Friday, May 29, 2009

Root and branch reform

Well, as Ben has now picked over the rotten carcass of the 2008-2009 season, it's up to me to look at how the club move forward.

Firstly, we need to appoint a new broom. In much the same way as when Fat Mike bought the club and had Chris Mort come in and assess every aspect of the non playing side, we now need someone to do the same on the playing front. Coaching structure, player recruitment, fitness, training all need assessing and revamping as necessary.

If that person is Alan Shearer, then I'd anticipate seeing a few different faces on the coaching staff before pre-season training starts, with Hughton and Calderwood both likely to leave and returns to the club for John Carver and Robert Lee the most likely. If it isn't Alan Shearer, then we need to identify an alternative asap, because, with the new season only 71 days away, the clock is ticking.

Similarly, the disastrous player recruitment structure which bound Keegan's hands so tightly needs to be killed off once and for all. Whoever the new manager is, he needs to choose his own players. He's the one in the firing line if they don't perform, so it's only right that he has the authority to hire and fire.

Whatever happens, it seems pretty certain that JFK's convalescence will continue away from the club, and I'll be amazed if he finds another job in management now. I would suggest he could try and get a job in the media, but think he may have burnt his bridges on that front.

On the playing front, basic economics dictate that we need to lose most, if not all, of our higher earners and replace them with players on less money. The likes of Owen, Viduka, Lovenkrands and Cacapa will go as their contracts expire, but players like Coloccini, Gutierrez, Geremi and Barton also need to follow.

Off too will be Martins, although he should at least command a good fee. His finishing may, at times, be erratic, but he's a quick two-footed striker, and there simply aren't too many of those floating around.

I'd also like to see Duff go, but he apparently wants to stick around. Cynically, I wonder whether this might be because he knows he won't find another club willing to pay him half what he currently earns?

Edgar's contract is also up, but he might actually be worth hanging on to in the Championship which, from what I've seen, looks to be his natural level. Similarly, Ryan Taylor's long throw might just be worth hanging on to.

I'm a bit less certain on the subject of Alan Smith and Kevin Nolan (although I'm sure a couple of half-decent offers wouldn't be rejected). I have a nagging thought that both might actually prove to be assets in the Championship. However, as a general rule all the guys on big bucks who haven't pulled their weight need to go, and those two definitely fall into that category.

Shola too might find that playing against Championship defences proves to be to his liking, although I wouldn't be remotely unhappy to see him depart should a suitable offer come in for him.

There is, however, a core of experienced players that I'd like to see remain. Most notably, Harper, Butt and Beye, who should add some wise old heads in the dressing room next season. With them, players like Bassong, Taylor (S), Carroll and Guthrie can surely help lift us out of the Championship, with the addition of some players with a bit of pace. (Although Bassong has already said he'd like to stay in the Premiership, which makes me doubt he'll still be around come August).

I'd also prefer to hang on to Jose Enrique who finally started to look like a half decent left back this season. Unfortunately he was the only half decent left back at the club, which meant we were instantly in trouble as soon as he was injured (a problem Keegan identified last summer, but which the poisoned dwarf failed to address).

The future may well lie with the youth. Players like Kazenga LuaLua, Tamas Kadar and Nile Ranger should now get a real chance to prove themselves, which should hopefully mean that they have some hunger and energy in the team's play.

The challenge for the manager, of course, is trying to convince someone else to pay to take the dead wood without also losing too many of the healthy parts of the tree.

The next four weeks could well prove crucial for the club. If we can appoint a manager and then get shot of as many players as quickly as possible, it should free up the purse strings to enable us to refresh the squad. If we're stuck with people unable or unwilling to leave then the start of the season will arrive before we are ready for it, and any chance of a speedy return to the Premiership could well be over before it has even begun.


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