So we’re just under a week removed from Wembley and already the wheels are well and truly in motion for next season with some big decisions made on the retained list. Over the last few days there’s been one or two surprises, some very expected goodbyes and even some early signatures gained for Aidy Boothroyd’s 2013/14 squad.
The biggest news of all, met by very differing opinions all of this Interweb is that Bayo Akinfenwa was one of seven players released at the end of their contracts with the club. The others, Jake Robinson, Paul Turbull, Nana, Louis Moult, John Johnson and Lewis Wilson, wouldn’t have made too many of us flinch though I personally would have liked to see Moult given another season after he showed spots of real potential around November time.
But Bayo is of course the big one and he will leave huge boots and arguably an even bigger shirt to fill. Whatever you think of the big man the one thing that can’t be debated is the giant hole he leaves in the dressing room in terms of a personality, a voice and a central figure. On the pitch, he did tail off in 2013 goals wise but at Wembley on the biggest stage of all (plus in the semi-finals) he appeared back to his best. Boothroyd had a decision to make and he’s taken it ruthlessly. Mrs Akinfenwa certainly had something to say about the exclusion from the starting line-up after the final defeat: (1 min 40 in)
(Also, at around 36 second in, you can see the thoughts of two honorary Cobblers, Jamie and Mark, who I made the journey to Wembley with. I was unavailable for comment at the time due to severe glumness.)
Will this now mean a change of tactic from the start of next season or will we be expecting another beast through the door any time soon? Time will tell but I expect the latter with the likes of Torquay’s Rene Howe being talked about. I can’t see the Wembley defeat in itself having too much of an effect on the manager’s thinking tactically – just getting into the top seven can be seen as a fine victory for his outlook whether it’s popular or not – and so long as Clive Platt isn’t expected to last the entire season as our ‘big man’ I’m willing to give this time to sort out.
So it’s farewell again to Akinfenwa and he should be remembered for his scoring record, leadership and forming a unique connection to the Cobblers supporters that is difficult to find in this day and age. We’ll miss you Bayo!
Another big character to depart is Clarke Carlisle who announced his retirement on Thursday. For anyone that saw his interview in the Wembley tunnel on Cobblers World on Saturday evening it wouldn’t have been as much of a shock. Carlisle seemed genuinely upset by the defeat and was at a loss for words that you don’t generally associate with him. He still had a year left on his contract but has decided to call it a day. What’s certain is that it won’t be the last we see of him with media duties and the PFA role likely to keep him busy.
Carlisle was one of the key reasons for us staying in League Two last season, almost single handily dragging the defence from a mire that we hadn’t seen in years to create a solid wall on which we built our survival campaign. We will forever be grateful for his contribution there and in the latter months of this season since re-joining from York City – another superb run of form from the former Burnley man.
For the rest of the released bunch, I was most surprised by the aforementioned Moult who seemed to stake his claim in November when Alex Nicholls suffered that awful leg break. He, I feel, has a bright future. For others, it’s a tough day and one that as a player must be a hugely disappointing. John Johnson, once the rock solid right back that you wouldn’t have dreamed of removing, Jake Robinson, the first marquee signing under Gary Johnson and Lewis Wilson, all have good time to reinvent themselves and come back.
Paul Turnbull seems an honest professional and would have seen this coming more than others so I would expect him to have lined something up whilst Nana has apparently, and very strangely, tied himself up with a move to Championship bound Yeovil with former boss Johnson.
As for those who have been offered deals, both Kelvin Langmead and Lee Collins have quickly jumped on the claret train for next season by signing two year deals. Having a fully fit and focused Langmead and a pre-season trained Collins at the heart of the defence for next season would go a long way in placating Carlisle’s exit with Nathan Cameron also offered a deal. If we manage to have all three on board that’s an excellent start to the rebuilding process following Wembley.
Luke Guttridge, Ben Harding, Ben Tozer and Roy O’ Donovan have also been offered terms and I would imagine all would sign soon barring perhaps O’ Donovan who may yet have offers from elsewhere. Guttridge has already stated his desire to stay whilst I would imagine Harding and Tozer to be happy at the moment. Tozer is a tricky one – Boothroyd seems to have a fondness for his long throw that he slots him in wherever he can. Whilst Tozer’s adaptability is admirable he tends to get lost in a four man midfield and sometimes beaten all ends up at right-back by pacey wingers. We simply cannot get dragged into that trap again and Tozer must step up on the pitch to add to his game, something that must admittedly be tough when he never plays in his preferred position.
I would very much like to see O’ Donovan stay…his form in the run-in was outstanding and he’s one that given a full season could well notch double figures.
Hopefully all of this contract talk won’t take too long and with the big decisions already made I would imagine by the time May turns into June we’ll know where we’re starting from in terms of the squad for 2013/14.
For now, let’s cheer ourselves up with something that happened sixteen years ago today: