Tuesday, 31 May 2016

What do Hull City need to do in the transfer market?



One of the most exciting aspects of any summer months for any football fan is the prospect of buying and selling players to build a squad for the challenge ahead.



For Hull City fans this aspect will take a backseat this summer (again) to the question of the ownership of the club, which I previously wrote about here, and easing doubts over the manager’s position, which is covered here.

Only then can budgets be agreed, contracts renewed or ended and targets identified. The budget in itself will be an interesting topic of discussion and it’s perhaps telling that within minutes of securing promotion, Steve Bruce was already publicly calling for financial backing. Ours is a club that has financially over-stretched after every Premier League promotion so it wouldn’t be surprising if a level of caution was being considered – particularly if the Allam family retain ownership.

That said, here’s a look at what needs to change in the Tigers squad in the various positions. I’m not going into specific targets but feel free to leave your ideas in the comments and I’ll use them in a future blog.

Goalkeepers

While I have no doubt that City can do better than Allan McGregor as number one there are probably higher priorities in squad strengthening than replacing someone who is still a very capable keeper. We’ve not seen much of Dusan Kuciak yet and what little we have seen has been unimpressive but he’s under contract for another year.

The biggest question mark is over the future of Eldin Jakupovic. He’s been a figure of fun for much of his City career but is developing a bit of a cult and his phenomenal showing at Arsenal in the FA Cup in February and his strong showings in three crucial play-off matches will enhance that. We’ve been keen to bring in a successor to McGregor in previous transfer windows (Southend’s Daniel Bentley a year ago) so Jakupovic may be dispensed with to make that happen which would be seriously harsh.

Central Defenders

This is City’s strongest area by far. We have an experienced and capable centre back partnership in Michael Dawson and Curtis Davies and a natural successor and alternative in the talented Harry Maguire. Alex Bruce, who’s contract expiry date isn’t known because the club were too scared to release it last summer, never lets City down and is adequate back-up.

Maguire’s contract is up in 2017 so the only urgent action here is to make sure he signs a long-term deal this summer. That may be harder than it sounds given how often Harry is overlooked for “Daws” and Davies.

Full Backs

Moses Odubajo has been a superb signing at right back while Andy Robertson is inconsistent but capable of being a fantastic attacking left back. For a combined £6.35m they represent incredible value at the top level. Like Harry Maguire, Robertson is approaching the last year of his contract and given his age and potential value in the market - it’s crucial that he too is signed up for the long-term.

Ryan Taylor has already hinted that his unremarkable year with The Tigers has come to an end so the only cover remaining at full-back comes in the shape of wingers Ahmed Elmohamady and Sam Clucas and youngsters Brian Lenihan and Josh Tymon. A utility full-back is very high on the wanted list.

Central Midfielders

A quality ball-winning midfielder would be a tremendous addition to a solid set of midfield options. I suspect every club in the country is out looking for an N’Golo Kante but we could also do with a player of that ilk – strong, mobile and brave.

Jake Livermore has quality but needs to find Premier League consistency while David Meyler will fill in anywhere and give it his best shot. Livermore is another who is out of contract in 2017 so it’s vital that the club protects their investment with some fore-thinking this summer.

Tom Huddlestone is a divisive player whose supreme natural ability is constantly at odds with his lack of mobility and lethargy. His contract is up in July and I’d be tempted to give him a new one. He’s much better suited to the top flight and players with his ability are hard to come by – especially for “free”.

Thinking further into the future, our midfield isn’t getting any younger and this would be a good time to recruit a younger player with plenty of potential. We could do worse than buying all-rounder Isaac Hayden who will otherwise go back to Arsenal after his loan ends.

Wingers

The obvious question with out and out wide players is whether City need any at all. They’re not a common sight in Premier League football unless you work to accommodate them in a 4-5-1/4-3-3 system. Robert Snodgrass (another key 2017 expiry) is talented and flexible enough to fit most systems so will continue to be a key player.

Elmohamady is out of contract this summer and for 90% of the current season has looked like a player counting down the days until he can move on. However, of late he’s given everyone a timely reminder of what he’s capable of and he brings cover and competition at full back, wing back or right wing. I didn’t think I’d say this but I’d offer him at least another year.

Sam Clucas is a great lad who has really earned his crack at playing in the top flight. Judging by the way his season tailed off in the Championship after some effervescent performances up to January – the Premier League might be a step too far for him. He deserves the chance to sink or swim though and when you look at how a player like Matt Ritchie has taken to the top flight – you’d be crazy not to find out.

Calaum Jahraldo-Martin is out of contract and likely at the end of the line with City. At 23, he’s just too old to be a youngster and as far away from the first team as ever.

