The end of the home campaign was, perhaps inevitably, a major non-event. It leaves us with little more to do than mop up the bits and pieces of any other business.
The home campaign ended as if it were a dying elderly relative; there was a sense of sadness, but a far greater sense of inevitability and relief. Far from the dizzying hedonism you see around other grounds at this time of year; end of season at the Kassam is, once again, anti-climactic. Last year felt like the end of something, this year feels like the end of something, is this just the slow ending of everything?
It seemed to come very late in the week, but there was a sudden dawning that the Accrington game could be the last we’d see of James Constable at the Kassam. He sits just two short of the all-time goalscoring record.
Constable hasn’t exactly been negotiating himself into a strong position making repeated claims on Twitter that he’s desperate to sign again. Would Gary Waddock be similarly desperate? It seems unlikely, as despite the folklore that has built up around Constable, he simply doesn’t score frequently enough to make a new contract an inevitability.
What may be more significant is what happens around Constable. It seems unlikely that Deane Smalley will get a new contract having cashed his chips in terms of performances and it seems inconceivable that he might be kept over Constable. Could Waddock recover from the PR disaster that would result?
Dave Kitson seems also to be heading for the door, albeit more by his own volition. There’s no doubt that Kitson is different, sometimes a different class, but not always. His fight seems to have gone and any enthusiasm for the game is fitful at best. This is no real surprise if you constantly ache all over from a career in the game, you have a fledgling, but secret, second career as a journalist and you’re earning £10k a month from your former employers. Whether the Kitson experiment has worked or not is questionable.
That would leave Constable as the only out-and-out striker at the club. Is Waddock brave enough to strip out his strike force out completely? Sure, he’s angry, but I doubt it, he doesn’t have much capital himself after the end-of-season we’ve had. Constable does something to the team and squad, although perhaps not at the salary he’s currently on, which may be a sticking point. Constable has probably one more contract in him as a functioning first choice striker at this level. After which, he is likely to be on a glide path to retirement via a series of Conference and League 2 clubs. He’s not likely to attract too many Swindon-type bids anymore. Northampton on a free is a possible destination, of course.
Late on Saturday night Wayne Brown tweeted that both Ryan Clarke and Max Crocombe were too good for Oxford. There was a predictable reaction from some Oxford fans. No doubt it was a clumsy way of putting it, but he’s probably right. I don’t know so much about Crocombe, but certainly Clarke could play at a higher level.
But, footballers are like house prices, they are only worth what others are prepared to pay for them. Clarke, like Constable, is at a stage in his career where he should expect first team football. But are clubs investing in goalkeepers of Clarke’s age? I’m not sure. It seems clubs are investing in young prospects or reliable veterans. Clarke is not quite either, and while he’s under contract, the prospect of paying a fee when others are available is likely to put many off.
Oxblogger player of the season
There’s no doubt that Ryan Clarke’s performances, particularly towards the end of the season, have been a rare highlight. However, I think if you look over most of the season; you’ll find his performances were less spectacular. That’s simply because we were playing better and he had less to do. As such, the vote for Clarke was really a reflection of his recent form than for his play over the whole season.
It’s funny how quickly players drop from the consciousness when they get injured. For me, the player who has performed consistently well throughout the year and made Clarke’s job far easier earlier in the year is Johnny Mullins.
Does Ian Lenagan really want it?
One underlying criticism is that Ian Lenagan is reluctant to invest to succeed. I don’t believe that it’s possible to deliberately steer any business, let alone one as unpredictable as a football club, to the brink of success but not to success itself. If someone had the ability to invest 95% of what it takes to be 95% successful, wouldn’t you use that same ability to invest so precisely to get the right result? It would require such immense skill to be so precariously close to success, that skill could similarly be used to actually succeed.
I don’t buy the idea that Ian Lenagan is deliberately preventing us from getting promoted. I can however, believe that Lenagan won’t pay over the odds to achieve what he wants to achieve. He won’t, for example, do what Manchester City and Chelsea do and pay 150% to become 100% successful. That makes no sense unless you’re drowning in money and so damaged that you need to buy that kind of false happiness. Firstly, I don’t believe that Lenagan has the money to be so profligate, secondly, even if he does, it is not in his manner to risk himself and the club through reckless spending.
No, Lenagan won’t be bullied into making short-term, speculative purchases to achieve success. That’s why we got Nicky Wroe and David Connolley and not a whole new team of loanees at Christmas. A moderate investment to push us over the line. At the time is seemed proportional, afterwards, of course, it appears lacking ambition. It isn’t to everyone’s taste, but Lenagan isn’t going to bet the farm to achieve instant success.