In principle, I agree with Darryl Eales in that it seems ridiculous to have a transfer window that drifts into the first month of the season just as teams are settling themselves for the campaign ahead. Closing the window on the last day of July would make a lot of sense, but it would also shorten the close-season, particularly if you factor in international tournaments and friendlies, and would probably push negotiations into the back end of the previous season, which potentially disrupts your run-in. So it’s not a panacea.
There seems to be a certain inevitability about Marvin Johnson’s departure from the club, it seems just a question of where and for how much. The charade demonstrated best before the defeat to Scunthorpe with the club making claims that he was all set to play before withdrawing him with a ‘tight hamstring’. Afterwards Pep Clotet played it straight by sticking to the facts and saying that Johnson remained an Oxford player. It sounded defiant and forthright, but in reality, that offered nothing new.
There’s been a growing frustration around the club’s transfer policy. We are led to believe that being a ‘selling club’ is a bad thing. For some, this simply reinforces the narrative that Darryl Eales has no ambition. Now, you may not like the fact that we’re in the habit of losing players to bigger clubs but it is how we work, and it is working. From Kemar Roofe’s money we’ve bought Marvin Johnson and from Marvin Johnson and John Lundstram’s money we’re in a position to buy Gino van Kessel or others, should we want to.
There are three ways in which football clubs function, they can enjoy the benefits of a rich benefactor who treats the club like a hobby, you can live a precarious life, selling on your debt from one owner to another, or you can put in place the infrastructure that buys assets – players – develops them and sells them on at a profit. It’s pretty much as sustainable as a football club gets until TV money kicks in. If you want to see what it feels like to get this wrong, just look at Portsmouth’s recent history. I would rather sell Johnson than go through what they are going through.
Part of the disquiet is not so much about losing a talented player, but what it supposedly says about us as a club. It’s basic economics; when you buy something, part of the value comes in utility or use you get from it. Part of the price is buying something which says something about you. A Ferrari and a Ford Focus will both get you from A to B, but a Ferrari says you’re successful in the way a Focus never will.
The same goes with selling, we’re losing a player which subtracts a certain amount from the abilities of the team, but the fact that we need to sell is as much about us admitting that we’re not in the same bracket as those who buy from us, it makes us feel weaker. The truth, if we can put aside bruised pride, it does seem that we’ll gain more than we’ll lose when Johnson goes.
Fans’ frustration at the lack of resolution around Johnson are probably not being wholly fair on anyone involved. For the clubs involved there are terms to agree, not just agreeing a fee, but the terms by which that fee might be paid. There’s a contract to agree with Johnson and maybe even administration around ending Johnson’s own contract with Oxford. Maybe, maybe, Johnson has got to think carefully about the move. Of course, money is a motivating factor, but there’s his personal situation; does he want to live wherever he’s planning to go and also maybe he looks at the current careers of Lundstram, O’Dowda and (up until very recently) Roofe and does have to think about whether a move into the Championship is for him. I suspect, ultimately, the answer is yes, but that’s not always an easy decision to make when you’re the one to make it.
In the meantime, the game against Shrewsbury did feel like we’re still in transition and the uncertainty around Johnson is a contributory factor. Shrewsbury looked like a team with a simple, but well drilled strategy. Stay organised, break quickly and with numbers. It’s all very direct and, so the theory goes, a more sophisticated passing game will always be better. But we’re not yet clicking, and we still feel like a team which has the talent but isn’t yet locked together with a coherent strategy.
This will come in time, while we are figuring it all out and eeking out points where we can, Darryl Eales is surely going to give Pep Clotet time to bed in his strategy. How long that might take, however, will determine how successful this season is likely to be. But, it might take the resolution of Johnson’s situation before we can even start that process in earnest.