Shaping Of The Squad
Posted on June 29, 2007
Filed Under Blues News
Basically I wanted to examine the squad a little and see what we’re doing to solve problems as well as deciding on whether the targets that we’re going for are up to scratch or not. I’ve done plenty of transfer digest posts over the last few weeks but I’m yet to look at the squad as a whole. It’s difficult to do when there’s still so much buying and selling to be done but the links are now coming thick and fast and a lot of deals have been given credence by certain outlets in the local media.
And that leads me nicely onto Garry O’Connor who officially signed for the club yesterday. There’s been some nice quotes attributed to him since he signed and he’s clearly up for a challenge and relishing the chance to play against the likes of Chelsea when the season starts in little over a month.
In another piece on .com, O’Connor talks about his time in Russia and how it’s helped him mature as a person and as a player. Eric Black also gives O’Connor a ringing endorsement and O’Connor reveals that there was quite a bit of interest in him before he signed for Blues. All in all, I’m over the moon that he’s here.
I think initially people were a bit disappointed. All we kept hearing about was how this player was too expensive, how we were baulking at asking prices and wages and it seemed as though we’d never actually sign anyone. Then O’Connor was mentioned for under £3m and Blues fans seemed underwhelmed by the idea of a player who, on the surface of things, looked a trouble maker and didn’t have a fantastic scoring record.
It feels as though the more we’ve learnt, the more excited we’ve become and already he seems to have been elevated to a starter’s position and the talk is of who will play next to him, if anyone at all. O’Connor seems like the type of player that Blues fans will love, always willing to give it a go and always willing to learn. He sounds like he’s up for it and so all that remains is seeing if he can walk the walk as well as he can talk the talk.
Young and hugnry : Check!
And speaking of new signings, the news is in today that Blues expect French international midfielder Kapo to sign from Juventus for £2m next week.
I said yesterday that it would be a nervy wait. I’m still not crowing from the rooftops but if the Mail report something like this, it’s usually pretty reliable. I won’t be completely satisfied until I see it in official on the Blues website, however. The use of language in the Mail site is interesting…
But Kapo decided to pin his faith in Blues, who believe he can re-ignite his career with them in the Premiership as their key playmaker after it stalled in Turin.
Hmmm! To me, “key playmaker” suggests a role in the middle of the park. Something which our esteemed manager has not really been keen on in previous seasons. We’ve had attack minded players – albeit not in the same class as Kapo – but Bruce has either stuck them out wide or not played them at all. Jarosik was perhaps the only exception when he played him behind a main striker for a period. It didn’t exactly work. It’ll be interesting to see where Bruce fits Kapo in. I can’t see him being happy at being back up to Clemence or Jonty!
Matthieu Flamini of Arsenal is another name we’ve been linked with and if we pull this signing off, it will be a definite sign of intent. He’s a classy player and would wholly improve our midfield. He doesn’t panic in possession and would, in my opinion, progress even further than he has at Arsenal with a regular run, in a good side, in his favourite position.
The problem might be this… where are we now going to accommodate Muamba? Well, let’s just for a second assume that such a problem exists. There’s a few options. Either shunt Kapo onto the left (where I’ve read that he’s at his best, very much in the McSheffrey role, supporting the main strikers) and move McSheffrey up front.
Or play a 4-4-1-1 with Flamini and Muamba sitting behind Kapo supporting O’Connor up top on his own. Possibly add De Ridder onto the right and you have a completely transformed midfield.
Or even play Kapo on the right – if we don’t get De Ridder – and leave McSheffrey where he is with O’Connor partnering the much fancied to do well next season Cameron Jerome up front?
Other bids are still going in for players and I’d be very excited at the prospect of Konchesky from West Ham United and Liam Ridgewell from Aston Villa. The back line is worrying me because even at Championship level, Tiny dropped the odd clanger and Jaidi was sent off more times than is acceptable. That yard of pace that he’s lacking could be two at the top level and it’s scary to think about… although by Jaidi’s own admission, the Championship was a different kettle of fish for him so maybe I’m doing him a disservice.
I don’t think too many of us would be comfortable with just Sadler as a recognised left back next season. I’m hoping that we step up our interest in Konchesky sooner rather than later. I don’t like the idea that we’re leaving it quite late. Kelly cannot play left back (I’m amazed by people who think he did well – he did, under the circumstances, which is a right back filling in at left back but not as a serious contender to the left back berth) and off the top of my head, I’m struggling to think of anyone else who could cover should Sadler suffer an injury or run out of steam as was reported last season.
