It’s funny how the fans’ parliament meetings you look forward to the least end up offering the most insight.
Maybe this one was so informative because Jez Moxey wasn’t there, speaking so prolifically as he would, but ultimately saying so little.
In this instance, manager Paul Lambert, sporting director Kevin Thelwell and managing director Laurie Dalrymple were upliftingly honest and in Lambert’s case in particular, quite inspirational when signing-off his two-hour appearance with an unscripted, spontaneous rallying call.
With the asset stripping old regime gone and their hairbrained stupidity no longer occupying my notebook, I was expecting a somewhat sanitised meeting of little genuine substance. In my humble opinion, it was anything but.
My highlights of the evening were as follows:
- We’ll only be bringing in two or three players during the January window. These will walk into the first team. The pressing need is to cut the squad back to a ‘manageable level’ featuring a more ‘domestically balanced group.’
- We won’t be releasing as many as 10 or 12 in January though. Lambert: “Some need to go out and play, some will not make it with me.”
- Kevin Thelwell on Jeff Shi and the 13 summer signings: “Jeff would be the first to say he has learned quickly.” (It was Jeff who decided to opt so exuberantly in the transfer window after watching the Rotherham game.)
- Paul Lambert would walk away from the club if he wasn’t able to bring in the players he wants, stating: “I’m no shrinking violet, I hope you know that. If a player comes in who I don’t want then I won’t be sat here. If it doesn’t go my own way then there may as well be a mannequin sat here.”
- We’d need to ‘re-mortgage Molineux’ to afford Helder Costa. We do have an option to buy him, but virtually impossible if we are outside the Premier League. Thelwell said: “But we are talking about other options and ways to be creative to keep him here.”
- The club was ‘dead’ when Lambert arrived, who now believes we are ‘miles ahead’ of where we were when he first walked in.
But I’ll start with Paul Lambert’s concluding sign-off, which was spontaneous, off-the-cuff and absolutely rousing. His voice quiet, his accent monotone, but his role as unlikely orator quite spellbinding as a packed room could hear a pin drop.
After answering each question honestly and openly, Lambert politely – but firmly – interrupted supporter liaison officer Paul Richards’s wrap-up (and request for appreciation for Lambert’s attendance) to provide his own:
“You have a brilliant club, but you’ve just come off the rails a bit and need to get back on track. But forget it, it’s gone.
You have got the history of the club, great togetherness here and I will do everything I can to be successful for you. It might work. It might not work. But we need a bit of time.
Your support is brilliant. You are on the cusp of something really special. The club is in good hands but it just needs a bit of help. If we all pull in the same way then we can have a really successful club.”
<cue spontaneous round of applause>
Onto the minutes themselves, I will go through topic-by-topic raised by fans, with my shorthand notes scribbling everything down as quickly as possible!
Why are players playing so badly? Some of them, particularly defensively, look to have lost all their ability and can barely control the ball!
PL: “I’m not seeing that. The feeling around the football club is a lot stronger than when I came in. I think it was dead when I came in. It could be exciting but we have got to make some changes.”
On the size of the squad
PL: “There have been so many players to see and the size of the squad is far too big. Ideally you would bring in two or three in the window. Bringing in 13 was nigh on impossible. Lads that have come in don’t know the league. Look at Henrikh Mkhitaryan at Man Utd. Helder Costa has hit the ground running, Ivan Cavaleiro is starting to do it but others have taken time to adapt.
On the make-up of the squad:
PL: “I think that the squad is unbalanced and not just a little bit unbalanced. You have got to have two players for each position. We have too many in one place and less in other places. There is too much of a gap in quality. There is a discrepancy. We are top heavy in the centre of midfield and the balance is out.
What is our style of play?
PL: “You need young, energetic lads to play the way we want to play. They are fearless, they have got speed if we press or counter-press. They are quick lads who can hurt you. We have got to be better on the ball. Jack Price is excellent on the ball so he is one who can retain the ball. But we don’t lose that pressing aspect. We have got to get into the habit of pressing the game. To be fair, they are miles ahead from when I first came to the club. There has been a major difference in going to get the ball. If you look at Fulham, they should have won that game, let’s be honest. But we kept pressing.”
What is your formation? Is there a Plan A?
PL: “Yes. I look at who we are playing against and judge it from there. For the Nottingham Forest game on Saturday, I watched them in the week against Preston. Then I had the idea of going the way that we did. I thought that the front four we chose would cause them problems. In modern day football, you have got to be flexible. It is better this way than playing in one particular formation.”
On Bakary Sako possibly coming back?
PL: “There’s no doubt he had a brilliant time here. You have to respect that he is a Crystal Palace player. Do I like him as a footballer? He is a handful. An absolute handful. But he has the African Nations Cup, so there would be a lot to weigh up. But there is no doubt that he was a massive success here.”
On Helder Costa signing permanently:
Kevin Thelwell: “He is on loan until the end of the season with no recall clause, you will be pleased to know. We have an option to buy. We might have to re-mortgage Molineux to get him. It would be difficult to buy him if we are outside the Premier League, but we are talking about other ways to be creative and keep him here.”
Kevin Thelwell on fair play rules:
KT: “You can’t continue to keep spending money with the financial fair play that is in place. We paid a lot in the first window which has to have implications on the next window. So it will be more out than in, but without question we do want to improve the group, so on that basis we will look at one or two who can come in and improve the team.”
LD: “We do have an owner who is happy to invest but we can’t flout the financial fair play rules.”
