Us Blackpool fans are riding the crest of a wave at the moment. The recent news about the long-awaited training ground and East Stand plans getting underway, closely followed by the club’s handling of the Jake Daniels news as he became the first gay professional footballer in the UK in over 30 years, has genuinely made me the proudest I’ve ever felt to be a Blackpool fan.
It feels like a really pivotal period in Blackpool FC’s history, as we really start to look to an exciting future with Simon Sadler at the helm of our club and we truly start to appreciate the club’s motto of ‘Progress‘ like never before.
It promises to be an exciting summer of transfer incomings and outgoings this summer as Neil Critchley and the club’s recruitment department look to strengthen on the solid foundations built this season – as well as throughout Sadler’s three years.
We’ve become quite used to a flurry of transfer activity throughout our recent history – the history of fielding a whole new squad of trialists and new faces in pre-season games needs no introduction to us from the previous regime. And even in Sadler’s three previous summer windows we have seen more than 10 players in and out each time as they looked to battle through a pandemic and a step up to the Championship.
But this summer is certain to be different. With 25 players over the age of 21 already contracted, our squad is maxed out vs the permitted number of players we can register in the Championship. That means one thing – there will need to be outgoings for there to be incomings. This has prompted me to consider the players closest to the exit door, allowing for new blood to come in.
Assessing the approach
Taking a look at Head of Football Operations John Stephenson’s approach (yes, I’ve read his book and highly recommend), the approach is to plan years in advance with the wage structure and contract expiries to pre-empt when players will be moved on and which areas will need to be strengthened. The emphasis is on forward planning, to ensure the mistakes made with transfers are kept to a minimum. The model is built on removing the squad players where possible, and finding players who will make a difference to the starting 11 in their place – as well as the club’s strategy on coaching to make players better and selling players of value to reinvest in the squad. It makes for a tricky position to be in, in terms of some big decisions needing to be made on players who have done well previously, but may need to be moved on for the benefit of overall progress of the squad. Wages, contract length, age and personality will all come into it as the club hierarchy looks to trim the squad. All of this combined, makes for my assessment below as I look to work out who is most likely to leave.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that this situation is likely to be pivotal to the club’s transfer business this summer. Bowler has 12 months left on his deal which is the key reason we’re even talking about his potential departure. The vultures were circling in January and are surely likely to come back for a 23-year-old who has a big future in the game. We’ll probably never know the exact fee as it will be undisclosed, but that should trigger our transfer business in terms of the 2-3 players who can make our squad significantly stronger.
JT has been linked with an exit ever since Critchley walked through the door really and the fact he made 14 appearances for us since January is testament to the lad’s workrate and quality. He’s gone from being behind Michael Nottingham in the pecking order to becoming a regular in the Championship and played a key part in our promotion last year too. But given he’s now going into the last 12 months of his deal would suggest that he may be moved on this summer.
Arguably one of our players of the season before his injury, Keshi has become a fan favourite for the Pool. But he hasn’t found his form since his return and had an underwhelming few games towards the end of the season – though it has to be mentioned that not many players did particularly well either. The fact that Anderson is arguably at the peak of his powers at the age of 27 and – born in Luton – has tended to ply his trade down south, has provoked rumours that we may be looking at the Keshman moving on this summer. I hope instead that we’re talking about a new deal in the same way we were treated to Marvin Ekpiteta signing a new contract recently, but Keshi does have to feature high up this list.
There’s always a player who splits the fanbase in two and that man of this moment is CJ. It would be fair to say that he’s inconsistent – on his day he can tear teams apart but there are questions over whether he possesses the consistency to play regularly in the Championship. In Neil Critchley, Hamilton has the best coach around, in my view to give him a chance of stepping up to this level. But ultimately, he will have to prove it and Critchley and the club will have to make a call on whether they extend his deal or look to move him on. Blackpool intend to go back in for Charlie Kirk after a decent loan spell and Owen Dale looks more favoured having signed permanently in January, which means CJ is surely closest to the exit door.