Konchesky fits the bill perfectly of what we need and the more I think about him in a Blues shirt, the more I think I want it to happen. He’s a good player who – like so many others who seem to be joining – could quickly revert to his best if we provide him with a happy home and a good start to the season.
Ridgewell would make me nervous originally but we desperately need cover at centre half. If not Ridgewell, who? We were linked with a US international a couple of weeks ago but I know little about him and haven’t read anything since. Ridgewell seems to be the number 1 target and like Konchesky, if we’re going to get him, let’s get him and get him in at the same time as everyone else – let’s all start the pre-season together. Djourou of Arsenal seems to have gone quiet so I’d very much doubt him coming here now…
Midfield, defence… finally, strikers. Mikael Forssell, Cameron Jerome, DJ Campbell, Rowan Vine and Garry O’Connor. I can’t make my mind up about this list. Out of all of them, Cameron Jerome is the guy tipped to make a splash next year and I can see why. He’s the only real powerful and pacey forward that we have who genuinely looks a threat when on song.
DJ will do a job if he can continue his habit of being in the right place at the right time and we’re still yet to really see what Rowan Vine is capable of. Still, he showed signs of quality last season and this will be a big ask of him. Not only the step up but also forcing his way into the first XI. If I’m honest, I can’t see him being here beyond January. Mikael Forssell… well, who knows what the story is with him any more? I’m tired of typing “If he can get his form back…”
O’Connor seems to me to be the only striker we’ll be signing. Kamara of West Bromwich Albion and Harewood of West Ham United were deemed too expensive and we’ve heard nothing of Mido coming from Tottenham Hotspur in almost a month now. Me thinks the striking department is done. I think Bruce is thinking that McSheffrey can always play up top and for me, he can be last season’s Bendtner, doing the unexpected and bringing us points when it looks like we mightn’t get any.
So what if all – or most – of these signings come off?
One of the key reasons we were relegated was our inability to hold onto the ball. It’s almost as if the defence didn’t trust the midfield. They’d be a bit of knocking it backwards and forwards 10 yards and then it’d end up being launched up field with no hope of getting it back any time soon. Our opponents could play, we couldn’t.
The players we’re being linked with look as though they have the quality to be comfortable in possession and with that comes the ability to be much more probing in the way we attack. We’ll know a bit more about our strikers next term if this sort of signing comes off. After all, we could’ve had Thierry Henry, Andriy Shevchenko and Ruud Van Nistelrooy during our relegation season and we still wouldn’t have scored a goal… judging our strikers would’ve been very harsh.
The players being linked are all young, hungry and will improve the side. This can only be a good thing and even more pleasing is the fact that we’re looking at the type of player to fit the gaps that we have now or that we had in our last Premiership season.
We didn’t have width last year, we didn’t have a “key playmaker” in our last season in the Prem, we didn’t have competition for places all over the park, two players for each position, players who retain position and exploit space, attacking outlets. Gone are the players here for a pay day, players who cannot stand up to the rigours of a full campaign, players who think they’re better than they are.
Of course, with such change comes casualties and players such as Tebily, Gray and even Neil Kilkenny (maybe, sadly, even a Clemence or a Johnson?) and some younger reserves might have to leave. It’s the price of progress and one of these players could go on to be a big star. But can we keep hold of them knowing that they will probably not get a chance in the first team at this moment in time? More to the point, would they want to stay? I sincerely doubt it.
The whole edict has changed and it feels like it’s really started to roll over the last few days. The most important aspect that I can see is variety. When we were relegated, we were terribly one dimensional and had one tactic. The squad – if it all comes together as the board and Bruce are seemingly planning – will have options, depth and variety.
If it doesn’t work, it can be changed. If players get injured or suffer a loss of form, there’s someone there to take his place. Players want to play for Blues and want to do well and with six weeks to go until the season starts, it feels good to be typing – and feeling – such things.
At the moment, all we have is a bunch of newspaper articles claiming that these things are happening. But Muamba came from Arsenal almost out of the blue one day and now Kapo and O’Connor have done the same. Would you bet against the likes of Konchesky, Ridgewell and Flamini doing the same?
At the moment, I personally wouldn’t.