First, let me start by wishing everyone a happy new year. Work and family commitments haven’t allowed me to write as much as I hoped for recently, but I’ll be doing the best I can to contribute on a regular basis again.
Our issues have been widely reported and well covered by the writers on here. Moral, effort, passion, concentration, consistency are all under scrutiny and the team seems disorganised and uninspired far too often.
Too many players have become passengers and it feels like the squad lacks in leadership and discipline.
The questions about Payet’s commitment and motivation can’t be ignored, neither can the impact they are having on the team. Bilic has publicly backed Payet as our best player, consistently praising his ability in press conferences and various media outlets. With Payet appearing disinterested at times and with several questionable interviews where he fails to show commitment to the club, how does that affect the team? I wouldn’t feel too pleased if I was part of the squad and felt that our talisman was looking to jump ship.
One question I’ve been asking recently is, “is Bilic too nice?” An impossible question to answer, I know, but it does worry me. Are the best managers disciplinarians? Conte, Mourinho, Koeman, Diego Simeone, Guardiola, Klopp (the most charismatic of the managers but still a disciplinarian), Ferguson; you wouldn’t want to cross any of these would you?
At the start of his tenure, Bilic exiled Amalfitano for apparent disciplinary issues. This set the tone and as an unknown entity, Bilic demanded respect. Since the end of his first season, his image became considerably softer, especially over the Euros with his charismatic and unorthodox style of commentary.
Is this a factor in our recent struggles? It’s very hard to say, but Bilic’s demeanour this season has seemed repressed, and it could very well be an issue.
Another area under the microscope is Bilic’s efforts in turning the new training ground into a family friendly environment. Is this sending out the right message? Are we implementing tried and tested methodology here or are we breaking new ground in untested areas? The same could be asked of our fitness coaching and methods. With such a high number of injuries, and players almost consistently appearing far from full match fitness, does this need addressing?
It’s possible to go on all day speculating, and I really don’t mean any of this to come across negatively. They are just areas that stand out to me.
There’s not enough time to evaluate each player individually, but it’s fair to say that aside from Reid, Randolph, Obiang, Fernandes and Antonio, the players have struggled to varying degrees.
Some have struggled with form, others with effort and some with both. Too many need to look inwardly and demand more. This comes down partly to Bilic and his ability to motivate and get the most out of his players. It doesn’t appear at present that he is, but with new arrivals in January and some departures, he has the perfect opportunity to catalyse change.
Arguably the biggest overhaul needed is within the club. The owners, the engagement with the fans, the stadium, our image and our PR all need considerable work.
Again, I won’t go into this now, but it’s clear for all to see that our image needs improving as well as our conduct in the media.
This is my personal view on what steps we should take to move forward successfully.
Become humble. Our owners have to understand the damage that some of their conduct is causing. We are a family club and there is no problem with ambition, but it has to be plausible and build on a solid foundation. We can’t just brand London on the badge and roll into a new stadium – which itself is a bone of huge contention within the media – and start claiming we’re a big club. Like most things in life, success has to be earned.
Reconnect with the fans. The transition to the new stadium has been handled very poorly and steps need to be made to address the numerous issues. Other than the stadium itself, none seem insurmountable and this will provide an opportunity for the board to show the fans that they’re making positive steps in the right direction.
Outs and in’s
A shake-up in the squad is necessary and an injection of talent, coupled with an ejection of deadwood, can provide a huge confidence boost.
It’s been widely reported that Feghouli cold move on. If the rumours of a £10-11million sale to Roma are correct, then that represents a good return on a player that came in for free in the summer. I personally think that he has more to offer than we’ve seen but if that money can be reinvested wisely, then it represents good business.
I’m a big fan of Robbie Brady and a player with his experience and grit would add a lot of fighting spirit to the squad. He’s capable of playing anywhere down the left and even centrally or on the right wing if needed.
