Playing with a ‘chip on the shoulder’, wholesale changes and budget cuts - the state of play at every League One club
PUBLISHED: 06:00 18 July 2020
As a return to League One action edges closer, STUART WATSON takes a look at how third-tier clubs are shaping up in the middle of the coronavirus crisis.
Speaking after a Play-Off Final defeat to Wycombe, manager Karl Robinson said: “Where we go next season is something I have to have a look at in the next few days. I’ve got to speak to a few people even over what direction we go as a football club. We have extremely overachieved when you look at how far we’ve come.
The U’s, who sold Gavin Whyte, Shandon Baptiste and Tariqe Fosu to Championship clubs during the previous two transfer windows, will now be braced for interest in the likes of Rob Dickie and Cameron Brannagan. In addition, key loan players such as Marcus Browne and Matty Taylor have departed.
“We’ve got a very young team full of talented individuals and for me to start next season without some of these is going to be another kick,” said Robinson. “I need to bring in more players – that’s the reality of it. We’ve got to replace them with the right players if that’s the case, we can’t just let them go like we have done.”
Will be looking to go again after losing narrowly in the play-off semis for the second year running.
Player of the year Christian Burgess has departed on a Bosman free transfer to Belgian club Union SG, while star left-winger Ronan Curtis – 14 goals and five assists – will have suitors, with Championship club Brentford among those linked.
Loan quartet Sean Raggett (Norwich), Ross McCrorie (Rangers), Steve Seddon (Birmingham) and Cameron McGeehan (Barnsley) have returned to their parent clubs.
Boss Kenny Jackett, who insists he will fight on, says: “I think we have the nucleus of a good squad. We do aspire to be better. We have to keep trying to build. They’ll be changes, but not wholesale changes.”
Following play-off semi-final defeat to Wycombe, chairman Andy Pilley announced his intention to ‘strengthen and go again’.
Joey Barton said: “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. There were lots of building blocks we can utilise to move forward and try to be better again next season. There’s huge promise going into next season. We have a lot of lads who will still be here next year. We’ll be back, bigger, stronger and better.
“We play football, and I believe that will take us a lot further in the game than maybe other styles of football.”
None of their departing loan players, including Callum Connolly, Lewis Gibson and Barrie McKay, started more than 10 league games.
Posh were the biggest losers in the PPG model which was used to decide the final standings after the coronavirus call-off. Darren Ferguson’s side, who had won seven out of nine prior to the suspension of play, dropped out of the play-offs.
Outspoken co-owner Darragh MacAnthony said: “When we come back we have to come back with absolute passion and desire. We have to have the drive over the injustice. We have the largest chip you’ve ever seen on our shoulder. For me it’s about vengeance. We’ve got to put a promotion challenge together.”
Star striker Ivan Toney (26 goals in all competitions) looks certain to depart for big money.
Manager Phil Parkinson said: “After Christmas we went on a very good run and I think we will have the core of that team in place. Then if we bring in seven or eight players of better quality then we will have a great chance of replicating that two-points-per-game ratio that we will need to be right at the top of the division. Seven or eight players is about what we are looking to bring in.”
The Black Cats are looking to sign recent loanee Bailey Wright following his release by Bristol City.
Goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin has moved to Rangers on a free, while club wait to hear whether defender Tom Flanagan – who is attracting Championship interest – will sign a new deal.
Alim Ozturk, Duncan Watmore, Joel Lynch, Kyle Lafferty and Tommy Smith are among those who have been released. It’s likely that high earner Aiden McGeady will be moved on following his recent loan spell at Charlton.
Rovers had eight loan players last season, including star midfielder men Ben Sheaf (Arsenal), keeper Timothy Dieng (QPR) and six-goal striker Niall Ennis (Wolves). They went into July with just 12 contracted senior players.
Manager Darren Moore said: “I’ve got an idea of how many I’d like to bring in and the size of the club I’d like. You need a squad of a certain size to deal with the course of the season. Because the season will be starting in late September, the fixtures are going to be challenging. We need a squad that can deal with that. I think the loan market will be essential for us again.
“Budget wise this season, it’s going to be tight like the rest of the teams in the division and we have to work with what we’ve got. We have to be smart, we have to be clever. All the signings we make this season have to work.”
The Kent side lost just two of their last 19 leagues before the season was called of.
