Monday, 17 July 2017

It's Not 2005 Anymore

Time travel seems to be in the news everyday at the moment. Whether that be Wayne Rooney going back to Everton, the unveiling of the new Doctor Who, or Harry Redknapp's transfer targets. Given the nature of this blog, I'm most interested in the latter, but clearly ol' 'Arry has been inspired by the new Doctor Who and thinks that time travel can be for anyone - especially footballers.

That is if rumours are to be believed, of course. As has been suggested elsewhere, it's possible Harry is smarter than we think, misdirecting the public in order to keep schtum about the real targets. 

However, I'm here to break down why, unless it's 2005, we shouldn't be signing anyone we've been rumoured to be signing.

Let's start at the back. Ashley Cole has been linked to joining Blues this summer on a short deal to bolster left back options. Redknapp seems intent on signing a left back, bizarrely, even though there were cries last year to play Cheick Keita, who was kept out of the side by the good form of Jonathan Grounds. Seemingly, Blues fans have given up on Keita ever being a good left back, despite him being fast, aggressive, good on the ball and an able passer, because he's had a few shaky games defensively. 

I think it's time we remember that Keita is very young. Younger than Che Adams. He's learning the language every day, as well as learning the game. Writing him off as incapable of defending because of a few shaky games (where, in my opinion, he wasn't even that bad) is really odd given the god-given skill he has. 

This is where we hear the argument that having Cole around would improve Keita as he can learn from him. A nice concept, but do you know what else would improve Keita's game. Playing football. Then we hear that Keita should play on the wing, but with very little actual reason why. Fans complained that Grounds wasn't good enough going forward, that he was too slow, his passing wasn't great, he couldn't create and so on. Keita brings all of that, and the same people decide he isn't a full back. So I ask: What do you want from a full back?

Keita has shown nothing to prove he can be a real threat as a winger. He's looked best dribbling the ball from deep and overlapping. He seems very one footed and hasn't shown he's a reasonable goal threat from wide (much like someone else who we'll get to later...). He's a left back - a modern left back, but he's a left back. 

Ashley Cole is over 35 - he offers no long-term advantages, but would represent an outlay in wages. That is to say, if you sign someone of similar skill, but who is ten years younger, you can make money back on that investment. In a years time, when we come to the next transfer market, we're left in the same position; unsure of whether or not Keita is good enough and a few £100k down. 

Giving Keita the minutes that Cole would take is a better decision for three reasons: a. Keita will improve with time. b. Keita is fitter, and more capable of playing those minutes c. Keita is more likely to be a better player by next year and worth a decent chunk of money, as well as saving the wages for this year.

The only disagreement would be if you think that Cole playing ahead of Keita for 15-20 games a season would make a serious difference to whether or not Blues go up. I don't think we have much chance of going up this year at all anyway, and as such long-term planning makes much more sense.

Robbie Keane, similarly, is old and not an improvement. Yes, maybe he'd be good off the bench for 15 minutes. But when Blues fans complain the squad needs improvements, should we be looking for back-ups? Surely we should be improving the first team, and making the current players back-ups? It's a sunk cost, money that could be used on a gamble with long-term upside rather than short-term upside. Use the money for his wages on a young forward who can improve, who, at the end of next year, we aren't looking to replace again.

The next player is Aaron Lennon, who has today been linked. If we ignore the concerns about his health (and truly, I wish him all the best), I still would not want Blues to sign him. He's a player who was so incredibly reliant on his pace and ability to go past people, and he can't do that any more. 

Credit to Ted Knutson for the image, the image which shows that in his limited minutes, Lennon did the sum total of... absolutely nothing last year. Again, he had health concerns and injury problems which caused it, but why take a gamble on a 30 year old getting his pace back, on loan? What's the upside?

Stewart Downing is the best of the four linked. He's a decent enough player, still relatively quick, a decent passer and a pretty clever footballer. However, he's on the way down, he's not played regularly for a season, and isn't getting any better. Also, if you want to go up, seems odd to take a player that your rivals realise isn't good enough for them.

Some will read all this and ask who I would sign, but that isn't really the point. I'm not a professional scout, just a bloke with too much time and too many opinions. I'd be looking abroad. Austria has shown there is plenty of untapped talent over there, with Liverpool star Sadio Mane and Leipzig player Naby Keita plying their trade over there not too long ago. Serie B has a host of talent, and I've been closely following a few names to see where they go. Ambitiously, I'd love us to try and convince Amato Ciciretti, or Camillo Ciani, to come, though they seem likely to be going to Serie A. There appears to be some snobbery about signing from the second division of other European countries, as if we're not also a second division side. The reason I'd be so keen to look abroad is that signing from within England has become an incredibly expensive business. TV money has leaked into Championship prices, with top Championship players going for £10m+, whereas the top of La Liga B, 2.Bundesliga and Serie B go for a relative pittance, meaning that Championship sides can find some edges there.

Planning for the short term is a recipe for disaster, and the best run clubs sign as much for the future than any others. Planning for the short term leads to Sunderland, Aston Villa, Fulham-style falls, and signing aging players is the biggest part of that. Look to the youth.

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