting director. Webber told the club’s official website; “It’s a signing which epitomises what we’re now trying to do…Marley is unbelievably fit and unbelievably hard-working as well“.
As someone who’s comfortable playing down either flank and also down the middle it’s clear that Watkins offers flexibility in what is sure to be a trimmed down squad, but what he also has in spades by virtue of the aforementioned arduous route to Norfolk is a hunger and desire to further his pro career – qualities that were simply missing from the Class of 2017.
And by that same score, some of the departures will hopefully be those for whom hunger and desire have long been replaced by comfort and complacency.
If the two Cs have seeped into your professional psyche, the other two Cs – Colney and Carrow Road – are not the place for you. There are no longer the funds for the club to employ anyone at the top of the curve and there is certainly no longer room for anyone on the down side of it.
Big, unworthy, contracts, with unsustainable relegation clauses, offered to the likes of Steven Naismith and Matt Jarvis no longer have a place in this club’s budget; the big problem of course being how do they shift players who have years left on their contracts and who are unlikely to earn more elsewhere.
It’s a dilemma for sure – one that you can guarantee Webber is wrestling with – but for all the qualities that some see in Naismith, the direction in which this club is heading suggests to me that his time here should be done (even if his interview with Radio Norfolk suggested that may not be the case). To lump Jarvis into that same category is a no-brainer.
Jonny Howson is different. No-one would suggest the Yorkshireman lacks the necessary requisites to propel this club in a forward direction and with a fair wind it would have been reasonable to see him as one of those to offer continuity in what will likely take the form of a new team on opening day.
But news that he sees in time in Norfolk as at an end has changed the landscape. From being one we wouldn’t wish to sell, he’s now moved to the ‘we have to get the best price we can for him’ category. And unlike Messrs Naismith and Jarvis there will likely, at some point, be some attractive offers on the table.
It’s disappointing, but in the spirit of straw clutching let’s not forget he’s been a central part of a team that’s been relegated twice and if we’re looking to refresh a team that’s past its sell-by date then the engine room is a good place to start. Yes, we’ll miss his energy, drive and goals but if he doesn’t want to be here then we should wish him well and help him on his way.
He’s a Yorkshireman through and through and it always felt like his stay here was never more than a stopover; he was never a Hucks or a Iwan.
But all will be revealed in the next few weeks as the transformation continues apace. New names crop up on a daily basis – I won’t bore you with them – and unsurprisingly a smattering of German names are entering the equation.
Moves are afoot, that much we do know, and I suspect if Mrs Webber’s expecting time away in June she could be disappointed.