It always irks me when managers start flapping their gums about signing players from other teams. Neil Lennon has been doing just that about Steven Fletcher, even going to the extent of throwing out some valuations. Ironically, he goes on to say it is purely speculation and that there has been no contact between the clubs. Anyway, so here we are talking once more about strikers – but would cashing in on Fletcher be a wise decision?
I must admit I am reading between the lines here, but with Gus Poyet’s recent comments about Fletcher it seems unlikely that we will sign another striker unless he was sold. If we are to take his words as gospel, which we have no reason not to up to now, Fletch is our number one striker whom Gus is relying on to score the goals to keep us in the division. It is an encouraging sign, given that Poyet has been very detrimental towards some unnamed players for their lack of commitment to his cause – this would indicate Fletcher isn’t one of those players, which may or may not be a surprise to some give the majority of his recent performances.
Of course, you could read even further between the lines and come up with a totally different analysis. Perhaps Poyet is well aware of the interest in Fletcher and is more than willing to sell, merely attempting to increase his price by exaggerating his value to the team. I suppose there is some argument for that, again when you consider his recent performances (excluding Cardiff away).
To me, it would be pretty stupid to sell Fletcher now. January is notoriously a difficult month to sign players capable of the impact we need from our striker. It is also the month where everyone’s value seems to sky rocket and when you consider our cautious approach to spending these days, I can’t see us paying over the odds for anybody. The only ‘value’ to be found here is targeting players who have around six months left on their contracts. When you scour the list, there are perhaps a couple of players who stand out.
Shane Long is coming to an end of his contract with West Bromwich Albion. Reports suggest he is in dispute over his wages, asking for an amount the Baggies are unwilling to pay. He has been linked with a few clubs – including Tottenham. Whilst his over goals tally isn’t exceptional, his style of play would fit in neatly with our set up. Unlike Fletcher, he is hard-working and focuses a lot of his game on tying together the attacking unit rather than just appearing in the box. It might sound strange to advocate such a player, since goals are what we need, but if this football philosophy is to work we need a lot more involvement from our striker all over the pitch. Jozy Altidore does this, but he seems to have no sharpness and his inability to control the ball often makes him more of a hindrance up front.
The other option who stands out is a former Sunderland player – Nicklas Bendtner. We all know about this lad and some of us are big fans and some aren’t. I am a big fan and, like Long, I think he would fit in perfectly here. He probably represents a better goal scoring threat, given his aerial ability, but has recently succumbed to an ankle injury which is keeping him out for a few weeks.
Both these players would probably cost less than the £6 million figure being suggested for Fletcher, but, why would they come here in January? We are bottom of the league, four points from safety and struggling a great deal to get out of trouble. They could wait until the summer, take their pick from of number of clubs whose situation is not under severe doubt and pocket some healthy signing on fees that free agents generally do. It seems very unlikely either, or any proven Premier League striker, would choose to sign for us.
Another option is recalling some of our loan players. Connor Wickham has been scoring goals for fun down at Sheffield Wednesday and has even won the Championship Player of the Month award. Perhaps he isn’t quite ready for Premier League football and whilst he would be a very decent option to have available I would struggle to have confidence in him being our main source of goals. Alternatively, there is Danny Graham (don’t laugh) who has been a disaster at the Stadium of Light so far. He is, however, the only striker on our books who has been successful in a team playing a similar style of football – scoring a reasonable rate for Swansea. I still maintain he isn’t good enough though.
In short, there is no cheap, readily available option to replace Fletcher. So, completely disregarding form, value and the rest of it – we don’t really have much choice but to rely on him unless we were to take a risk on a lower league player or foreign one desperate for a slice of Premiership action (both of which would not be wise in my opinion). Incidentally, I think £6 million is optimistic, as Lennon suggested, though he will probably go for less than £10 million if he did leave. There are worse players to rely on, it’s all about creating those chances – and he will score. Maybe new signings elsewhere will help with that as it has been such a struggle so far.