January was always going to be a massive month for us.
Being restricted by transfer windows, when the rest of the division is unencumbered by such limits, meant we couldn’t complete all the deals we’d hoped to during the Summer. Considering that, going into next month with the top of the table within reach and a chance to add quality signings which would enable us to leap forwards is a situation we should be happy with.
Between early November and early December we jumped up 9 places in a month, and are looking to add significant signings to the squad which created that momentum.
However, Phil Parkinson has found that process of adding these crucial additions to his squad will be hampered by unique complications. Just when football looked like it was returning to something similar to normality, a new wave of COVID threw everything up in the air again. The swiftly-changing new landscape of the transfer market will force a widespread reconsideration of priorities across football, and we they are bound to affect us.
Omicron is expected to make January tough for Championship teams. Many of them would normally look to refresh their squads with Premier League loan signings. It’s the point of the year where certain players will look back on the first half of the season and recognise that they’ve not had as much playing time as they’d like, and look for a temporary move to get back on the pitch, impress their manager or put themselves in the shop window.
Their parent clubs are usually happy for this to happen: they’ll have seen that some of their squad haven’t forced their way into the reckoning for a first team place and will benefit from loan fees and wage contributions.
However, the spike in COVID cases has changed that. Premier League clubs are expected to stockpile their players as insurance against an outbreak in their squad. Players earmarked for loan will probably be held onto because extra players will be useful if they’re suddenly forced to patch together a makeshift side by COVID withdrawals.
That could have a trickle-down effect on us, as Championship sides might therefore have to hang on to players they might have let go, and maybe even go shopping at the top end of League One, which is clearly an area we’ve targeted.
Clubs in Leagues One and Two, and the National League, will also be less keen to allow good players to leave than usual for the same reasons, although that is less of a concern for us. With our transfer budget, we’re in a position to make good value offers for players, and to tempt them with attractive contracts.
I’m not suggesting for a moment that we should be reckless in our spending, and the club has been clear that it will not be held to ransom by anyone seeking to make a killing by inflating prices when we show interest. However, the truth is that we do have the financial muscle to make realistic offers for players a couple of divisions above us, and with lockdowns having hit the game hard, there are few clubs out there who are in a position to reject a fair price out of hand.
Despite these complications, I’m optimistic about January. Having money in our pocket puts us in an unusually strong position. Parkinson has spoken about the problems of operating under COVID, with positive tests forcing rethinks and isolating players returning to pose difficult questions about their fitness and vulnerability to injury.
That’s why clubs are stockpiling players, but while they hold onto players who are surplus to requirement, we will be adding depth to our squad by targeting players we’d hope would be able to perform for us in the Football League.
If we strengthen when everyone else is having to make do with what they already have, we will be in a very strong position.