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The 11 Bolton players approaching the final year of their contract

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karlypants

karlypants
Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse

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Ricardo Santos might not be the only player in the Wanderers squad whose contractual situation is put under the microscope in the coming months.

Keen to move on from the uncertainty of wholesale changes each summer, and frantic deadline days, Bolton have already made huge strides towards building a layered roster, reducing the average age in the dressing room considerably.

Currently, 17 senior players are contracted up to, or beyond the summer of 2023, which means that recruitment for Evatt and Chris Markham can be more selective, and less reactive than it might have been in recent years.

The next hurdle, however, is ensuring that their playing assets maintain value and that the club is protected against losing their best players for low fees by keeping them contracted for as long as possible.

Historically, Wanderers have not been especially adept at being a ‘selling club’ – a trend which harks back to the Premier League era where positive examples like Nicolas Anelka were eclipsed by several less successful ones like Johan Elmander, Gretar Steinsson, Marvin Sordell or even Gary Cahill.

But the business savvy shown by owners Football Ventures off the pitch must now translate to the playing staff, if the club is to continue to progress towards the promised land once again.

Wanderers currently have five senior squad members out of contract this summer: Alex Baptiste, Nathan Delfouneso, Andy Tutte, Adam Senior and Liam Gordon.

Loan players James Trafford, Xav Amaechi and Marlon Fossey are also scheduled to return to their parent clubs Manchester City, Hamburg and Fulham, respectively in the summer.

Several players have contract which stretch beyond the summer of 2023, and Wanderers find themselves in a position they have seldom been in recent years, with a squad core which is tied down for the foreseeable future.

Dapo Afolayan, George Johnston, Declan John, Gethin Jones, Dion Charles, Aaron Morley, Kyle Dempsey and Kieran Sadlier all have deals which extend up to or beyond June 2024.

But it is the future of a group of nine, including skipper Santos, who will potentially be of interest to Evatt and his staff as the season draws to a close and they enter into the final year of their contract.

Here we look at each case in turn, and whether Wanderers will need to act sooner rather than later.

RICARDO SANTOS

One of the first players aboard Operation Evatt and probably the one who has progressed the most.

Santos said he was contemplating getting a part-time job after dropping down into the National League with Barnet a few years ago but Bolton offered him a chance to return to the EFL, and he has grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

Captain of the club, and held in high esteem at the UniBol, the big defender’s game has gradually improved and still looks like it can go another level.

Wanderers want him to stay, Santos wants to review things in the summer. This story looks like it could go on for some time yet.

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MJ WILLIAMS

One of a few players who topped up their contract last summer and has been one of Evatt’s most consistent performers.

Performances since the turn of the year have taken a little dip – but you would back the former Liverpool man to push on and earn a new deal. At 26, he remains a big asset for Wanderers.

KIERAN LEE

Mercifully, he will be back in action in a few weeks after it was feared an operation on his heel would mean the end of his season.

When fit and firing, Lee oozes quality. The big question for Bolton is can they keep him in one piece for long enough?

Has six goals and 30 appearances so far this season, which is a very decent return. But at 33, Wanderers will need to be realistic on how long he can perform at this level.

ELIAS KACHUNGA

Due back in the fold very soon after injury and will hope he can quickly rediscover some form.

Took a little while to get going and find fitness but had a decent run of four goals in six games in November, at a time when Wanderers were not playing particularly well as a club.

Kachunga has the pedigree and the character to make a big difference for Bolton in the run-in and has played Championship football before at Huddersfield and Sheffield Wednesday.

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JOSH SHEEHAN

Cruelly deprived the chance to finish his debut season at Bolton after signing from Newport because of a knee injury – but word from the club is that his rehab is going very well and he will be on track for a return at the start of pre-season.

His injury does pile on a bit of pressure to that last year in contract, and with another similar playmaker in Aaron Morley, he does face some stiff competition.

But we saw some real moments of quality from the Welshman earlier in the season which suggest he will do just fine. Don’t rule out a longer stay.

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AMADOU BAKAYOKO

Has already matched his best-ever goalscoring season with 10 in all competitions, and lest we forget he missed a big chunk of the current campaign through injury.

Hasn’t looked quite as effective starting games as he has entering them from the bench but at 26, the 6ft 4ins striker will feel he has his best playing years ahead of him.

Very much in the ‘asset’ category, as opposed to a player signed for the short-term.

JON DADI BODVARSSON

Signed in January, Bodvarsson got himself off the mark with a goal against Wimbledon and though he is clearly playing catch-up after dwelling in Millwall’s reserves for most of the season, he has shown flashes of pedigree in his time on the pitch thus far.

Realistically, he needs a full pre-season at Bolton before we see the best of him and at 29, the striker will want to make sure he makes the right decision in what will be the peak of his career.

Neither party will feel they need to rush into a new deal right now.

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GEORGE THOMASON

Now has 43 first team appearances under his belt at 21, which is a very decent return considering he was playing non-league football at Bamber Bridge as recently as August 2020.

Difficulties with the reserve team fixture schedule meant he has had to survive on scraps in the last few months – but Thomason is well-regarded at Bolton, and it would be no surprise to see him offered a longer stay.

RONAN DARCY

Playing out on loan with Queen’s Park in Scotland at the moment, having returned from a spell in Norway with Sogndal at the end of last year.

Next season will be a big one for the homegrown midfielder, who has made some remarkable physical improvement in the last six months. Coming towards his 22nd birthday, he needs to show Evatt he is a player for now, and not just the future.

LLOYD ISGROVE

Another player to have been struck down by injury in top form this season – but one who is also close to a return. The vista has changed considerably since he pulled his hamstring against Doncaster but Isgrove may well offer some respite for Marlon Fossey and put in a case for his deal to be reviewed.

WILL AIMSON

Has let nobody down this season when called upon, filling in across the back three in a similar way to Alex Baptiste last season.

If Wanderers were to get into the Championship ahead of schedule, there may be a review, but expect Aimson to play on regardless for now.

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