Updated on 9th July to reflect new signings Marvin Ekpiteta and Oliver Šarkić.
Blackpool fans have long become used to heavy upheaval in the close season, and while that hasn’t necessarily changed as yet under Simon Sadler, at least the club seems to have a forward-thinking transfer policy and clearly wants to get the business done early.
This is the third transfer window we’ve had under Sadler’s regime, the previous two having seen 24 new players come through the door, under three different managers.
The 25th signing, the first in this summer window, was Keshi Anderson on a free from League Two Champions Swindon Town. The fact that Blackpool have struck early in the bosman market, becoming the first team in League One to snap up an out-of-contract player, can be seen as a statement of intent. Marvin Ekpiteta also followed this week, another free signing from a side in the level below who was snapped up at the end of his contract, ahead of various other teams who were linked with the powerful defender. And then we secured Oliver Šarkić from League One rivals Burton Albion, another free transfer who was snapped up quickly and decisively by our recruitment team despite Burton trying to extend his deal.
The fact we’ve been able to steal a march on our rivals so early in the market indicates the benefit to keeping the recruitment team at work during the lock down period, and judging by the fact that 16 players have left (including 7 loans from last year), then we should expect plenty more new faces through the door.
Bizarrely, given Sadler has only been in position for 12 months, we only have five players remaining since the previous regime – Feeney, Delfouneso, Virtue, Turton and Nottingham – the latter two who may not see this summer out at the club! That in itself says a lot about the previous regime – either everyone wanted out, or the new board wanted their own players in. Regardless, we hope and need to start to see more continuity and long-term thinking when it comes to new players as we try to get out of this division.
So how is the current squad shaping up and which positions will Neil Critchley and the recruitment team have in mind?
Judging on the Liverpool connections of the coaching staff and based on the two games that Critchley has managed so far, we should expect either a 4-3-3 or 5-3-2 formation with wing-backs. Rather than assuming one or the other, the below considers multiple positions for players and looks to outline specific areas of strength or weakness.
Having let Mark Howard, Jak Alnwick, Chris Mafoumbi and Myles Boney all leave, we only had youngster Jack Sims left on the books. We’ve secured Chris Maxwell on a long-term contract who will likely take the number 1 jersey, but the board will be looking for some competition here.
After the departures of loanees Ben Heneghan and Taylor Moore, we’re left with the bare bones in this position. Marvin Ekpiteta joins only Jordan Thorniley and Ryan Edwards, though there is a chance that Ollie Turton may sign a new deal and can fill in here. There’s also The Sheriff Michael Nottingham who can provide cover, but it’s unlikely he will feature and he’s surely going to be moved on. Expect at least one more defender to come in, and if we see two then it may suggest Critchley is looking at a back three rather than four.
Right wing backs
The Star Man playing on the wing is Liam Feeney – Pool’s assist machine should suit the Trent Alexander-Arnold role down to the ground. Teddy Howe also likes to get forward, so really this is an area of strength in comparison to other areas of the field. Turton and Nottingham may feature – if they stay – in more of a flat back four.
Left wing backs
James Husband and Calum McDonald are likely to battle for the left-back slot, regardless of the formation. Marc Bola departs from his loan spell, but he seemed a strange signing in January given we already had two strong left-backs at the time. It’s unlikely we will sign another left sided defender you’d think.
After the departure of Jay Spearing, Blackpool are short of defensive cover in midfield. Spearing was caught short at times last season and while his departure was in some ways surprising, it wasn’t too concerning either and shouldn’t come back to bite us providing we sign someone better.
Further forward, Anderson and Šarkić join Sullay Kaikai, Grant Ward and and Matty Virtue who are likely to be the supply line for the forwards, the latter who was captain of Liverpool’s youth team under Critch. Jamie Devitt will likely be on the move, but may have the chance to impress his new manager in preseason. Again, this is an area of strength, although given we lost Kieran Dewsbury-Hall and Connor Ronan, we should expect another option here. The number 26 shirt is available…
Leading the line is goal machine and Geordie Supreme, Gary Madine. This man will surely fill the void of Armand Gnanduillet and should be able to adapt to the new style of play fairly comfortably. The Nutt Joe Nuttall was coming into some decent form before the break so should expect plenty of game time in preseason. He will need to hit the ground running though, after an unspectacular first season. Forgotten man Ryan Hardie returns after bagging 7 goals in 6 starts for Plymouth in their rise from League Two, and stalwart Nathan Delfouneso will provide further competition in the forward line. Again we should expect at least one new face here, given the loss of big Armand, but we’re going into a transfer window with more quality here than in recent years. We have been linked with Swindon man Jerry Yates in addition to Omar Bogle who has recently been released by Cardiff. You feel that this will be the key signings which defines the outcome of the coming season, and hopefully the board get it right.
There’s plenty of work to be done in the window if we’re hoping to be competing at the top end of the table having lost a lot of borrowed quality at the end of last season. With a couple of defenders surely at the top of the agenda and a replacement for Spearing – both in terms of his position but also his leadership – we should be shaping up in a decent position by the time we go back to training. Let’s not forget that we aren’t in a regular summer and therefore we have an extra six weeks at least to play with to get the squad shaped up.
On the way out, Adi Yussuf didn’t even deserve a mention in this article and Sadler must thank his lucky stars that Terry McPhillips isn’t still in charge of the recruitment. He will surely move on along with Devitt and Nottingham. It remains to be seen whether we can keep hold of highly-regarded Tony Weston and hopefully the promise of some first-team football this year should persuade him to stay, especially given the Liverpool connections. Ewan Bange and Nathan Shaw will both be looking to impress in preseason too, but we should expect at least one, if not both, to head out on loan.
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