Kicking our Heels: Surviving the Close Season
I hate this time of the year. Naturally, there`s bound to be a sense of anti-climax at the end of a season, but this time round the tensions of the run-in and the last minute survival have had a particularly sobering effect on me. The euphoria I experienced when Hunt`s goal went in has evaporated, leaving me deflated and with the nagging fear that I will have to go through it all again next year. I think others feel the same: judging from the tetchiness of some of the exchanges on the site, all of our nerves are still jangling.
Without the focus of a match to look forward to, we can`t even move our 'toy soldiers` around the virtual pitch in anticipation of the game, nor afterwards, with the benefit of hindsight, tell MM what he should have done. We only have the memory of watching remarkable home victories over Chelsea, MC and MU (and against Birmingham and WBA, of course) to keep us warm until the next season. For me, no more celebratory or commiserative words with fellow-WW travellers at Warwick services for a couple of months.
So how, as WW supporters, can we occupy our time? Once we have all delivered our verdict on the previous season and have fought running battles with those who thought we should have done better or who were happy with mere survival (as the events of 22 May unfolded weren`t we all in the latter camp?), we can concentrate on spending our monopoly money in the transfer market.
Already the game of fantasy team-building is well underway. Everyone agrees that we need two central defenders, a left back ... and, more debatably, an enforcer to play alongside the midfielder we are on the point of bagging. That`s £5m off our budget but for O`Hara it will be money well spent.
Now, the soul-searching really starts because solid, reliable defenders with proven PL experience do not come cheap. Thus, Roger Johnson, everyone`s favourite choice, has a price-tag of £14m attached to him. Ridiculous, we all say with one breath, then with the next one expect clubs to pay well over £20m each for Jarvis and Doyle, should we ever have to sell them. Personally, I would want change from £10m for Johnson but it`s a question of how desperately we need his services and how high we are prepared to go.
If we manage to buy Johnson (or his equivalent) and a partner, whether Dunne, Upson, Mills, Bougherra or someone else, we have spent all of our notional budget of £20m. Where are we going to find the money for a left back, an enforcer ... and possibly even a striker (if you read some of the reports)? We`ll recoup some of the cost by selling players surplus to requirements, but we might find ourselves having to off-load someone we want to keep. And then we will be faced with very difficult decisions. Well, even though the board will make the decisions, the fall-out will certainly enliven the debate on this site, given the different opinions we hold!
So, in a strange way, this part of the footballing year is really exciting and no less tense than the playing season. After all, our future depends on making the right choices and spending the money wisely. I emphasize the latter point because there`s no certainty that the incomers will strengthen the team: think Maierhofer, VDM and the injury-prone Mouyokolo. To add to the problem, errors of judgement are exposed even before the season starts, as indicated by JVD`s abysmal showing in last year`s friendlies. It all adds to the febrile, somewhat surreal atmosphere of the summer months.
Ironically, too, statements emanating from Molineux take on a greater significance. Instead of the anodyne in-season comments uttered by MM and the players, which I tend to ignore, I rake through the posts for any hint of what is going on. I find myself looking at NewsNow Wolves with greater regularity, anxiously scanning the reports for the slightest references to potential recruits. Even so, 'Who?` is often my response, as I reach out to google the name.
Then I agonize over the prospect of another club stepping in with a better offer. Think Birmingham defenders: if only we could have shown Johnson and Dann the final PL table at the time we were negotiating with them. Fool that I was, I was particularly worried last summer when the JVD deal was stalling ... and I don`t think I was the only one.
Having bought in players - though perhaps not all of the ones we really wanted - we have the chance to see them play in the friendlies. In principle, these games are a good thing because they provide match practice, allow the manager to blood youngsters and to try out different tactics, formations and combinations of players, while also giving newcomers the opportunity to integrate themselves into the team. We can assess the team's progress in advance of the forthcoming season too.
In practice, they often serve the opposite purpose, tending to cause injuries, show up a lack of cohesion in the ranks and result in humiliating defeats at the hands of lesser teams from lower divisions. Moreover, they don't provide an indication of what will happen when the season starts: there's nothing at stake. Yet, try telling that to the boys at Ipswich and the other teams we are due to play. That`s why the matches cause injuries, are muddled affairs and allow minnows to beat us.
I am therefore awaiting the opening of the new season with a mixture of excitement and paranoia. It was ever thus!