The Lower League Week – The Angry Italian Man Edition
Some Big Transfers Out of the Lower Leagues…
Aston Villa picked up Chesterfield centre forward Jordan Bowery and beat out Swansea for Crewe’s ball-playing defensive midfielder Ashley Westwood. Peterborough strengthened their attacking options by signing Southend’s Kane Ferdinand, and 18 year old Portsmouth defender Sam Magri, who had been scouted by Liverpool amongst others, moved to QPR.
Having taken Norwich up from the third tier, and spent three of his seven years in management in the fourth tier, Paul Lambert will have an appreciation of the fact there’s talent in the lower leagues, while Peterborough and Darren Ferguson have had a long-term policy of looking for improvable players from lower down the ladder (in place since Craig Mackail-Smith and George Boyd five years ago). Given QPR’s transfer policy appears to be centred around signing big name thirty somethings, and that the Rs were the only Premier League team to play no-one under the age of 21 last season, I’m a little more sceptical over whether the Magri move is part of a positive trend. But seeing Bowery, Westwood and Ferdinand move up should persuade other talented youngsters to start at unfashionable clubs, and will hopefully be an encouragement to other clubs to be ambitious in investing in talented young entertainers over journeymen.
Richard Wright, who spent a week as a Preston North End player, managed to overcome his homesickness to sign on as Manchester City’s third choice keeper, the lure of sitting on the bench for their League Cup ties clearly too strong to resist. Rumours suggest that Wright signed on at Preston before knowing about Graham Westley’s intense training methods, but with Steve Simonsen since joining Preston, things have turned out for the best for all parties.
And surprisingly, Pablo Mills, captain and a key player in Crawley’s rise, dropped into the Conference with Macclesfield. He’d been widely tipped to follow his former manager to Rotherham, where he played for four years before moving to Crawley, and had been linked to French Ligue 2 team Bolougne. Aged 28 with a consistent record behind him and few serious injuries, it’s a little surprising to see him drop out of the Football League again.
…Some Big Transfers In…
Iain Hume, frozen out at Preston despite bagging 10 goals last year and 12 in the Championship the year before, was loaned to Doncaster, allowing North End to grab the more physical Stuart Bevon from Wycombe. Jimmy Bullard has signed for MK Dons until the turn of the year, adding a little more higher league experience. Dave Kitson, a free agent since leaving Portsmouth, has joined Sheffield United where he’ll be expected to help fill the boots of Ched Evans, and Coventry snapped up the pacey David McGoldrick on loan until January.
Swindon were busy in the final days, adding Millwall defender Darren Ward, Swansea fullback Federico Bessone and Giles Coke, an energetic and eye-catching midfielder who’s never really settled enough to make the most of his ability. They also swapped deposed captain Paul Caddis
for Birmingham’s Luke Rooney, both on season-long loans – more on that later.
A left field but interesting transfer is that of Lorenzo Davids to Bournemouth - the Dutch U21 international and Edgar’s cousin is only 25 and played 20 times in the Bundesliga last year, so may prove to be something of a coup.
In the lower leagues’ other notable transfers included Portsmouth adding three players, and Patrick Agyemang signing for Stevenage, adding to their impressive physical options up front.
Experienced lower league goalscorer Jo Kuffour (who hit double figures in League One for three different relegated teams in 2006-08) moved to Wycombe and York City snapped up PFA Chairman Clarke Carlisle and former Carlisle and West Brom forward Scott Dobie, who had been without a club for a full year.
…And the Impact of Financial Fair Play
This year is the first that rules on Financial Fair Play have been mandatory in League One, clubs now having to limit their wage spending to 65% of turnover.
Sheffield United, who had previously lost key players Lee Williamson on a free transfer and Ched Evans because of his…less tasteful activities, had still been over budget, so much so that key senior players Nick Montgomery and Richard Cresswell had been frozen out. On the final day of the window, Montgomery moved to Australian side Central Coast Mariners, and play-maker Stephen Quinn departed to Hull. The signing of Dave Kitson strengthened the forward line, while his fellow striker Richard Cresswell has been converted to a player-coach, on a contract that sees him come back into the fold.
It appears that Sheffield United will have been quite far over the limit last year, particularly with Evans being one of their bigger earners at the time. It presents a decent argument that the FFP rules will achieve their aim of levelling the playing field.
On the other hand, Portsmouth have signed three experienced pros and allowed a promising youngster to leave. Magri is considered a major capture by QPR youth team manager Mark Bircham, but wasn’t part of the first team plans at Portsmouth. Michael Appleton said that “I didn’t see him getting near my team this season.” If signing him is that big a deal for QPR, why is he not good enough to make the match day squad at Portsmouth? By 18 he should be starting to knock on the door, surely?