Forwards

The outgoings here are easy. Sone Aluko is out of contract and has run out of chances – lovely kid though he is. Adama Diomande isn’t good enough and needs to move on. Shaun Maloney hasn’t worked out either an I’d send him packing too. Chuba Akpom’s loan is up and it’s hard to see City seeking another one.

Mo Diame continues to be enigmatic and while that’s often frustrating – when he’s good, he’s bloody marvellous. We need options so we can pick and choose Mo’s games but he needs to be part of the squad.

Abel Hernandez took a while to come good for City but we can take heart not only from his goals this season but the heart he’s shown to be a part of the squad. He’s another with just a year on his deal so if an offer came in for him, it would probably be considered but otherwise, he needs to be helped rather than replaced.

We always need a striker. I wrote that last summer. And the transfer window before that. And the one before that. And probably the one before that. This summer we need at least two. One would be a partner/alternative to Hernandez. Someone with a bit of size and strength who can play the lone role on his own and impose himself on opposition defences. The other should be someone with pace who will turn defenders for fun and can play right up top or wider in a front three.

What I’m really looking for is Dean Windass and Fraizer Campbell from 2008. Though the “Deano” would be ten years younger and the Campbell wouldn’t be a cock!

Rick’s Released List

Ryan Taylor
Sone Aluko
Calaum Jahraldo-Martin
Chuba Akpom (End of loan)

Rick’s Transfer List

Dusan Kuciak
Shaun Maloney
Adama Diomande

Rick’s Shopping List

Goalkeeper
Utility full-back
Ball-winning midfielder
Young midfielder
Pacey forward
Physical striker

Monday, 30 May 2016

Can Steve Bruce learn the lessons of Hull City's relegation?



Steve Bruce’s future as Hull City manager is uncertain despite winning promotion to the Premier League for a second time – though I’m not convinced it’s as up in the air as he’s claiming.



Bruce told David Burns that he’d have to consider his immediate future after talks with Ehab Allam almost before the champagne corks had landed on the Wembley pitch. With a rumoured takeover in the offing, you can hardly blame the manager for wanting to know who he’ll be working for before committing his future to the club while you’d also forgive him for asking Ehab whether a failure to sell the club would lead to more of the same nonsense Bruce has felt compelled to defend for the last three years.

Barring any new owners wanting their own man at the helm, it’s highly unlikely Bruce is going anywhere. He’d certainly have gone if City had lost on Saturday but in achieving the ultimate goal for the season, however he’s gone about it, he’s surely cemented his job for next season.

On the whole, I think that’s probably right. I’m unconvinced that Bruce has it in him to take City to the next level, as witnessed by last season’s unnecessary relegation, but sacking a manager who has just achieved promotion would be harsh and rarely happens. Saturday’s victory continued Bruce’s unprecedented success at the KC Stadium but sandwiched between his two promotions was the failure of relegation and the inability to achieve automatic promotion with what was, in all likelihood, the best squad of players in the league.

Bruce has to demonstrate that he’s learned the lessons of the last relegation and do a better job this time around. Recruitment is the obvious place to start as the disastrous acquisitions in the summer of 2014 were largely responsible for the club struggling in the Premier League having stayed up fairly comfortably the year previously. Not only did the expensive signings destroy the bond the team had built over two years under Bruce but they failed on an individual level too.

He took a scatter-gun approach to that transfer window. Little thought went into how the likes of Tom Ince, Haten Ben Arfa and Abel Hernandez would fit into the squad – we just had to have somebody, anybody and they were available. Hernandez’s goals have been key this season for City but he’s been in England for almost two years now and still doesn’t speak English. That’s a ridiculous situation and shows how poor we are at doing the homework on signings from abroad. We got lucky with Abel because no-one came in for him last summer and he showed a wholly unexpected level of application to perform brilliantly in the Championship but luck wasn’t going to make players of Nick Proschwitz, Yannick Sagbo or Adama Diomande.

Bruce’s best signings have tended to be guys he worked with before City, like Meyler and Elmohamady, or well-known Premier League players who cost an absolute fortune, like Livermore, Dawson, Long, Jelavic and Snodgrass. The cost of players in that second category is growing astronomically so it’s more difficult than ever to attract them. Bruce has to lean on his contacts and scouting team to find more gems that are under-appreciated or undiscovered (at the top level) like Curtis Davies, Robbie Brady, Andy Robertson and Moses Odubajo

Hand in hand with recruitment, Bruce needs to reward the contribution of the players who’ve achieved promotion. Previously he tried to evolve the squad too quickly and achieved nothing except pushing many noses out of joint. That will be easier this time, in fairness, because we still have a core of his Premier League signings but he has to be wary of wholesale changes – particularly when the signings are last minute panic buys.