Manager Steve Evans says he wants to add ‘seven or eight’ permanent signings, along with five loan players. They could make a move to bring former Ipswich loanee Jordan Roberts to the club full-time.
“We need to strengthen in the right full-back position,” he said. “We are very good in central defence, particularly if our captain (Max Ehmer) stays. If he doesn’t we are after another centre-back anyway and I have someone coming in on loan.
“We need a bit of creativity, certainly out wide, and we need to strengthen at the top end.
Nigel Clough stepped down as manager in May in order to help the club financially. Experienced centre-back Jake Buxton, 35, has taken over as player-manager.
Brewers chairman Ben Robinson said: “The coronavirus pandemic has meant we have to make difficult financial decisions going forward in order to safeguard the club and ensure it still exists for the supporters and the benefit of the community for generations to come.”
Senior trio Stephen Quinn, Kieran Wallace and John Brayford have all agreed ‘significant pay cuts’. Winger Steven Lawless has arrived on a free from Livingston.
The Tangerines appointed long-serving Liverpool Under-23s coach Neil Critchley as their new manager just a week before the campaign was called off. Owner Simon Sadler said the appointment was about ‘laying down the blueprint for our footballing philosophy’.
Three out-of-contract players have already been signed during the break in the form of midfielder Oliver Sarkic (Burton), striker Keshi Anderson (Swindon) and defender Marvin Ekpiteta (Leyton Orient).
Captain Jay Spearing has gone after turning down a new deal. Assistant boss David Dunn also departed to become manager at newly-promoted League Two side Barrow.
President Wael Al-Qadi took full control last month, capitalising more than £18m worth of loans and leaving the club ‘substantively debt free’. He has vowed to cover the club’s financial losses for at least the next two seasons.
Chief executive Martyn Starnes said: “Clearly the next few months are going to be quite difficult and challenging, but we do have strategy for steadily reducing these losses over time and we are planning make sure that the club gets into a breakeven, if not profitable situation, at some stage in the future.”
Star striker Jonson Clarke-Harris, who has scored 27 goals in 52 games for the Gas, is attracting plenty of interest – including from Ipswich – as he heads into the final year of his deal.
Long-serving captain Ollie Clarke turned down a new contract to be reunited with his former boss Graham Coughlan at Mansfield.
Manager Sam Ricketts has said it will be evolution and not revolution with regard to his squad this summer, with key players such as Aaron Pierre, Ollie Norburn, Ethan Ebanks-Landell and Josh Vela tied down to deals.
Player of year Pierre is a reported target of Championship duo Blackburn Rovers and Birmingham City.
Chief executive Brian Caldwell has gone public with his backing of a League One salary cap.
The Imps released 11 players, including fans’ favourites Michael Bostwick, Josh Vickers and Neal Eardley, due to the uncertainty of the coronavirus crisis.
“There were two or three players on that list that under different circumstances I would have liked to have kept around, but unfortunately we are not in those circumstances,” said manager Michael Appleton.
“We aren’t trying to hide anything. From a financial point of view we can’t retain any of the players and they got that. It’s not just happening at Lincoln.”
Dutch centre-back Lewis Montsma (FC Dordrecht) and midfielder Jamie Jones (Crewe) have arrived on Bosman free transfers.
Chief executive Liam Scully, who has announced staff redundancies, said: “At the moment we have not got enough footballers to put a squad out. Recruitment is an ongoing process.”
Chairman Andy Holt said that a worst-case scenario for Accrington would be administration and starting further down the football pyramid.
He said: “It’s isn’t wanted or desirable and we, as a club, are not in as bad a situation as many. But clubs below the Premier League have never been at higher risk.”
Eleven players have departed at the end of their contracts, including keeper Dimitar Evtimov and striker Offrande Zanzala, while a host of loanees have returned to their parent clubs. Star winger Jordan Clark also looks set to reject new terms and walk away.
John Coleman said: “We will be working with a much smaller squad.”
Club legend Ian Henderson, who scored 126 goals in seven years at the club, has departed at the end of his contract. Goalkeeper Josh Lillis and midfielder Callum Camps were also let go after lengthy stints with the club.
A club statement said the decisions were made ‘due the uncertainty of when we will return to playing football in front of crowds’ and that the club would not be entering negotiations with any free agents until the ‘future of the 2020-21 season is made clearer’.
