Praying For Player Power
Col U Need Courage & Personality to Play Their Way Out of League One
Colchester United need a kiss of life to kick-start their 2008/9 campaign, not a cash injection or the transfer market treatment. This summer`s radical rescue-remedy for the possible League One challengers is a pick-me-up called Player Power.
Modern sporting gladiators at the Football Club whose town is characterised by Roman relics are, however, advised against catapulting training cones at the manager`s office, trouncing the team-sheet or fiddling with formations.
As pre-season`s pace quickens, the hope is that Geraint Williams will find a sheer strength of personality, instead, to bind his squad together on playing fields in Essex.
A squad bereft of Karl Duguid, Teddy Sheringham and Kevin Watson since May face a renewed echo of last summer`s long, deep call for new heroes.
Despite re-branding, renaming and repainting after relegation, the requirement for guts and guile by the bucket-load never diminished.
For all the analysis of Williams` touch-line style, and perhaps absurd murmuring that he faces a make-or-break six months, there is only so much he can actually do. His playing-staff must also be willing, and able, to shoulder the desired charge for the top. Cue changing-room promotions for Johnnie Jackson, Kem Izzet and Dean Gerken, who become the side`s most senior members almost by accident, as well as allegiance.
That`s why seasoned U`s-watchers are right to call Duguid`s departure to Plymouth after fourteen years of loyal service a tipping-point. It signals the end of Williams` bond with his winger, and shows a willingness to dispense with the old order. Duguid`s stripes as a dressing-room lieutenant, one who could still remember what it was like to play alongside his manager, are stripped away.
The boss, as last January`s signing Phil Ifil has said, is putting his fragile managerial reputation on the line by investing in newer reputations now, and the squad must work together to repay such faith. Yes, Williams must give the dedicated men some direction, but the duty to win games lies with his players.
That does not just entail them running harder, faster or stronger for the Colchester cause, because the relative inexperience of both the man in charge and those playing under him needs addressing. Sheer effort from the troops alone cannot mask technical failings.
Williams is yet to experiment with new tactical systems, beyond 4-4-2, and inherited his liking of a big forward from predecessor Phil Parkinson. One of the successes of Parky`s era was that he learnt to interchange his personnel, sometimes even using now Sheffield United right-back Greg Halford to good effect as a striker.
With Parkinson went the element of surprise, because even gung-ho football has frailties, eventually. Attacking without purpose becomes as self-destructive as the typical English defensive toe-punt.
This is where the new players come in, and there can be no buck-passing since most of them are Williams` signings now. Yet, the manager also told journalists he might abandon his love of all things forward-thinking in favour of a one-man front-line after landing the wrong side of too many seesaw score-lines.
It`s up to this latest band of merry men to demonstrate an appetite for both dirty defensive duties and pretty ping-pong stuff, then, and so change his mind. Else, the best thing Saturday`s scorecards could bring next season is one-nil wins in the vein of long-gone Arsenal sides from the nineties.
Halford`s Sale A Reality-Cheque
Greg Halford, the strong twenty-something right-back with international experience and a Gary Neville long-throw, was supposed to be playing for his country by now, according to Colchester`s optimists.
Four clubs in seventeen months since he left read Reading, Sunderland, and loans at Charlton and now Sheffield United, says different. No sooner had Championship fans declared that promising goalie Dean Gerken would become the next David Seaman, and there he is at the back of the division`s worst defence in 2007/8.
Aside from actually proving his potential in the Premier League, a player would need consistency before even pondering an assault on England`s best eleven. Five months of solidarity in the Championship, in Halford`s case, hardly surfaces.
With Halford, the story goes that the former youth-team captain had twelve scouts watching him during an ill-fated FA Cup game when Colchester took on Barnet in January 2007. Well, Greg`s total number of takers to date makes him a third of the way toward that tally already. At the height of the mania, Manchester United supposedly entered a bidding-war set to top some £7 million.
Now we know better. As Halford is hawked around like a once-trendy car, the mind says Colchester were fortunate to get £2.5 million for him and dead lucky to increase that amount by another £500,000 four months later when Roy Keane signed him.
A talented boy, sure, but the U`s were the real winners here all along, although it might not have felt that way at the time. It`s been more road-miles than games for Halford since he left Layer Road.
Lisbie`s Million-Pound Question
Colchester United fans would be forgiven for mistaking a one-million pound valuation on striker Kevin Lisbie as a white flag.
It`s more about being realistic, since every player has a price and, using the old stock-market saying, the club will have bought low and sold high, if he goes. Besides, 17 goals from a player who cost nothing twelve months ago looks great business now.
Look at it another way, too. Say Lisbie is as happy as he claims in North Essex. Then, putting a value on his head could be a smart lesson in reverse-psychology, while preventing him from feeling trapped at the club.
Yes, this is a gamble, because there is always the chance he will cash his chips and go. Snapping him up on a free from Charlton, though, never was a risk.