Portsmouth, despite their reported £50 million debts, have received £3.45m of parachute payments, which in itself gives them over £2m a year to play with. Meanwhile, I’ve heard an unconfirmed rumour of a lower league manager, at one of the less fashionable and financially muscular clubs, who going into the last day of the window had two free transfers lined up. Terms were agreed, he had the chairman’s permission, and he was confident that they’d improve the squad. But he was told by the Football League that they couldn’t be registered, as they would push the wage bill over 65% of the season’s turnover. This is at a club that has never been in administration, and whose board have been respected custodians for many years. Meanwhile, Portsmouth are allowed to dig their financial hole a little deeper.
Financial Fair Play is a fantastic idea, which should protect clubs from the vainest owners, who want love, attention for their other businesses, or just the land the ground is built on. But the rule appears too stiff, and a little too bureaucratically applied. 65% of turnover is a decent rough ceiling for wages, but maybe a little flexibility should be allowed for clubs and personnel who’ve proven themselves to be reliable decision makers.
Chanrai is a Banker (Metaphorically)
I don’t want to dwell too much on Portsmouth, but just a brief word. Although I’ve expressed my discomfort in previous weeks at the thought of Portsmouth paying for players other clubs can’t afford, I am sympathetic to the overall plight. I hope the club can be delivered into the hands of either the Supporters’ Trust, or at least another benefactor with their heart in the right place. Portpin, the vehicle of former owner Balram Chanrai, have this week said that their high interest, high risk loan should be protected, as Portpin “should receive a fair value for that investment”. It was a statement that received the ridicule it deserved, including an excellent dissection at FansNetwork.co.uk
With a major community asset on the verge of folding, it’s slightly offensive to see a millionaire displaying the same attitude as seen in many captains of industry through the current financial crisis, who want harsh competition when they’ve made good investments and soft guarantees when they’ve made bad ones.
League Cup Upsets
Hull led from the first minute at Doncaster, and having gone two goals ahead after ten minutes, a massacre may have been feared. But Doncaster pulled the game back to 2-2 just before the hour, and the game was settled in a dramatic last few minutes. Ten man Hull’s Jay Simpson burst onto a through ball only to strike the post, before Jamie Coppinger placed a pass into the six-yard box for David Syers to grab the win.
MK Dons defeated Blackburn, with Luke Chadwick scoring two poacher’s goals, Preston thumped a weakened Crystal Palace team 4-1, a last minute equaliser and an extra time winner took Carlise through in extra time at Ipswich’s expense, Crawley overcame Bolton Wanderers and Burton defeated Leicester in a match where a thirty yard strike from the left wing had put Burton 4-1 in front.
Two strong strikes in the last ten minutes from Kyle Reid and Garry Thompson took Bradford through at Watford’s expense to continue the feeling that this might be the year Bradford finally pull themselves together, and a thunderbolt of a strike from Kevin Kilbane (who’d been earning criticism after a poor start to his Coventry career) saw manager-less Coventry come from behind to defeat Championship Birmingham.
The most exciting game looked to be at Stoke where The Potters met Swindon. Swindon scored three times from set-pieces against the masters of the art, two from summer signing James Collins. The Robins led 2-0 and 3-2, before finally adding a fourth in the last minute of extra time, to win the match 4-3.
Has di Canio Gone Too Far?
Paolo di Canio has always been an interesting personality – almost as interesting a personality as he was a player, which in his case is saying something. Until he went into management, I’d have described him as eccentric, but maybe intense would be a better word. During his time at Celtic he hired his own fitness coaches to work with him on rest days, apparently routinely going months without a proper day off, such was his dedication to achieving his personal best.
Throughout last year’s title winning season this was on display, from his confrontation with striker Leon Clarke to releasing top scorer Alan Connell rather than give him a chance in League One.
It began again at the start of this season, when he stripped Paul Caddis of the club captaincy, as ‘his attitude had changed’. Caddis, who played 50 times last year, didn’t represent Swindon at all in August and was sent to Birmingham on loan in exchange for Luke Rooney.
You’ll probably be aware of the next bit – four days after victory over a near full strength Stoke City, which di Canio described as “one of the best in the club’s history”, Swindon conceded twice in the first twenty minutes against Preston, prompting a change in goalkeepers on the way to eventually losing 4-1.
