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Bolton Nuts » BWFC » Bolton Wanderers Banter » SPECIAL REPORT: Will Bolton pay dearly for their patchy summer recruitment?

SPECIAL REPORT: Will Bolton pay dearly for their patchy summer recruitment?

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karlypants

karlypants
Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
To what extent Wanderers will live to regret their recruitment choices in the summer only time will tell but the club’s fans will hope January was the last window in which the plan got ripped up and started again.

Ian Evatt had warned that last month’s business would have a temporary feel and that developments behind the scenes would soon lead to a better structure to scouting and planning for signings in the summer.

For several years, deadline day has been thrilling and horrifying in equal measure at Bolton – the drama and excitement of late deals balanced out by the apparent absence of any forward thinking whatsoever.

And so it was the case again last month as Evatt took control of the recruitment reins following the departure of Tobias Phoenix from his frankly disastrous spell as head of football operations.

The appointment of the former Macclesfield Town director of football last February proved controversial from the off, as it appeared to significantly weaken the position of the incumbent manager, Keith Hill.

With Phoenix came lofty talk of performance data, algorithms and Moneyball, plus the disbanding of the Under-23s. Eventually, it also spelled the end for Hill, although his often-fractious relationship with the Bolton fanbase did him no favours, either.

Modelling Bolton on Brentford sparked the interest of many supporters and seemed a reasonable, modern way of thinking at the time. But a football lockdown and amid a global pandemic forced everyone to check their ambitions, especially when lower league clubs voted in salary caps and squad quota. All of a sudden, greater emphasis was placed on signing the right players to fill limited available space. And it is on that front Wanderers truly failed in the summer.

Whether several signings were rushed, unresearched or simply misjudged it is hard to tell but Evatt’s willingness to disassociate himself with the mess which spilled over into the season, coupled by the noticeable upturn in quality of player he brought in on his lonesome during January, speaks volumes.

At time of writing Wanderers sit 19th in the League Two table, so it is fair to assume they may have to write off this season as a bad job. Evatt remains typically bullish about a late run, as he must, but most fans who have watched on from their laptops would be content to finish the current campaign strong and look forward to witnessing a promotion push in the flesh from this summer.

There is no doubt that Bolton have a more balanced squad after the January window but one still populated by quick fixes – i.e. seven loanees – and no fewer than 18 players with first team experience whose contract runs out this summer.

Of the 12 who are contracted beyond 2021, two (Ali Crawford and Liam Gordon) are out on loan elsewhere, Liam Edwards and Denis Politic are injured long-term and neither Brandon Comley nor Ronan Darcy have started a game since November.

To underline the instability, more than 70 players have been used by Wanderers in the last season-and-a-half, the carousel of characters now spinning so quickly that signings made in by Phoenix/Evatt in late August have been written off and shipped out less than five months later.

Bedding down this cast of many has been tough for Evatt, a young manager is his first full season of EFL football, especially with such a slender backroom staff. It is to his credit that he has juggled the task of manager and chief transfer negotiator for the last few weeks – but surely it is not a long-term policy?

Without saying it outright, Wanderers have attempted to correct their post-Phoenix course. Owners, Football Ventures, have backed their manager in the transfer market at a time when it may have been tempting to save a few pounds and see out the campaign. And part of that policy may be an admission that their initial recruitment plans were the wrong way to go.

What appears to be their next priority is finding someone who can anchor the scouting and analysis department and provide some structure and sensibility in the longer term.

Depth of football experience – a factor constantly in question with Phoenix – and a working knowledge of the level Bolton Wanderers now find themselves is a must for whoever walks through the door in the next few weeks.

The restructure of the academy saw several good coaches and popular figures trimmed, their replacements as yet un-announced. That has left no obvious development territory for players like Adam Senior, who has dipped his toes into senior football, but has no weekly match, nor for long-term injured players like Liam Edwards to make a phased return.

Covid issues have meant friendly games are difficult to organise and have also left non-league clubs unable to take players on loan because of the uncertainty on fixtures.

Callum King-Harmes, who has been out at Bamber Bridge, has not had the game time Wanderers would want, and though the Under-18s continue to operate on a regular basis under the eye of Mark Litherland, the likes of Matt Alexander and Sonny Graham may well feel they have outgrown Saturday morning football after so long in the senior ranks.

Wanderers now have some stability in the boardroom but if they are to find it on the pitch then some key appointments must be made soon, lest the club be involved in another Supermarket Sweep in the summer.

