Pre-season is always a bit weird when the World Cup circus rolls into town and dominates everyone’s attention for a month. But this pre-season has been a little stranger than usual at Bolton Wanderers with a mass exit of playing staff, a strike by the few that remained and a very messy looking pre-season.
While most of us have been enjoying the summer footballing feast, clubs up and down the country know they only have until 5pm on Thursday, August 9 to complete any deals ahead of the new season. That’s ahead of the Premier League campaign kicking off the following day, but a few days after Football League clubs get their seasons going the previous weekend. However, we can still make loan signings until August 31, and of course any free agents remain fair game.
So that gives Bolton just four weeks to bolster a squad that still looks particularly threadbare. Here’s a look at the playing staff we currently have available, and where we likely need to strengthen.
Current options: 3 - Ben Alnwick, Ben Amos and Jake Turner
Assessment: Amos looks highly likely to be departing the club this summer, given last week’s events and the fact that, in those circumstances, he’s on outrageous wages. So that leaves us with a decent first-choice keeper in Alnwick and an exciting youth prospect who still hasn’t played a single game for the club in Turner. Is that enough? Maybe, but priorities outfield are far more pressing.
Current options: 3 (technically) - Mark Little, Pawel Olkowski and Stephen Darby
Assessment: Olkowski was signed this week and I know naff all about him but, given he’s been playing in the Bundlesliga for Koln and has international experience for Poland, you’d expect him to come in and be the first choice. Little was left out for long periods of last season - mainly after that red card against QPR - so I’d be surprised if he’s suddenly Parky’s go-to man for this campaign, but he’s a decent backup. While we all know that Darby is not a Championship player and shouldn’t be at the club.
Current options: 1 - Andrew Taylor
Assessment: Taylor did alright last season but only made 21 league appearances, so we certainly need to bring in a first choice left-back and potentially even one more, unless we have a youngster capable of stepping up.
Current options: 2 - David Wheater and Mark Beevers
Assessment: Many Bolton fans were calling for Beevers to be dropped at the end of last season, so you’d think we need one more defender to come in ahead of him and at least one more to come in and provide strength in a key position. Considering we let Dorian Dervite leave and saw Reece Burke’s loan end, plus Parky’s penchance for 3-5-2, you could probably double that requirement.
Current options: 3 - Josh Vela, Erhun Oztumer and Jason Lowe
Assessment: There’s an argument for saying this number should actually be one, given Vela rarely played in centre midfield last season and we don’t know if Oztumer can play there at this level. We’re going to need serious bolstering of this position and, with only three weeks until the start of the season, getting those players in and ensuring they’re match fit for the new campaign seems like a massive ask. The decision to release Karl Henry looks a little rash, for now.
Current options: 2 - Sammy Ameobi and Craig Noone
Assessment: Noone can play from the right, if needed, and the often ineffective, unreliable Ameobi seems to remain our first choice right winger. We certainly need to get someone else in.
Current options: 2 - Josh Vela and Erhun Oztumer
Assessment: Both these players will likely see their more natural position further up the park, rather than in a centre midfield role, but I have a feeling Parky will try and convert Vela to the latter. Oztumer would appear to have been signed to fill the number 10 role, and we need at least one more player capable of playing there to bolster the squad.
Current options: 2 - Will Buckley and Craig Noone
Assessment: Unconvincing. Buckley wasn’t great last season, while Noone didn’t even start a match until late on in the season, so neither fill you with confidence that they can claim the regular starting left wing role as their own this time around. It seems likely we’re looking for someone to become that.
Current options: 3 - Clayton Donaldson, Adam Le Fondre and Connor Hall
Assessment: Strange as it may sound, this seems like the position where we do almost have adequate numbers. Donaldson is knocking on a bit, he’s 34, and Le Fondre will probably struggle to play the lone front man role for an entire season. Whether Hall can step up from the Development Squad and play his part remains to be seen, but you’d think that Parky is very keen to bring in another big man up top.
So as it stands we currently have 18 first-team players - one of which isn’t good enough and another is set to leave the club - having released 12 over the summer. By my reckoning we require at least another goalkeeper, a left-back, two or three central defenders, a few centre midfielders, a couple of wingers, an attacking midfielder or two and another striker. It’s safe to say there’s a big four weeks ahead for Ken Anderson and Parky.
Who would you like to see Wanderers bring in? And which area of the squad is the most pressing area of concern?