It must be nearly unprecedented – I can remember Andy Goram getting a run out from the bench at Manchester United in gratitude for signing up as cover, and Arsenal once used two different goalies from the bench to get all three to the number of appearance needed for a medal, but unenforced changes of keeper mid-match are very rare, especially for performance reasons.
di Canio said after the match that:
“If he doesn’t say he’s sorry to everybody, he’s out”
and demanded an apology for errors in that match and the last. Having watched back the highlights of the Stoke game I’m not totally sure which errors di Canio has picked up on – they may be there, but if so they were relatively subtle.
Foderingham looked the better of the two keepers in midweek from what I saw, with Sorensen dropping a straightforward catch to give Swindon their first goal, and was perhaps a little timid in coming off his line for the second. This is despite Sorensen’s much greater experience – Sorensen has played 101 times for Denmark, while 21-year-old Foderingham has 33 career appearances for Football League sides.
Foderingham did make a major mistake that led to Preston’s first goal at the weekend, trying to pass the ball out under a little too much pressure. But, as Victor Valdes proves, even the best keepers in ball playing teams misjudge how much football is too much.
A useful parallel to di Canio could be Roy Keane. Like the Italian, at Sunderland Keane put together a talented and hard-working squad, and through force of will, the manager pushed them to standards they’d normally be incapable of. But eventually, whether through player burnout or simply the fact that the player weren’t capable of dominating their Premier League opponents as they had in the league below, the magic wore off and Keane was left demanding things his players were physically couldn’t do. di Canio’s first season in management has seen him toe the line between artist and demanding taskmaster – given their success and pleasing style, he’s clearly doing a lot right. But stripping the captain of authority without warning and publically humiliating a key player for minor errors may well put too much pressure on the rest of his players.
Sheridan sacked by Chesterfield
The Football League’s second sacking of the season has been made and, like Andy Thorn last week, the manager of a relegated team who was given faith over the summer was sacked after a bad start. This time it was John Sheridan at Chesterfield who was forced out, despite arguments that he should either have been either sacked at the end of May, or given more time.
The performances don’t seem to have been too bad – Chesterfield appeared, from the highlights and stats at least, to be totally dominant against AFC Wimbledon on the opening day, with the goal in their 1-0 defeat coming from a breakaway counter-attack, and they suffered relegation whilst also winning the Football League Trophy. The Spireites picked up a strong point at the weekend, drawing 1-1 with league leaders Gillingham while dominating possession and matching the hosts for number of shots – apparently either an immediate reaction to change or things clicking into place.
Chief Executive Chris Turner (an experienced manager himself) has announced plans to take time in finding a successor, rather than making an immediate appointment so at the very least, it will be a disruptive move.
After three games, Oldham chairman Simon Corney was a little critical of the team’s start. Oldham picked up one point in those games, prompting the chairman to say
“It is not the manager’s fault. I have seen them train and I know what goes on. But it does not translate onto the pitch and it is not good enough and he knows that. It is horrible to watch. There is no entertainment and no value and I don’t blame the crowds for staying away. Why would you come and watch that? Our crowds are currently mid-table League Two – Stockport get more than us and they are in the Blue Square Premier. I think people are bored of Oldham Athletic and something has to change. The second half against Walsall was horrendous. I don’t care about the mistake – they were a poor team and we should have been well out of sight by then but we looked shattered. We need to find a solution quickly.”
Manager Paul Dickov understandably backed his players, but when the start inspires a fan to pen an article under the heading ‘Long Season Ahead for Dismal Oldham’, there may be some agreement with the chairman on the terraces.
Jessica Ennis Stand
Sheffield United unveiled the Jessica Ennis Stand ahead of the visit of Bournemouth, with both her name and face being represented high above the pitch. The stand, previously known quite blandly as the Bramall Lane Stand, was renamed with her mother and sister present. It’s a creative way of ensuring the presence of world-class athletes at Bramall Lane.
Rotherham vs Bradford
One of the strengths of the lower divisions is that results are genuinely difficult to predict, with teams of relatively equal strength capable of being separated by a wide margin if things click the right way.
After taking the lead from 30 yards in the first minute, Rotherham took control of the match. With a mixture of incisive dribbling and long-range shooting the Millers came out 4-0 victors in a hot-headed and fast-paced Yorkshire derby, to strengthen their claim as title favourites.
After Doncaster’s Kyle Bennett began the season with two goals in five games, chairman John Ryan has ‘clarified’ that his offer to hand over his Bentley if the midfielder scores twenty goals was only a joke. Boo. And after losing four times in the league and being knocked out of both cups, Scunthorpe manager this week Alan Knill survived an assassination attempt from a squirrel.