Fan’s View 2017/18 (No.1) – Less than a week to go

Pep Clotet #3
Article by Paul Beasley

FAN’S VIEW 2017/18 (No.1) – LESS THAN A WEEK TO GO

In June last year I wrote a “Between the Seasons” piece. To date I have resisted a repeat but have weakened with the new campaign almost upon us. How can I do otherwise given we’ve now got Pep, not Mapp, at the helm of a now significantly different squad for the coming season?

There’s always change at football clubs in the close season. The loan system and the shorter contracts that are awarded these days mean that the churn is greater than of yesteryear and as a general rule with the financial clout of those teams in higher divisions being much greater than those below, it is inevitable that they will tempt away the better players plying their trade further down the pyramid.

In our case we nearly made the play-offs. We nearly had a team good enough to go up, although in need of strengthening to survive if we had done so. How things would have panned out if we had done so we’ll never know. Would Lunny have stayed? Could Conor McAleny have been persuaded not to have remained based up North? And what of Chris Maguire? I suspect money would still have had a large part to play.

Which yet again hammers home to us that players come and players go. They kiss the badge. They move on and earn their living somewhere else for an extra dollar or two or many more and an extra year or two security with a longer contract, kissing a different badge as suits. We can’t blame them. “It’s a short career”.  (Or possibly not any longer when compared with the world outside the football bubble and all its zero hours contracts). Stating the obvious it’s the hard core of fans that remain the constant at a football club. Them (us) and the likes of Mick Brown & PRB on the payroll and Jerome in the Radio Oxford commentary box. That said there are a few players who have a genuine loyalty and affection for a particular football club they’ve played for above all others. I’d put Beano and Oxford United in that category.

We know the right thing to do is to get behind any newbies from day one and embrace them as our potential new heroes, the replacements for our departed captain and ex-Scottish international, even if we know little about them.

Of those that have moved on, it is the polite thing to wish them well and good luck. I can see that but I’m not quite sure that’s the way to go, particularly given the circumstances. It’s different if the club decided to get rid. Naturally if we’ve sold a player and there’s a sell on clause it is in our interests for them to be a big success and move on again for lots of dosh.  Other than that there’s a bit of me (a nasty bit) that thinks well f*** you then if you don’t want to play for us, never mind how big a hero you were when wearing yellow. Future failure would result in a quiet chuckle. Additionally it shouldn’t be forgotten that anyone in last season’s yellow who is now elsewhere in L1 will be a rival so why should we wish them well?  Vindictive and wrong, I know, but when they were with us my support was wholehearted and 100% sincere as it will be for every single player representing my football club in the months ahead, for in those months OUFC is their football club too.

When Michael Appleton left he was the 10th longest serving manager in the Football league (refusing to call it EFL although may relent one day) and was with us just shy of 3 years. I would have liked to have seen him stay and build on our first season back in the third tier. Perhaps the same questions apply to any if he’d stayed scenario as I’ve posed in the case of if we’d got promoted. The two may well have been linked. We’re told he was on £200k at Oxford. If we had got promoted he would have got a rise no doubt but the £500k at Leicester is a massive increase. I get the money thing but not the being number two. Premiership riches rule all of course. I also don’t get the style he has moved to at Leicester. They are a side who are very happy to have the minority of possession. Mapp’s philosophy was very much about possession and winning the ball back quite quickly after we’d lost it. Could be some interesting discussions with his mate Craig Shakespeare.

When news of his going came some of our fans appeared to go into meltdown, blaming Darryl Eales. I don’t know the full facts but felt the stick being flung our Chairman’s way was bang out of order. We do seem to have an element that are just waiting, poised to have a go. If they are basing such criticism on sound evidence and fact then fair enough but it’s usually just rumour and hearsay and sometimes “I know stuff but I can’t say”. What I also find strange is that there seems to be delight taken in adopting this approach.

Apparently it was all Eales’s fault for not selling out to Juan Sartori who had promised to fund the club at a much higher rate and our current owner had reneged on budget promises.

Mapp has subsequently said that he was never denied promised funds and DE has stated that he met Sartori only twice and there was no formal deal on the table. Additionally, leakage of information and lack of progress in discussions led him to conclude that a deal would not be completed and it was therefore in the best interest of OUFC to end those discussions.