Bruce defied his reputation as a tactical dinosaur during our initial run of success by switching to a 3-5-2 system that suited our players and proved difficult for plenty of other teams to counter. He’s not shown any ability to find an alternative once that started to get found out reverting only to a pretty standard 4-4-1-1. That’s been enough to succeed in the Championship but the Premier League is a different beast and the emphasis on pressing high up the pitch and the need to match up to three or four players in the centre of midfield require a level of subtlety Bruce has rarely been capable of.

Perhaps most crucially, Bruce has to improve the quality of coaching at the club. Too few players have improved under his watch, particularly during the couple of Premier League years where we saw promising signings going backwards rather than improving. As a group, we’ve made the same mistakes too often leading some fans to question whether we do anything in training. We’ve seen the same slow transition of the ball from defence to midfield too often, the inability to get runners into the penalty area too often, the unimaginative set pieces too often and heard the same excuses for not scoring enough goals for four years.

The coaching set-up needs freshening up and it would be nice also to see some succession plan put in place. If Bruce doesn’t go this summer, he’ll go at some point and we weren’t supposed to be in the position where the manager leaving leads to an exodus of the staff (According to Assem Allam circa 2011).

There’s certainly plenty for the owners, new or old, to think about on that score.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Hull City seal promotion - now the Allams must sell!



I plan to write a series of blog’s this week on what the future holds for Hull City after promotion was sealed in glorious style at Wembley yesterday.


Empty seats for a play-off final - the ultimate vote of no confidence?
I’ll start with the key issue – the ownership of the club. I’ve thought about writing on this topic several times over the last month as talk of a possible takeover grew but all I had to go on was supposition so I left it be. I’ve heard several rumours of who the investors are with the most believable versions being either a group of Americans said to have visited the City recently or a Singaporean consortium led by a local businessman.


Since yesterday’s play-off final win, The Mirror and the BBC’s David Burns have both gone with the American angle and it seems likely that talks have taken place and a deal has been agreed – presumably dependent on the promotion being sealed.

The talk of a takeover will have pleased most Hull City fans who seem to agree that the time has come for a change of owner. However, over the last couple of weeks I’ve spoken to several vociferous City fans who’ve all told me their biggest fear is the Allams doing a U-Turn over selling if City do go up and the massive income next season becomes a reality. For those fans, Ehab Allam telling Sky today that his family would like to reflect on whether they still desire to sell the club will be a worry.

It’s a worry because there are many fans who have been upset by the Allams over many issues in the the last three years – including but not limited to the attempt to change the name, removal of disabled concessions, large price rises, removal of the ticket office and staff, the dreaded membership scheme and the ongoing spiteful refusal to call the club “Hull City” – who really want them to go and I am one of them. Their ownership of the club is untenable.

It gives me absolutely no pleasure to state that, especially as a time when Assem Allam is seriously ill. I’ll always be thankful that the Allams secured the future of Hull City in 2010 and I’ve always given credit for the things they’ve achieved on the football field and the support they’ve given Steve Bruce (though not forgotten the way Nick Barmby was treated) to achieve some of the greatest feats in our history but the massive debt of gratitude I once felt towards them has been eroded away by three years of acrimony, by the campaign waged against our fans and our name and by the utter contempt they show for every paying customer whether you are with them or against them. Introducing a membership scheme that penalises children and OAPs who sit in most areas of the ground was the final straw for me. That was the point I realised that these people truly do not care about anyone.

Simply put, they now must sell up and go. There’s no guarantee that the new owners will be as successful. We’ve seen examples at Fulham and Aston Villa of foreign owners getting things wrong and taking clubs out of the Premier League. But do I care? Not particularly. Success is wonderful it needs to be shared by all of our fanbase and to be beneficial to our City and the local community. Otherwise, what is the point?

I hope new owners arrive and bring an olive branch that will be reciprocated by all of those City fans who are currently marginalised. I expect new owners will have their own ideas and their own business plan but I hope most of all that it includes the restoration of “Hull City” to the forefront of our club’s communication, home and shirt and the scrapping or sorting of the membership scheme to include concessions for children, OAPs and the disabled. If they can do that and unite our proud fanbase – the one so sadly absent at Wembley yesterday – then success, I can take or leave. After all, not everyone can be successful, but as long as they give it their best shot, I’ll support then and I’ve a good feeling that many others will too.

We are Premier League and that is wonderful for the City of Hull. Now let’s have an ownership who proudly represent the City and are proud to be Hull City AFC.