Why didn’t we think about this at the start of the season? Asked one fan…
KT: “Jeff will be the first to say he has learned very quickly. There are a number of people that support ‘the process’ here (in terms of recruitment). It was fair to say that after the Rotherham game, we had to make a number of changes quickly, so we turned from an evolved plan to a number of players which hasn’t worked. Nor has replacing Kenny Jackett with Walter Zenga. I’d love to say that we all sat here and said ‘let’s get 13 players from across the globe but that wasn’t the case. We are where we are.
“We need to reduce the squad to a manageable level. We’ve got to get back to a more domestically balanced group who can help us to move up the league.”
What is Kevin Thelwell’s role and what is the process on recruitment?
KT: “A sporting director role was created because the club does not want to subcontract the football club to one particular person (I couldn’t help but think of Mick McCarthy here folks!)
Let’s get more transparency, more diligence, go and meet the player. Will he fit with the style of play? And so on and so forth. That’s part of the role. Not all of it, but part of it. I would speak to Paul Lambert and say ‘you want a centre back, let’s sit down and talk about these types of players.’
“The only way we can sign a player is if Paul Lambert wants him.
Did this happen with Joe Mason? Asked one fan…
KT: “Kenny Jackett wanted Joe but he couldn’t find the right place for him.”
Did this happen over the summer? Asked another…
KT: “I want us to look forward rather than back. I think it is pretty clear how we want it to operate.”
Are you happy with this Paul?
PL: “I’m no shrinking violet. I hope you know that I left Blackburn Rovers at my own free will because I was not going to get my own way. If a player comes in who I don’t want then I won’t be sat here. If it doesn’t go my way then there will be a mannequin sat here.”
The message of only bringing in two or three isn’t clear amongst fans who will be expecting more…
PL: “If we keep bringing players in then we will be top heavy. I don’t think that there would be many more (than two or three). If you bring in four, five or six in January and don’t get rid of the ones you want then you have got too many to work with.
“I don’t expect 10 or 12 to leave. Some need to go to play, others will not make it with me.
“We need two or three new faces to freshen the place up a little bit.
KT: “Absolutely. We have got to get players in who are going to play.”
Will we be paying players off to leave:
KT: “We are not at that point yet. I think that would be counter-productive. Without giving too much away, we have got a number of solutions for a lot of the players. I just don’t think we are at that point.”
What do you think about the youngsters?
PL: “The best I’ve seen in years. Really, 100%. When you’ve got that bigger squad, you are stopping the development of Bright, Connor Ronan and Herc. You may as well scrap the academy. Bright, touchwood, is going to be a major star. Ronan the same, too. There are about six or seven of them. If you keep bringing in six or seven players then how do they develop? Young Niall Ennis is a terrific prospect too. I’ll be disappointed if a couple of them have not come through by the end of the season. It’s exciting!
“They need the right manager, at the right time, at the right moment. If they have fire in their bellies, the right attitude and the right ability then I will play them.”
One fan was worried about decisions to sell our best players, and used Kevin McDonald as an example, and worried Jack Price might be next:
PL: “Let me stop you there on Jack Price. As soon as I saw Jack Price I said he needed to play. Jack Price was great against Preston and did well against Sheffield Wednesday. The reason I took him out for two weeks was he was not ‘at it’ physically. If I’d have played him we’d have lost him for weeks on end. I was close to playing him together with Connor Ronan.”
A fan asked about bringing German players into the club, as Lambert has links with clubs there.
Lambert said it was difficult to prize players away from that country because they have such a great set-up there and players don’t want to leave. He could only really think of Ballack and one or two others.
KT added: “We are probably around 60/40 ratio (in terms of foreign players v domestic players). It is more 75/25 or 70/30 for successful teams that have got out of the league.
Other points were raised in the meeting, such as safe standing, new website (the company behind this gave a short talk about how it will be better than the current one) and ticketing. I didn’t take notes here as I needed to rest my hand for the points I felt were of most interest to you all. Please refer to the official minutes for these.
Some final bullet points:
- Roman Saiss is the only player in the group who might be affected by the African Cup of Nations
- Paul Gladon: KT said: “He probably needs to play more games. He has struggled to adapt to a strong, tough league. Intensity in Holland not nearly as high as in England. There is lots to work on, including making Paul more physical and competitive. An individual development plan is being drawn up to get him closer to the first team.”
- A lot of staff have departed / will be departing, including Matt Grayson, Lynne O’Reardon and Richard Skirrow. Existing members of staff promoted, with new opportunities being created for good people.
- Laurie Dalrymple talked about his role. Nothing groundbreaking here. A brief to be more efficient for Fosun, despite their deep pockets, I did warm to him generally. Quite a dry sense of humour, and you sense there is less spin and less appetite to grab a soundbite like his predecessor (who I note is at it again at Carrow Road, glibly talking of ‘promotion, promotion, promotion!)
While this might sound convenient to many, there seemed to be an onus on looking forward, rather than dwelling on the past. Lambert alluded to this in his spontaneous sign-off, while Thelwell did likewise when reflecting on our summer spending spree.
Maybe the festive season is finally seducing me, but I would tend to agree – and hold no blame to Kevin Thelwell for our crazy recruitment policy. As our sporting director said, Jeff has learned his lesson there.
The bigger points for me are:
- Our penny pinching, expectation shrinking regime of seasons gone has left.
- Thus, those deep lying roots of evil have finally been removed, which stifled any hope of growth.
- For a flower to grow in its place takes time. If lessons have been learned, then I expect some buds of recovery in the spring. Due care and attention is already in place.
Before this meeting, I don’t mind saying I wasn’t looking forward to it. Having been, I do maintain that – to coin a phrase from our manager – that we’re on the cusp of something really special.
Merry Christmas to you all!
Here’s to a happy 2017.