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Norpig

Norpig
Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
So did Evatt have no input at all in to the summer signings? Seems strange to me if that's true but even if its not Evatt can use that as an excuse for the results up to now.

Now he's had control and signed the 4 players and let a few go we'll have to wait and see if results improve but he can't pass the buck anymore.

Sluffy

Sluffy
Admin
Evatt clearly had some say in the summer transfers, just look at the number who he had links to from his playing days/Barrow manager, the likes of Baptiste and White for instance.

All water under the bridge though, we are where we are.

I've mentioned before that FV is already at Plan C with Evatt now in control (Plan A being Hill and B being Phoenix) and they've only been here two years, which suggests somethings have definitely not been going to plan.

I reckon they've taken a financial hit over these 'mis-steps' and quite frankly with the squad comprised now of a bulk of loanees, youths who are too young to be first team regulars but have no 'reserve' team to play in when they aren't in the first team, a raft of players whose contracts expire at the end of the year and even two players with contracts for next season being shipped out on loan to other clubs, the future doesn't look much better than when FV walked through the door does it?

On paper at least it seems we do have a few good things, Doyle and Sarcevic are proven players at the level we are at, Kieran Lee has pedigree if he can get back to his preinjury form, Santos seems to have some potential and Maddison (although he is on loan) seems to have burned his bridges at his current club but has been a quality player in the past.

I might be overly optimistic but I have said previously as well that if we played to the strengths of Doyle and Sarcevic rather than they 'fit' into the system we have had, that hasn't suited them, then there's no reason why even at this late stage we can still make a decent run for a play-off place.

I guess the next few games will be crucial to see if we can or not - and there's plenty of players to 'bed' into the team right now that isn't going to help us but fingers crossed we will.

As they say 'it is always the hope that kills you'.

Here's hoping nevertheless though!

wanderlust

wanderlust
Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
I think that last summer's recruitment is part of the reason we've had a difficult first half to the season, but there are other factors too. A young manager getting his first experience at this level, a new squad unfamiliar with each other, and a system that many players were unfamiliar with which necessitated players having to play out of their natural position.  Add to that any advantage we might have expected to gain from our relatively large fanbase was negated by Covid restrictions - I just don't believe it can be put down to a single reason.
Fair play to Evatt for finally making adjustments to the playing style whilst trying to play positive attacking football.

That said, points-wise we are as close to the playoffs as we are to the relegation slots at the halfway mark.

We are at a bit of a crossroads at the moment. The January reshuffle has the whiff of a gamble about it, especially Madison but I certainly think Lee and Jackson have been good signings and if it comes together on the pitch, we could well go on a bit of a run. If at the end of the season we don't quite make it, blaming it all on last summer's recruitment would be a gross oversimplification IMO.

Sluffy

Sluffy
Admin
[You must be registered and logged in to see this link.] wrote:I think that last summer's recruitment is part of the reason we've had a difficult first half to the season, but there are other factors too. A young manager getting his first experience at this level, a new squad unfamiliar with each other, and a system that many players were unfamiliar with which necessitated players having to play out of their natural position.  Add to that any advantage we might have expected to gain from our relatively large fanbase was negated by Covid restrictions - I just don't believe it can be put down to a single reason.
Fair play to Evatt for finally making adjustments to the playing style whilst trying to play positive attacking football.

That said, points-wise we are as close to the playoffs as we are to the relegation slots at the halfway mark.

We are at a bit of a crossroads at the moment. The January reshuffle has the whiff of a gamble about it, especially Madison but I certainly think Lee and Jackson have been good signings and if it comes together on the pitch, we could well go on a bit of a run. If at the end of the season we don't quite make it, blaming it all on last summer's recruitment would be a gross oversimplification IMO.

Might be in your opinion but clearly not in FV's and that's why the person responsible for it, Phoenix, got sacked and not the 'young manager getting his first experience at this level', who had to belatedly make changes to the 'playing style'. Meaning that FV laid the blame for this seasons failure to that point to be at the recruitment of 'wrong' players rather than the 'wrong' manager.

This is plainly evidenced in Evatt being backed to bring in a significant squad overall at the midseason point.

If we had recruited the 'right' players in the summer we wouldn't have had to make such drastic changes in January would we, and Phoenix would still be here planning to improve the squad (which I pointed out in my post above will have multiple players out of contract or returning to their parent club from loan with us) for next seasons campaign.

QED.


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