The critics argue that our chairman is in financial difficulties and can’t even keep funding us at the level he did in L1 last season. Whilst he’s said the jump to the next level is massive and he would need some help (or words to that effect), that argument is at odds with Darryl’s declarations. He’s pointed out that before he took over, the playing budget was £1.1m. In 2014/2015 it was £1.8m, in 2015/2016 £2.2m and last season £2.8m. In the coming season this has increased by 15% although it might even be in excess of 20%. Additionally we have paid out transfer fees on top of this budget. In 2016 this totalled £1m and Pep has the opportunity to spend too.

Additionally the club will be profitable for the y/e 30 June 2017 and is fully funded for the foreseeable future, even if the playing budget is 20% up.

I can’t spot any flaws so far but if I’ve missed some substantial fact I’ll hold my hand up.

(Thanks to OxVox for this information. All taken from a Q&A with Darryl Eales. Excellent stuff by the way in both the clarity of the questions put to our chairman and the open, honest and clear manner in which he replied).

All this is one thing, the actual playing side is another. Some of the movement has happened with Mapp here and some with Pep.

PC

Pep Clotet. Photo by Steve Daniels

First though, what of Pep? He’s done a kind of Mapp in reverse, moving from employment as a number two, albeit in the Championship, to that of a number one. I’d be interested in the difference in salary in this case. His managerial career to date isn’t glowing but nor was MA’s when he came to us. He is though highly thought of as a coach and quite in the mould of his predecessor. Experience gained at Swansea and Leeds can only be beneficial for what he is about to face and I’m only hearing good things about his utter professionalism. I’ve also heard it said that he likes to move the ball quicker than Mapp and is even more attack minded but he has come on his own without backroom staff and assistants. The Mapp influence will therefore not have entirely disappeared and the solid foundations put in place remain.

Not having seen a single pre-season friendly I’ve no sound idea how things are shaping up but did feel a little depressed listening to the commentary of the Birmingham game. I picked up that we were missing chances that really should have been put away, didn’t have good shape with a single forward being isolated and were not defensively solid. (Madness to think such a way I know, without actually being there).

On to the playing staff – the ins and outs.

Of the departed, three have ended up at Bury. I’ll watch with interest what’s going on at Gigg Lane.  When we were doing nothing regarding recruitment and most other L1 teams were doing very little, the Shakers were getting their business done. This included taking two solid full-backs discarded by Mapp who was looking to deploy more attacking types in those berths. Joe Skarz clocked up 87 games for us in two and a half years. He’s still only 28 yet had that seasoned pro thing about him even when he arrived. Lacking a bit of pace he became increasingly injury prone, not that such a thing appears to be much of a factor in decisions on who will be on the books. I liked him and looked on him as a loyal club man but could see why his time was up.  Phil Edwards did okay for us too and played most games last season as a loanee. He was never going to cut it at Burton in the division above which explains why we didn’t want him as a permanent employee.

When Jermaine Beckford arrived it raised eyebrows because he was surely going to be on decent money. Bury have small gates and are running at a loss. In October last year they had faced their fourth winding up order from HMRC. They’ve obviously paid up on each occasion because they are still with us.  Bury are owned by a 35 year old Blackburn-based property developer called Stewart Day.  Not long ago SG Sports Management, a company owned by Day and the Vice Chairman was ensuring that Bury could continue to exist by making a £7.5m credit facility available. In September 2016 SG Sports Management was dissolved. That facility is now provided by a different company of theirs. This may well all be above board but if I were a Bury fan I’d be worried. It could all come crashing down.

Not only would Skarz and Edwards have to dodge the debris if this happened any time soon but Chris Maguire too. Maguire was, I believe, our highest paid player last season and had been offered an increase up to the level OUFC thought he was worth. As things went very quiet it was no shock that he signed for someone else. The shock on the face of it was that he put pen to paper where he did. I don’t want to be disrespectful but Bury ffs. They only avoided relegation by a point and goal difference in 2016/17. A closer look gives the answer. In that desperate season they had James Vaughan, ex-Everton. They’d picked him up on a free from Birmingham. On the 13 July they sold him to Sunderland for £900k. A week later Maguire was a Bury player. Wonder what percentage of that £900k he’s going to get in his wage packet over the next two years? Yes money does talk.

Maguire was an absolute joy to watch during his time with the U’s and may well have played the best football of his career to date during that period. He does however have a bad reputation in the game and is looked on as being difficult to handle. Appleton knew how to get the best out of him.  Whenever I’ve seen Lee Clark on T.V he’s not impressed me. I also wonder if Bury will be happy if Chris wants to pop up to the northern extremities of Scotland whilst his team mates are doing hard graft on the training pitch. Plus he’s again avoided a pre-season and could there be an ego thing with Beckford thinking I’m the main man here?

