As the season finished with a promotion my mind wasted no time at all in thinking of the next. Who will stay? Who will go? Who will we sign? Where could we improve? During a lunch induced day dream at work my mind starting evaluating, from goalkeeper to striker.
“Gilks - Happy to have him as back-up but would like someone else in...Baptiste - seems a good character to have around the team and to fill in when necessary but maybe as 4th choice...”
A glance on Twitter seems the majority have the same opinion.
(Record scratch) Hey wait a second, why the hell am I and near enough everyone else talking about 2 of the 3 candidates for player of the year as if they’re bench fodder? Gilks kept 16 clean sheets in 35 games and improved the whole team with his constant stream of bellowed instructions. Baptiste produced some of the best defensive performances I’ve seen in a white shirt this decade, struck up a formidable partnership with Rico (improving him in the process) and carried the ball out from the back like a bald, dioralyte fuelled Mark Davies.
After briefly thinking about this I realised it was nothing more than barefaced ageism that had generated the conclusions. If I wasn’t aware of their respective ages would I had said the same? Hell no I wouldn’t. Yet it appears years of ageing out 28 year olds for fresh regens on football manager have poisoned my mind.
This isn’t to say that age isn’t a factor in long term planning. Successful clubs will be grooming replacements for older players which does require managers to put an emphasis on age but they also don’t put them out to pasture until those replacements are the better option. This process of gradual decline takes years, they don’t just lose a significant amount of ability over 2 months of summer. And on the basis of last year did those two look good enough to say they’ll be able to do it next year? Yes. Being 2 of the best 3 players of the season makes me far more confident that they’ll make the step up better than a lot of the others.
I am however an advocate of ruthlessness in the transfer market and firmly believe sentimentality with contracts is one of the reasons Bolton Wanderers found itself in a mess during the dark days. Season to season the mantra should be that a starter last year would only be a bench player this year; achieved by either improving individuals or bringing better ones in. This is why I hope when the retained list surfaces we’ll see some of that ruthlessness that I think is needed to challenge again, even if I am fond of those who didn’t make the cut. This means that if we secure players who are already better options than Gilks or Baptiste, that’s great, that’s progress. Those 2 have more than earned the right to be there and fight potential incumbents for those positions next year however and I’m looking forward to seeing them do just that.