Sercombe – slight reprise

So, Michael Appleton is playing hardball with Liam Sercombe’s contract by triggering an automatic extension clause. The motivation, pretty obviously, is to prevent Sercombe being free to leave when his contract expires. Or more specifically, to retain his registration, which is what has really value as it’s not likely that he’s actually going to play.

As a tactic, it’s an obvious thing for the club to do; it gives them a degree of control in a world where players, good players, are often king. From the club’s perspective, it’s about managing your assets. Without a stadium, the club need to manage what has more closely and carefully.

It’s possible that the unilateral triggering on the clause is a root cause for the disciplinary issue which has resulted in Sercombe being cast aside. Sercombe will understandably want as much control over his future as he can get but, in fact, he’ll feel imprisoned by an agreement made in happier times. The fact that one side can trigger such a clause is the fault of whoever negotiated the contract on Sercombe’s behalf but that’s likely to be of no comfort.

Rather than negotiating the best deal for him and his family, Sercombe, you might assume, will have to go through proper channels to gain permission to talk to other clubs. That means his own options are more limited to those who are prepared to meet whatever price the club place on the players’ head. There were rumours that he might go back to Exeter, but that’s not really his decision anymore.

Not that it’d be looking at a lot of money to prize him away from the club; it’s clear that Sercombe has lost favour at Oxford, which is hardly likely to bump his price up. Plus, his own motivation is likely to be severely limited, the longer it goes on, the less likely he going to want to play, and the less likely it is that the club will want to play him. Other clubs will know this so will surely be pretty happy to play a waiting game. The longer that goes on, the lower Sercombe’s price drops.

Sercombe is clearly a very good League 2 player and pretty solid in League 1. There will be clubs who will want his goals and commitment, but at 28 they are unlikely to be investing in an asset with with much resale opportunity in the way we have with, say, Curtis Nelson. None of this suggests we’re talking big numbers.

Unless, of course, Oxford set a price, truly dig their heels in and refuse to budge. Then they are left with a player that they have to pay for another year and that they can’t get rid of because nobody will meet their valuation. At that point it risks becoming a spiteful war of attrition, but one, ultimately, nobody can win. Sercombe won’t want to stagnate for a year in the margins and we don’t want to have to pay for a player who isn’t going to have an impact on the pitch.

Which would lead us to the same kind of situation the club faced with Eddie Hutchinson back in 2008. Hutchinson was considered surplus to requirements and not registered to play, but he couldn’t find another club and was left on the sidelines. An administration error meant that when he was needed Hutchinson played without being registered which resulted in a points deduction that cost us a place in the Conference play-offs for that season.

It seems unlikely that such a blunder is going to happen this one, but the club doesn’t want to end up lumbered with a player it won’t play but it has to pay. It’s a tricky balancing act.

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Oxblogger is a blog about Oxford United.

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