I also think it’s important that we have a left winger in the team. Payet dominates this spot but I think we need to bring him central, behind the striker/strikers. He is an expert at playing in-between the lines and he wouldn’t need to track back as he does on the wing. He would need to defend from the front but this is different and he would be afforded more freedom in this role.
With Zaza, Tore and Calleri looking certain to depart, we free up £110,000-140,000 in wages and three spaces in the squad. If Feghouli departed then we will need three to four new faces, but will have another £35-40,000 in the kitty.
Another player under question is Ogbonna. For me, he has failed to improve sufficiently since signing and although I don’t think January is the time, should a suitable opportunity arise, I would consider selling him and bringing in another centre back. Next season will be Collin’s last, if he remains, and with Oxford and Burke pushing for the first team, a one-in-one-out should be ample over the summer.
The first area we need to address is at right back. Jenkinson on loan to the end of the season seems sensible. Trippier would be a great buy, but I cannot see Spurs allowing him to leave, especially to us.
Jenkinson would bring experience and stability. Arsenal seem happy to sanction a loan or permanent deal, so we would have the option to make it permanent in the summer should he impress. He would also settle quickly, having spent time at the club previously.
Other options would be Debuchy, Iorfa (Wolves) or an attempt to bring in Glen Johnson or Sagna who are both reaching the end of their contracts.
The second area we need to strengthen is up front. Defoe would be a superb signing, but I cannot see this happening. He is arguably Sunderland’s only hope of survival, and I’m not convinced that he will try to force through a move.
Scott Hogan appears to be an exciting prospect and I like that fact that he has Championship experience. Both the Championship and Premier League share a similar level of physicality and this can help players, especially strikers, adapt quickly.
This transfer comes with risk, of course. A high fee, reported to be £12.5-15million, and an inconsistent injury record leave cause for concern, but there’s something about this I like and it’s another home grown, British player that will hopefully bring plenty of fighting spirit.
Another player that I rate highly is Shane Long. For around the £10million mark we could get a proven Premier League striker and a player that ticks most of the boxes we need. He’s a poacher, he plays on the shoulder of the last defender and his pace unsettles defences. He could realistically be our best and safest option in January.
Javier Hernandez, previously of Manchester Utd and currently at Bayer Leverkusen, is an ambitious target, but worth a mention. An article by HITC mentions that Bild – a reputable and leading source on German football – reported Leverkusen were considering his sale, with a reported fee in the region of £21million (http://www.hitc.com/en-gb/2017/01/09/despite-denials-west-ham-untied-should-try-and-lure-javier-herna/). This would be a long shot, but he’s a proven goalscorer and may be tempted back to a league in which he enjoyed several fruitful seasons.
As mentioned previously, I’m a fan of Robbie Brandy and think we could do far worse than bring him to the club. He would again inject some steel and fight to the team and provide cover across several positions. He’s got pace, a superb delivery and can score goals. Snodgrass has also been covered by the media and while he is a good player, his lack of pace concerns me.
If we did sell Feghouli then we would need to bring in another winger and Brady could be a good option if we can prise him away from Norwich.
January can provide the foundation for an improved campaign. The squad is disjointed and refreshing the ranks with good quality players has the potential to reinvigorate the players, as well as cover huge gaps in the squad – right back and striker – that have proved costly all season.
The second half of the season can be seen as a fresh start and a new challenge. This psychology can be used to our advantage and with new faces and competition for places, we can really kick on.
The team need to pick themselves up after the City game and prepare for Palace. For the first 30 minutes of the City game we were a well structured, aggressive, potent team. We need to learn from what happened afterwards and focus on what we did right and find a way to replicate this consistently.
Allardyce deserves a warm welcome Saturday, but let’s make sure that’s all he walks away with. Palace aren’t on top form either, but they’ll be well structured and hard to break down. Hopefully, Byram will be match fit and we can start with a full back four for the first time in a long while. This will make a lot of difference and I’m confident that we can kick on from here, with a big piece of the puzzle back in place. The rest needs work, but let’s stay confident and get behind the team and the manager, no matter what.