A bridge too far?

“If he gets his new contract, nobody could argue could they?”

These words were written on a website not a million miles away from here. It shows the feelings of Wolves fans towards Jody Craddock that despite being 35 and playing just 15 league games last season, all fans are happy he’s signed for another season.

Except one.

Craddock - staying on

When I heard he was being offered a new one year deal, my initial reaction was that it’s a sideways step. Then I thought about it a little more and decided it’s a backwards step. If we are relying on Jody Craddock next season, we will be in a worse position than we are this season.

Craddock came back into the team to shore up a leaky defence that was bereft of confidence. Without Marcus Hahnemann in goal, there was no leader at the back, something Craddock does naturally. I happily admit to this point, but I would like to add to it that he is no longer a Premier League quality defender.

Last season, he won the Player of the Season Award that by rights should have been Kevin Doyle’s. It is of no surprise that Doyle went on to win the Players’ Player of the Season. Yes, Craddock had a good season, but I don’t believe that he was any better than his defensive partner, the much maligned Christophe Berra.

As far as I could make out, the only notable difference was the number of goals he scored. But what relevance is that for a defender, especially a centre-back? At the time I likened the award to Ryan Giggs winning Sports Personality/PFA Player of the Season, awarded because of a sense of guilt at never having recognised their talents before.

In my opinion, last season wasn’t even Craddock’s best season in a Wolves shirt. That came in 2004/ 2005 when he helped to ease Joleon Lescott back into the first team after his long layoff. Obviously, Lescott was a hero on the terraces, and far away a more accomplished player, so it was Craddock who was the fall guy, much in the way Berra was in 2008/09 and Michael Mancienne has been in the past few weeks.

Yes, I’m going to say it – the introduction of Michael Mancienne into the defence had at least as much significance as the re-introduction of Jody Craddock. Mancienne is a far better defender than Craddock, albeit one who is prone to mistakes. Craddock doesn’t slip up in the same way, he just isn’t as good. It takes a Mancienne mistake for an opponent to get the better of him; all it takes to get past Craddock is half a yard of pace.

The first half of the Blackburn game was a shambles defensively, and everyone around me was delighted when it was Mancienne who was withdrawn at halftime, almost certainly his last match in a gold shirt. Yet, either of them could have been withdrawn. As poor as Mancienne played, I’d definitely argue that Craddock was worse – Jason Roberts has never had an easier 45 minutes in his career.

We currently have five players on our books who can play centre-back (Berra, Craddock, Steven Mouyokolo, Richard Stearman and I’m going to include George Elokobi in there as well). Of those, Craddock is the only one over the age of 25. In addition to these, we have already been linked with a number of centre-backs this summer, and I don’t think there are any Wolves fans out there who wouldn’t want to see at least one more come in.

Given a maximum squad size of 25, a large proportion are going to be centre-backs. Players are going to have to leave, and Craddock is currently the only one who is not going to improve in the future. We all know Mick McCarthy has his favourites, but for me, Craddock should have been offered a handshake and a coaching role if he wants it.