Bollocks though, I very much wish he was still one of ours. Might not have been first choice pick however when dishing out the top salary. At the AGM DE had hinted that Mapp would have gone for Conor McAleny as the number one priority and if we’d tempted him there might not have been enough left in the pot for even a half decent offer to the other CM. As it was, McAleny was never going to stray far from his northern base on a permanent basis. Players like him who can score goals as he did are like gold dust. 10 in 14 league starts must be the best strike rate of any Oxford player ever who have got into double figures for games played. Fleetwood ffs. No stop it again. They have a big budget and splash the cash even if they have really low gates. They were the lowest average in the league last season at 3,272 which was 573 fewer than even Bury’s.  Fleetwood Town are losing money. Chairman Andrew Pilley owns BES Utilities with his sister.

In November last year, the utilities company was penalised by watchdog Ofgem over breaches to its licences. The company agreed to pay out £980,000 as a result. A year ago Trading Standards began an investigation into allegations of mis-selling of energy contracts to business customers by BES.

All sound a bit familiar when it comes to football clubs and owners? I’d say the set up at OUFC is rather whiter than many around and much less likely to come crashing down. That said we had the most successful period in our history under Robert Maxwell’s ownership and we didn’t complain at the time did we?

Gone too are John Lundstram, Liam Sercombe and Chey Dunkley.

The club made Lunny a number of improved offers which would have given him a very large increase on his wage. I understand he may have been the second highest earner at the club so that says he was highly rated. He’d made his mind up though. In fact I heard some talk of there being interest in him a year ago and I don’t think that and his poorer than normal form at the start of last season were unrelated. The shorter a contract remaining, the greater the incentive for a club to sell a want away player. Sheffield United are a bigger club and would have been able to gazump us whatever we came up with particularly as they are now in the Championship. I’m not sure how he’ll fare there but the critics, who naturally come out in droves when a player wants away, are adamant that he’s too slow for that level. We’ll certainly miss him but perhaps not as much if Pep brings a faster game as would otherwise have been. Our style of play will have to change because so much of our game was giving the ball to Lunny in space just in front of the back four as we looked to patiently build. He certainly could spray a pass but wasn’t a goal scorer by any stretch of the imagination though.

Sercs had fallen out with the club. He did us proud in L2 but L1 was a different matter and the staff and probably fans too didn’t rate him as highly as he did himself. Squad player at best if he was still with us if we were to be serious promotion challengers.

Dunks wasn’t up to standard on a consistent basis and his positional play left a lot to be desired so I’m baffled as to why the bookies second favourites to be champions, Wigan, have taken him.

DT

One of our new recruits, Dwight Tiendalli. Photo by Steve Daniels

Of those that have come in I’m going to wait and see. It could go either way.  The ex-Barca B man, Xemi, could cut this league to pieces with opponents never being able to take the ball off him. Or he could find it all too physical and constantly get knocked about forever never getting into a game. The ex-Dutch international, Dwight Tiendalli could bring quality, know-how and a calming influence to the defence in such a way that we rarely concede. Or he could break down first game never to play again. Jack Payne is our latest addition. A highly rated young midfielder who made ten starts and even more appearances as sub in a team that won promotion to the Premier League last campaign.  He started with the Shrimpers and as news was breaking that he would be wearing our yellow I got a text from a Southend supporting mate reading, “Jack Payne !!!! WOW! What a player!”

I’d be semi-optimistic for a while but when it was confirmed that Maguire wouldn’t be ours I expressed a sizeable degree of pessimism. My son immediately turned on me. In no uncertain terms I was informed that we’ve got four players who are top five minimum in their positions in this League. Those players being Simon Eastwood, Curtis Nelson, Marvin Johnson and Ryan Ledson.

That cheered me up because I couldn’t disagree but what still gets me down is that I don’t think we’ve got a striker anywhere near the top 5. I just can’t see where the goals are going to come from. Without goals the chances of going up are basically nil. Our only two players who reached double figures last season have gone. So far Kane Hemmings has shown he can’t. Wes Thomas’s record of recent years suggests that he won’t and the same goes for John Obika.

Another magic loan signing to the rescue perhaps?