Is it me, or does our squad look thin?
There’s has been a very different emphasis in the transfer market this summer to anything we’ve ever seen at Wrexham before – I’m going to stop short of saying our parameters have changed fundamentally until I’ve seen the fruits of our Summer labours – and as a result our squad looks rather unfamiliar.
My desire to rely on hindsight is cowardly but I think you’ll understand my motives. I like the look of the six players Wilkin has brought in, and hope they’ll give us the required shot in the arm, but have to concede that we’ve never mined the Conference seam so deeply before. Four of the new men have drawn all their experience at our level, with Nuneaton and Welling the main venues of their careers, whereas previously we’ve always looked for players with Football League pedigree.
There are plenty of fans who’ve been hankering for such a development, feeling that players who know this level will thrive in it. Nat Knight-Percival and Danny Wright are proof of the validity of this argument, but there’s an obvious counter-argument: if you get players from a higher level who have the right attitude then you’ve got a good player: the likes of Dean Keates, Jay Harris and Neil Ashton turned out okay, after all!
This switch in emphasis isn’t the only thing which makes our squad look different though. A greater concern for me is just how little experience it contains. One of the two new arrivals to come from a higher level has never played a first team game, and it’s to be hoped that some of the untested youth in our squad comes good, because it’ll have to.
Twenty four players have been given squad numbers for the season; throw in the other three players with first team experience, Leon Clowes, Joe Williams and Danny Reynolds, and you’ve a first team squad of twenty seven, which sounds big, However, only six of those players have played one hundred league matches in their career. Furthermore, five of the squad have never played at Conference level and three of them have never played first team football at all.
A couple of injuries could make a big difference to this squad: indeed, that might well be true this afternoon. With Dean Keates and Andy Bishop out and Jay Harris doubtful our resources are already stretched. I’ve tried to anticipate our starting line-up, based on the assumption none of that trio are available, and it left me with a bench which featured a sub keeper, two young defenders (Tomassen and Stephens), Theo Bailey-Jones and Nick Rushton. The four outfield subs have forty-eight conference starts between them.The loss of two central midfielders suddenly means that if Joe Clarke or Robbie Evans have to come off, we’ll either have to disrupt our defence by pushing Mark Carrington up or field a youngster with no first team experience (Ross Weaver) or a slightly older defender with a little experience playing in midfield in the League of Wales (Tomassen).
I suspect the adaptability of Tomassen and Anthony Stephens might become much more valuable than we would expect: Stephens is the main cover for Neil Ashton, whose whole-hearted approach and ability to fill in as a centre back mean he might not always be at left back, while if Clowes doesn’t earn a contract then beyond the pairing of Manny Smith and Blaine Hudson there are no other central defensive options apart from Ashton and the young duo unless Kevin Wilkin decides to throw young Ross White in. I rate White highly, but marking gnarled old Conference centre forwards is not an easy option for a youngster. Funnily enough,GWFA centre back James Etherington, who scored against Manchester City on Tuesday, is at least a couple of years older than all the three young centre backs with shirt numbers. The loan market and, funds permitting, the January window will be crucial. Certainly, a repeat of last season’s misfortune at the back, where we were forced to field a phenomenal seventeen different central defensive pairings simply doesn’t bear thinking about!
This is, as far as I can recall, the most youthful Wrexham side since Bobby Roberts came in with a brief to manage on a shoestring as the club suffered crippling financial problems in the 1980s. That precedent offers an important perspective: I’d massively rather the club ran on a sensible budget than build a bloated squad with money it didn’t have, as the WST’s predecessors did. The future of the club’s what matters, as is the fact that if we exploit our potential as a big fish in the Conference pond, things will come together. However, it’s fair to say that it’s a gamble to hope for youngsters to come through, and we’re taking a heck of a lot of gambles this season.