Perhaps a surprising inclusion on this list, but Grimmy is also going into the last 12 months of his deal. The goalkeeper situation will come to a head this season – Grimmy and captain Chris Maxwell will likely have preseason to be vying for the number one shirt, and Stuart Moore will act as a third-choice backup. It could go either way – Grimmy may make the shirt his own and it will be up to Maxwell to accept a backup place as he looks to wind down and go into a coaching role. Or, Maxwell may be favoured and Grimshaw opt to look for first-team football elsewhere. To me, it feels like this town ain’t big enough for the two of them long-term so one of them will need to accept being second fiddle. We have to trust in the club to tie Grimmy down to a log-term deal. Rumours have started around potential interest in the 24-year-old stopper and rightly so – the lad has been phenomenal and has a bright future in the game.
Another lad who can’t seem to shake off the rumours, a decision will need to be made in the forward areas this summer as it’s clear we need more quality in the final third. Between Jerry, Shayne Lavery, Gary Madine and Jake Beesley, we have four capable strikers but it feels to me like one of them has to go in the next 12 months to pave the way for a top striker at this level. It was a disappointing for Yates by his own standards as he only managed eight goals – the majority of them from the penalty spot. I personally backed him to get double-figures and while we can point to Lavery’s strong season as one of the reasons for his average season, Jerry will have to show more this year if he’s to have a long-term future at this level. I think Critchley will back him and give him a shot this year, but it feels like it could go either way and wouldn’t surprise me if we’re talking about either a loan or permanent move away in January or next summer if he has similar luck in front of goal.
Left-back is an area that surely needs to be addressed this summer. Loanee Dujon Sterling was arguably the most impressive left-back last year and James Husband also filled in there despite being favoured at centre-back by Neil Critchley. The two spots in the current squad are taken up by Garbutt and Reece James – neither of whom had particularly consistent game time or form this season. James joined last summer on a three-year deal, so feels the more likely of the two to stay. Garbutt has had his injury problems and – now aged 29 – has always struggled to play consistently in the Championship. I would bet on a move for the Harrogate-born defender before the season starts.
Focusing more towards the immediate future, decisions will need to be made on younger squad players in terms of whether they are likely to feature regularly or would benefit from a loan move away. Casey feels like the most likely to deserve a loan move away, having only featured eight times this season. I’d expect to see a new defender come in this window, which will only move him down the pecking order. Richard Keogh’s contract option of 12 months was taken by the club, so a loan move to a top League One side for Casey would potentially suit all parties. The other option is to push him up the pecking order and back him to perform regularly at this level.
Who? You may ask… well it’s Blackpool’s latest addition to the squad having signed in January from Southport and then immediately loaned back there for the remainder of the season. Tharme is 22 so warrants a place in the 25-man squad if he stays, so he’s another who a decision will need to be made on during pre-season whether he immediately features in the squad or loaned out. It feels like one of Casey and Tharme is likely to go out on loan.
With the likelihood of a central midfielder and a right-back coming in as a minimum this summer, there are sure to be at least two departures from the list above. More likely, there will be a couple out on loan and 2-3 permanent departures too. Some tough calls are likely being made as I write this blog and some tricky decisions will need to be made in early pre-season, as the club’s ambitious plans to incrementally improve the squad each season are realised. All of the players above, with the exception of Tharme who hasn’t yet played, have achieved something with us in their time with us, and had plenty of good games in tangerine, so it’s an unusual position for us as a club that we’re talking about trimming such capable players from the squad.
It’s likely to be more of a sniper than a machine gun from the hip that defines our transfer business for the next few windows, so we’ll likely see some twists and turns along the way. The good thing is that we can rest assured that Sadler, Critchley and co will do everything in its power to reinvest the money made from the deals back into the club, and the players coming in should be of a higher calibre than those outgoings. Let’s just try and enjoy the ride!
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