The council has stepped in to help the club ride out the coronavirus crisis with a 12 month loan, the amount of which has not been disclosed, citing the importance of sustaining ‘the borough’s sporting profile and heritage’.
Teenage star Luke Matheson joins Wolves properly having signed for them in January only to be loaned straight back for the remainder of the campaign.
The Dons were much-improved after former Norwich City favourite Russell Martin took charge last November, escaping the relegation fight.
Chairman Pete Winkleman said: “Russell is getting us back to that Milton Keynes Dons way. We are a dynamic, football-playing team. We want to be a very entertaining and exciting team to watch. We want to improve our players and increase the value of our players.
“I think Russell is a serious manager and I’m really excited to see what we can do next year. I’ve got great confidence in him being able to get us back to what MK Dons has been about since Paul Ince in 2007.
“My task is to make sure that I can get as many as the players on his list as possible to give us the best fighting chance of going back up the table.”
Captain Dean Lewington, who has made more than 750 appearances for the club, has signed a new deal. Striker Jordan Bowery will move to League Two side Mansfield when the transfer window opens.
Will soon be returning to their home of Plough Lane, with the new 9,300 capacity stadium on schedule for completion by October 25.
Eleven players were released, including former Blues midfielder Anthony Wordsworth, while five loaness have returned to their parent clubs.
“We would have liked to have kept most of these players, but we cannot do it in the current financial climate,” said manager Glyn Hodges. “It is a horrible time to release them in this current climate, but we have to cut our cloth accordingly.
Chief executive Joe Palmer added: “We are having to look at restructuring our approach to our playing squad for next season to be able to put a squad together that will fall in line with the finances available.”
In May, chairman Lee Power told a court that the club could go into administration as he failed to overturn an injunction preventing its sale.
Boss Ritchie Wellens will need to completely rebuild his front line following promotion.
Prolific striker Eoin Doyle (25 goals) and Keshi Anderson (six goals) turned down new deals to sign for Bolton and Blackpool respectively. Jerry Yates (13 goals) looks set to move elsewhere after his loan from Rotherham expired. The trio contributed 44 of the club’s 62 goals on the way to the title.
“You only win games and leagues if you score goals,” said Wellens. “And let’s make no mistake about it at the moment out of contract is probably 60 or 70 goals out of our team. That’s a big part of the team that we need to try and improve.”
Experienced duo Paul Green and Nicky Hunt are among those who have been released. Norwegian striker Chuma Anene (nine goals) will be the biggest loan loss following his return to Danish club Midtjylland.
Manager David Artell has snapped up Accrington striker Offrande Zanzala on a free and says he would like to add ‘another one, two or three’ players.
“I am told there will be more supply than demand as clubs readjust their finances,” said the Railwaymen boss. “That may mean we could be in the market for some bargains and the transfer market may come towards us a bit more than it used to but all we can do is wait and see what happens.
“We don’t have to rush and jump into anything. We can wait for really good ones and hopefully there will be even more affordable players out there for us.”
Pilgrims have begun a ‘restructure programme’ to try to protect their ‘long-term future’. Recent news of job losses came a month after owner Simon Hallett made one ‘last’ cash injection to help in the crisis.
Manager Ryan Lowe is currently the second favourite to succeed Lee Johnson at Bristol City.
Senior quartet Scott Wooton, Conor Grant, Niall Canavan and Gary Sawyer have all signed new deals.
Manager Keith Curle, striker Sam Hoskins and defender Michael Harriman have all signed new contracts since the League Two Play-Off Final victory against Exeter.
But 13 players were released, including key defender Jordan Turnbull, experienced midfielder Alan McCormack and ex Town man Paul Anderson. Also departing is goalkeeper David Cornell, who has been regular linked with the Blues.
“You feel a little bit fraudulent because you’ve got them to buy into you and you’ve got them to buy into the plan of what you’re doing and then you achieve the plan, but you say that your journey must continue elsewhere now,” said Curle. “This is a difficult summer with the impact of Covid-19 though and it is important we show good housekeeping.
“We want to be competitive and we’ll need to construct a squad that picks up where we left off. We won’t have the biggest budget but we’ll have a competitive budget and we will be a very competitive team in the division.”
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