Thanks tenthree! I'm glad to be back. Life got pretty crazy for a bit, what with being a play and then getting a puppy it's been a long road coming back too. However, now that I am, expect updates more frequently. Glad to have you as a reader.
The meeting with Mr. Hodcroft, my new boss, went well. Obviously. Ken Hodcroft was a friendly sort of man. With a roundish, reddish face, with a smile seemingly permanently plastered to it. However, his eyes gave him away as they were sly, shrewd and calculating and I felt when he looked at me he saw pound signs, more than he saw me. He seemed to have his mind set on hiring me for what he called my “flair for the creative,” and having just gotten my degree in journalism last fall I was simply raring at the bit to write for cash, so it turned out to be a match made in footballing heaven.
It’d been about a week in waiting, but I was finally getting a return trip, to sit in on a preseason team meeting. I had yet to meet Stuart Holden or any of his squad, but had been doing my research on them. They were a young squad, and since the departure of Neil Lennon a squad very quickly maturing. Stuart Holden had done a magical thing last season guiding an ailing Trotters from strength to strength last season and into an automatic promotion spot. I was eager to meet him.
There was also quite a few of his squad I was excited to meet. The young, but impressive diminutive striker Zach Clough had made quite a name for himself as Holden’s go to for goals and creativity up front last season. He led the line of the Wanderers attack with a sense of verve and panache that was a great return of Holden’s faith as he faded out the more senior Craig Davies. I was also looking forward to meeting Josh Vela. Vela was a hard tackling, determined, young defensively minded central midfielder beginning to perfect an offensive edge under Holden’s reign last year. A major contributing factor to the lads playing time is his versatility across a number of midfield positions and defensive. Finally, there was Oscar Threlkeld, hailed on Holden’s joining as the key player in the squad he had since begun to fade slightly. I wonder if it’s not because of his being jaded, playing a lot of minutes because of the Wanderers lack of a real back up right back the young Englishman had begun to look lackluster towards the end of last season, and many are hoping a step up in league will mean a step up in form from Oscar.
I’d learned a few things about the squad other than the promising youngsters as well. Captain Jay Spearing had been slowly phased out over the course of a few years after his year of prominence in a 45 appearance season for the Wanderers in 13/14 after his official purchase from Liverpool. The next season saw him loaned out to cross town rivals Blackburn where he made a solid 32 performances, but upon his return to the Macron stadium he was immediately given the Captains band back under Lennon who barely utilized him. Holden looked to have faith in the no nonsense midfielders ability to get back on form and had continued to play him in his new shape 4-3-3 that he had employed with the Trotters last season.
Mostly I was excited to meet the man himself, Stuart Holden, who had, upon his return to Macron in a suit rather than a kit, saw his old squad rise with ease and determination up the table for their old pitch-mate. Under his leadership the Wanderers had climbed from mid table to a second place finish reaching the Premier league for the first time in 4 years. He’d been given a pretty meagre budget for the league he was entering, and saw to spend it on more youth. Bringing in 4 players for a relatively cheap sum of money. I was hoping to meet every one of these new signings today as well.
I pulled my phone from my pocket, hitting the BBC app with a casual thumb. It loaded slowly. Something which annoyed me, the train supposedly had wifi, but I seemed to be eating into my data on these long train rides out of Manchester proper. The registered squad for the Wanderers finally popped up. It looked a strong squad, if it was still in the championship, in the premier league… I imagined they’d struggle.
Their three registered goal keepers were new signing, Wesley Foderingham, last season emergency signing, Elliot Parish, and veteran goal keeper; who was rumored to be on the outs at the Macron, Andy Lonergan. They were not a world class camp of keepers, but they were passable last season, with Wesley Foderingham joining they’d be passable at the Premier League level. But I had a feeling the Trotters would leak some goals, if only because of the quality of strikers who would be scoring them.
Registered as defenders, they had, David Wheater; the towering stalwart for the Wanderers last season, Oscar Threlkeld, Marc Tierney, new arrivals Harlee Dean and Jeremy Helan, Dorian Dervite and the under 21’s player Hayden White had made the senior squad lists recently for friendlies. It wasn’t a stunning list of defenders. The Wanderers would rely a lot on David Wheater and Dorian Dervite in the center of the pitch. Harlee Dean would be interesting to monitor as he pushed Dervite or Wheater for their spots. Competition is always a good thing, in my opinion, helps keep the players focused. Oscar Threlkeld looked to be set for another season of being a key player at right back with Hayden White being the only other real option. Jeremy Helan, the ex-City player, would likely be set to take the starting role of left back with Marc Tierney not getting any younger or better.
However unskilled they were in defense and midfield, the Wanderers made up for in registered midfielders. Starting with Josh Vela, then Captain Jay Spearing, Liam Trotter, Emmanuel Ledesma; someone I was very excited to meet after his stellar season last year under Holden, Tom, Rob Hall, Lloyd Isgrove, Diego Biseswar, Mark Davies, and Darren Prately. They had a very strong core of midfield players, led by the likes of Mark Davies, Josh Vela, Emmanuel Ledesma, and Jay Spearing they would do well against most of the lower half sides. They should, theoretically, be able to play the same style of football they did last year with a large number of creative and technically gifted midfielders to control the ball.
Last season, a consistent striker had been a problem until Holden arrived and got Clough back on form. Before that they were stuck with a slowly declining Craig Davies, Clough; out of form and out of confidence, and youngster Georg Iliev; who had yet to fully develop. However, with Iliev out on loan at Yeovil and Craig Davies a year older and slower, they needed some fresh guns up top. They delivered in this regard with what many consider a coop of a signing, bringing in the Championships top scorer Igor Vetokele from Charlton for a meager fee of 1.8 million pounds. Now, with Vetokele, Clough and Davies all registered as strikers the Wanderers still look weak up top, but if Holden continues to play a loan striker they may have enough to get by this season but they will need to be at their best this year to perform in the premier league.
I slid my phone back into my pocket. It was going to be an interesting season. I suppose I would begin to root for the Trotters before too long. With how some of these lads looked on paper, and with them being about the same age as myself, I could imagine me palling around with Zach Clough and Oscar Threlkeld at the pub already. The train came into the station while I was day dreaming. I stood, gathered my bags and my laptop and made my way for the street hailing down a taxi as I reached it.
“Where tae?” spat the driver in a thick Scottish brogue.
“Oh? Umm… The Macron Stadium. Please.
“Nae need tae say please, lad. Tis my job, ain’t it, eh.” He chortled off in a thick coughing, spitting laugh.
“Oh? Umm. I suppose it is, but I do like to be polite.”
His eyes flashed at me in the rear view, “Why the Macron, eh?”
“I work there?” I said, unconfidently, “Umm. My first job, really. I’m a backroom reporter hired by Mr. Hodcroft himself.”
“Mr. Hodcroft himself.” He mocked back at me. “Must be a big an’ important job then lad.”
I was really hoping my first meeting with the American Stuart Holden went much better than this. “I… don’t know… really.”