The Tigers (almost) completed a drastic squad overhaul with four signings on transfer deadline day.
Markus Henriksen is still expected to leave before the end of the transfer window which will mean eleven senior players have left the club since the end of last season while ten have arrived to replace them on permanent or loan deals.
The club have worked under severe, self-imposed restrictions this summer. The last of the parachute payments from the Premier League were received in January and as Jarrod Bowen wasn’t sold, as many expected/feared, the club are operating on a severely restricted budget with no large income from player sales save for the sell-on clauses on Daniel James and Harry Maguire that will drip feed into the revenue column over the next few years.
Long gone are the days when the Allams would gamble future income on trying to achieve promotion – they’ve long since lost interest in that and we have to accept it. I certainly won’t bleat about it. Assem Allam made it clear when he couldn’t change the name of the club to Hull Tigers that it would be run as a business for the benefit of two people going forward and I’ll accept that level of pettiness over changing the name of our beloved club.
So with those constraints in place, how well have the new manager Grant McCann and the recruitment team done? They’ve certainly achieved the aim of building a squad solid in number while reducing the wage bill but is there enough quality?
Few of the ten players who have arrived are established Championship ready players. The sad truth is that we’re not in the market for those players. They either cost millions in transfer fees or demand wages we won’t pay. We’re also not in a position to win a squabble with other clubs over players who are coveted. We saw in the straight fight with Barnsley for Mallik Wilks how unattractive a proposition City are for one reason or another. So we’ve had to, and sorry for using such a terrible phrase, “think outside the box” in order to make a small budget go a long way. A big part of that has been signing players well known to the manager from having previously worked with them or being aware of them in League One last season. I’m not a huge fan of usurping a recruitment strategy in this way but needs must. It does mean the manager will have to take his share of the responsibility if it isn’t successful.
The first arrival of the summer was goalkeeper Matt Ingram (QPR Undisc.). He’s come in to back-up George Long who was being readied to take over as number one last season with David Marshall’s impending departure. As with Fraizer Campbell, City just weren’t prepared to stomach Marshall’s “Premier League wage”. Ingram isn’t a first choice keeper at this level but he’s solid enough and has good experience at the levels below. Will Mannion will be third choice and he’s still very promising. With an array of very good young goalkeepers below them in Charlie Andrew, Harrison Foulkes, Harvey Cartwright and David Robson, this is the least of our worries.
Defensively City struggled last season once Aston Villa recalled Tommy Elphick. His “replacement” Liam Ridgewell was a huge let down and he was released along with Ondrej Mazuch while Todd Kane returned after his loan. None were a loss. They did leave us light on numbers defensively but that has been addressed with the recruitment of Ryan Tafazolli (Peterborough Free) and Matthew Pennington (Everton Loan) at centre half. Tafazolli was managed by McCann at Posh but trialled over the summer. Pennington has good Championship experience from loan spells at Leeds and Ipswich in the past couple of seasons and will threaten the Reece Burke/Jordy De Wijs partnership. He’s a player City have wanted for a couple of years.
The signing of Aussie left-back Callum Elder (Leicester Undisc.) could be particularly important as Stephen Kingsley has rarely impressed and while Brandon Fleming is a useful back-up, he’ll benefit far more from getting out on loan and playing regularly. Elder has played briefly at this level in several loan spells having featured much more in League One. On the right side, City will depend on new skipper Eric Lichaj for his assuring performances and experience with Robbie McKenzie as his able and versatile back-up. We’ll likely see both in other positions at times as well as Burke and Pennington who can both cover full-back.
It’s a defence still lacking the veteran centre-half we had, temporarily, in Elphick but it shows a lot of promise. Burke in particular improved immeasurably last season and given Hull City is now a proving ground for the best defenders in the country – he looks capable of joining some good company in the future.
Midfield is interesting. City’s signings in this area George Honeyman (Sunderland 400k) and Leo da Silva Lopes (Wigan Undisc.) were both maligned by supporters of their previous clubs when leaving. Neither had a brilliant last season with Honeyman part of a Sunderland side that failed to get out of League One and Lopes joining Gillingham on loan after his big-money move to Wigan didn’t work out. In some ways, it’s irrelevant. Both can play. Lopes is a 20-year old with over 100 league appearances. Honeyman is still only 24 and has scored 12 goals from midfield in the last couple of seasons. Importantly, both have been signed for their stamina and athleticism to play in a team that presses high to win the ball back. Lopes is very well known to McCann and Honeyman is an “outside the box” signing that others weren’t looking into.
There’s a very good question to be asked of how many of the recruits will actually start games. On the face of it, City are solid enough in midfield with Jackson Irvine being one of the first names on any team sheet and Daniel Batty and Kevin Stewart looking a reasonable defensive axis. Jon Toral being fit again brings flair to the team playing off a striker or at the front of a midfield three. Aside from the indefatigable Irvine though, there is a lack of athleticism in that group. Honeyman and Lopes will certainly solve that problem and bring competition for places. Toral has been particularly unreliable in fitness terms too.
That just leaves the front line and you’d hope this is where City will cause other teams problems. Jarrod Bowen and Kamil Grosicki are our best players and amongst the best in the league. It’s a miracle that they’re still here and we need to enjoy what will surely be their last year (or half a year?) in black an amber. Josh Bowler (Everton Loan) looks a very addition on the early evidence and will provide a good back-up or alternative to Grosicki and Bowen.
Through the middle, Tom Eaves (Gillingham Free) is an exciting signing. I’m still stinging from the departure of Fraizer Campbell who would lift this team to another level but I’m equally thrilled that we’ve brought in a striker who gets on the end of crosses and scores goals with his head. We’ve not had that for so long and when your strength is in the wide areas – it makes a lot of sense. Josh Magennis (Bolton Nominal) will be a decent back-up. He’s also a threat in the air, is used to playing on his own up front and can play wide. His goal record is reasonable if unspectacular but there aren’t many better available for pennies. Both look a far better prospect than Nouha Dicko who it’s easy to forget cost us the thick end of four million quid.
I’ve (harshly) failed to mention Angus MacDonald and David Milinkovic. MacDonald has been missing for so long through injury that its hard to remember his strengths. Milinkovic has been a waste of everyone’s time so far. Youngsters Max Sheaf and Jacob Greaves going on loan to Cheltenham Town is really good news for their development. Hopefully Keane Lewis-Potter and Fleming will find suitors too.
I don’t know if the recruitment will be good enough – no-one does. Everything about this squad from the manager down is 50/50 at best. It could easily punch above its weight like last season and could easily get sucked into a relegation scrap. But given the financial constraints in place along with the overall feel of a club with owners who aren’t interested and fans who are dwindling in number - they’ve certainly made a good fist of things.
I particularly like the look of things in midfield. Again, there’s no obvious leader and a quality on the ball is a slight worry but it’s a young, vibrant group who could be far more effective unit than the sum of its parts. That is what we’re looking for. No matter what the cost of putting them together, that’s what all successful Championship teams are.