Derby: season 2, transfers
Transfer window is now closed, and we're about to kick-off our season with a home game against Leicester, followed by two away games at Arsenal and Newcastle. Could be worse, but still a daunting start to life in the Premiership.
I'm confident we've managed to strengthen the first team, and the squad... the question will be whether we've strengthened enough. Everyone at the club is geared up for a relegation battle although the media think we can survive (just!) with a predicted finish of 17th.
Going in to the window I had a lengthy list of players I wanted to move on, many of them returning from loan spells but with a year remaining on contracts. There were also two players on the fringes of last season's first-team squad in Craig Forsyth and Duane Holmes. The former missed the entire season through injury and at 30, I thought, his time was up. Holmes was a new signing but didn't show much at Championship level and seemed entirely unsuited to life in the top flight. Those two managed to find new teams, although at nowhere near value.
Ambrose and Roos left on end-of-contract free moves... and that was about it for my Weakest Link list. Chris Martin and Mason Bennett attracted no transfer interest and the best I could do was send them out on loan for small wage contributions. Which means that George Thorne, George Evans and Ikechi Anya are still languishing in the U23s, costing us a combined £68k a week. Anya is particularly galling - his £33k a week makes him our third-highest paid player after Lawrence and Marriott. If I can't move them on loan in the next month I'll have to see whether they can be persuaded to accept mutual termination of contract.
With 5 loan signings in the first team last season, and a couple more moving on, I had a number of holes to fill. With only 2 domestic loan spots available, I decided to renew Mason Mount and Harry Wilson for another year, and for a fraction of their wages. N'Doram was also renewed as an overseas loan and completely free.
With Roos departing and Carson ageing, GK looked like a prime spot for an upgrade. First choice would have been Man Utd's Dean Henderson, but United weren't interested. Second choice was Koln's Timo Horn, but at £15m or so, he looked a bit expensive. All year, in various saves, my scouts highlight Sondre Rossbach at Odd in Norway as a really good prospect and available for less than £1m (despite interest from Spurs). So he was signed and is immediately valued at £5.5.
Midfield was the area in greatest need of reinforcement. In season 1 we relied on the loan signings of N'Doram, Mount, Amos and King, and moved on Huddlestone and Johnson, so after renewing N'Doram and Mount we were still short of bodies. The signing of Sandro Tonali was a bit of a luxury, but I see him as a key foundation for the future of the team and his value is only going to rise. So although £12.5m was more than I wanted to spend on a single player, I decided he was worth it. At the other end of the scale, I had wanted to let Bryson leave at the end of his contract but after reevaluating his attributed and coaching reports I decided he was reasonable as backup so he accepted a new contract. With money tight, Joe Aribo was signed on a free as backup to Mount.
However, I didn't view either Bryson or Aribo as potential first-choice CMs, so I started looking for another option. Filtering my scout reports for players who could play both mezzala and AP, I spotted young Swede Mattias Svanberg at Bologna. Aged just 20, he looks pretty good now and has the potential to get a lot better, and I think he's a solid investment at £5m.
Up front I had Marriott, and AML Waghorn who's pretty good in the striker role for backup, but that looked a bit lightweight to me. So when I spotted another young Swede, Alexander Isak, available for loan from Dortmund I made a swift move and he joins us for less than £7k a week contribution.
Finally, we needed reinforcement in central defence. Curtis Davis was allowed to leave for the US in April, and Ambrose in June, leaving us with only Keogh and Pinnock. My top target was Preston's Ben Davies, and a deal was agreed. Unfortunately, he'd just signed a new contract and wouldn't contemplate the move. Bednarek at relegated Southampton looked a prospect and affordable - until the club demanded £30m. Several other possibilities came to nothing and I was starting to get a bit desperate when my scouts turned up what looks like another gem, and another player who was not on my radar: Wigan's Cedric Kipre. Big and strong, with decent technical attributes, he needs to develop better composure and decision-making but generally looks a good prospect. At 22 he has plenty of time to develop.
My strongest first team (and backups) looks like this:
That's the tactic that got us promoted, but we'll rarely play that positively in the PL. I have a counter-attacking version that I hope will get us results for as long as teams consider us relegation fodder.