We’ve seen enough transfer windows under Kristjaan Speakman now to know what to expect. It’s certainly ‘evolution’ rather than ‘revolution’ and, regardless of what we think the team’s immediate priorities are, we won’t necessarily get players in to fill those positions unless the deal is right in the long term for the club.
So it’s no surprise that, while the majority of us would agree we need another centre forward and a defensive midfielder, we haven’t got them (unless we count Callum Styles as that midfielder, which he might turn out to be).
On one hand, it’s reassuring to see we’re not panicking and paying stupid money for last-minute deals. It’s often said that only poorly run clubs do much business on deadline day, and there’s a huge truth in that.
I’ve heard the argument ‘why are you bothered what we spend, it’s not your money’ and I get that. However, we’ve been there and done that, and it almost took us to bankruptcy. Yes, that’s an extreme, and spending some money doesn’t instantly mean we’re going to go down the pan, but I’d rather we were prudent, and not be panicked into spending a wedge. And the deals we have done have cost money – we just don’t know how much.
On the other hand, it’s frustrating that, once again, we’ve been through a transfer window and key positions haven’t really been strengthened.
We needed another defensive midfielder and striker this time last year and didn’t get either, and for me any negativity when reviewing the transfer window isn’t that we didn’t do too much yesterday, but the fact we didn’t have players lined up in those positions ready to come in earlier. Easier said than done, of course, but other clubs have got strikers in - and I’d have taken a punt on the lad from Notts County at the very least.
The striker one’s a difficult one, though, given we signed at least two in the summer on permanent deals (I reckon Mayenda will turn out to be a wide player), and one loanee in Burstow. We’ve invested in them, and they’re now coming to the party, albeit slowly. We were strongly linked with Kieffer Moore, and it’s easy to see he’d have added to the team - but longer term, are we better off sticking with the players we own? There’s logic in that argument. Similarly, Amad was rumoured (as he probably will be every window until he retires), and while that wasn’t particularly likely, I was torn on the prospect.
Yes, he’s a superb player and would have instantly made us better, but we’d have spent four months playing everything through him, denying the likes of Ba and now Mundle game time, only to be back to square one in the summer. If he’s available permanently at some point, he’d be a brilliant singing. A loan for the season? I’m in. For a few months? I’m not sure.
In terms of players that did walk through the door, we seem to have strengthened a position of concern at left back. The ongoing fitness issues both Dennis Cirkin and Aje Alese are experiencing are hugely frustrating and impact the team significantly. Cirkin, I think, is one of the best full backs in the league - but the lad cannot stay fit. Alese could be fantastic - but again, his injuries are a concern.
Leo Hjelde arrives from Leeds with a decent reputation. He’s more likely to play left back than centrally in the short-medium term at least and it’ll be interesting whether he or Styles, who has arrived from Barnsley, slots in at left back to provide some balance. Or we go to a back five, which is possible but I think unlikely.
Styles can play left back, (and left wing back, centre mid, left mid, and probably keeper), so who knows where he’ll fit in.
He’s got good experience though, and while still young (23), he is a bit different in terms of footballing experience to the players we usually sign. He’s played more than 200 pro games, a good amount of international football, and was a regular in the championship last season. We could see him take up that deeper midfield role, in which case the concerns over a defensive mind in the middle of the park will be eased a bit.
The intriguing one is the signing of Romaine Mundle from Standard Liege. He’s very highly rated, Spurs wanted to keep him last summer, and could be a top, top signing. It seems we’ve done well to get him, and could be a very impressive bit of business.
Now, the cynical (realistic?) part of me has him down as Clarke’s replacement when we sell our top scorer in the summer. Look, it’s likely if we don’t go up he’ll be off, so it’s good to see the club preparing for that. Get him bedded in before hitting the ground running next season.
In fact, keeping Clarke for the rest of the season is a huge positive from this window. I did fear we’d get an offer we couldn’t refuse, but we’ve managed to keep our regulars who’d attract premier league attention. Clarke, Ballard, Neil and Patterson were all looked at by top flight clubs, and it’s something we’re going to have to face in the summer too.
One player to leave is Alex Pritchard. It’s a shame he’s left and I’d have liked to have seen him stay - in the short term at least.
He’s a good player and will obviously come back to haunt us at St Andrew’s in a few weeks’ time. However, I can understand the club not giving him the two years he wanted. His presence blocks the way for Bellingham, Aouchiche and Rigg, and the club have clearly invested in them. We’re pretty good in balancing what’s right for the player and the club, and they’ve decided his departure now is best for all concerned. Were they given much choice in the matter? Maybe not.
Other temporary departures yesterday were Mayenda and Triantis heading to Edinburgh - good moves for both, although I was surprised it was Mayenda and not Hemir to get a loan. Jewison Bennette also headed to Greece, and it’ll do the three if the good to get first team football and hopefully come back in the summer better equipped to get into our team.
Jay Matete went to Oxford on loan yesterday and that feels like it could be the end for him here. I like him and thought he was pretty decent - raw but decent - when he played. But we have barely seen him for 18 months, and if he can’t get a look in when we have hardly any centre mids, I suspect he’s never going to.
Another departure was Josh Robertson, an under-18 midfielder, to Brighton. He’d turned down pro terms and wanted to leave, so – like Spurs faced with Mundle last summer – there wasn’t much the club could do. But, it’s a shame a young lad like that, who’s been with the club for a decade, wants to leave, and there’s probably some questions to ask about that one. If we want to be the place young players come through at, one of our own shouldn’t be leaving like that.
But, all in all, I think the window was alright. I don’t think we’ve made any immediate strides forward, but have strengthened in defence and midfield - while letting a good player in Pritchard leave. I would have liked to see some experience and know-how to arrive – I think we’re missing that on the field on occasion, and with Pritchard having departed, that depletes that limited experience even further.
I think the clearest thing to emerge from this window is that the club doesn’t consider promotion a must this season. If it did, we’d have seen much more activity, both in the summer and through January.
Ipswich have a great chance of automatics and have understandably doubled down with their recruitment. It’ll be interesting to see how they’re faring from an FFP perspective. Hull have gambled heavily in January, and that could really be a shit or bust situation for them.
So we’re seemingly content doing our own thing, building for the medium to long term, and right now, I see the sense in that.
Next season, however, I think we need to give promotion an almighty go.
One criticism of the way we’ve recruited over the past couple of years – and this window is be no different – is we rarely bring in players who are ‘first team ready’. Bellingham’s played the most of last summer’s signings, and it can be argued he’s probably played too much to date (the exception this window will be Styles, who played Championship football regularly last season and should be ready to hit the ground running).
That’s fine, as long as some of the players who came in during the window before start ramping up after a few months of settling in.
That means, between now and May, we will hopefully see more from Seelt, Aouchiche, Rusyn, Pembele, Burstow and Hemir, while the likes of Mundle will be ready to really hit the ground running in August. Of course, they’ve got to get into the team to begin with.
If those players haven’t offered much more come May, we’ll need to see a change in tact in the summer, and bring in players who are ready for the first team now.
But, until then, it’s wait and see.