It’s that time of year again! Yep, the time of year which isn’t actually all that exciting and sees Sky Sports News regress from mildly grating to utterly insufferable. There are 26 days until the window slams shut – I cannot emphasise how important it is that it’s SLAMMED shut – but that means 26 days in which to satisfy all those “Announce…!” Tweets (or more likely 21, with the Couhigs’ takeover set for completion on Friday 10th January). Where might Gareth Ainsworth turn his attention between now and then? Indeed, how much business will we be able to do? Let’s take a look at the state of the squad and what needs doing.
What’s Our Budget?
The short answer to that is ‘next to nothing’. League One and Two clubs are bound by the Salary Cost Management Protocol (SCMP). This isn’t a particularly commonly known regulation among fans, but it very much concerns us. The important bit to know is that clubs are only allowed to spend 60% of their turnover on player wages. According to Gareth in his post-match interview on New Year’s Day, we’re more or less at the limit. Investment does not equal loads of cash to splash on improving the squad. It seems like we’ll have to have to offload to free up some space in the ‘cap’, so to speak.
The obvious one would be Craig Mackail-Smith, who’s been on loan at League Two strugglers Stevenage since September – having spent the second portion of 2017/18 with Notts County in the same division. In his current spell, he’s made just four league starts and failed to score in 17 appearances overall. His work rate and space creation have endeared the Boro faithful, but they’re a side desperately in need of goals in their bid to stay in the Football League. Never say never, but it would be something of a surprise to see him make the switch permanently.
Where does that leave him, then? Well, with his contract up in the summer, not even the most minted of League Two and National League clubs will be eager to pay a fee for his services. Sam Saunders left Wanderers by mutual agreement last January deadline with a few months still to run on his deal, while Adam El-Abd had almost a year remaining when he did so after playing our first two games of this campaign, making the same move as Mackail-Smith. It would be astonishing to see any Gaz signing try to stubbornly run down their contract, so expect to see CMS move on after featuring 68 times and bagging 13 goals in the quarters. A great servant and an important member of the promotion-winning squad.
Other than the veteran striker, Jacob Gardiner-Smith last month joined sixth tier Braintree Town on loan until the end of March, and he’s been voted their man of the match twice already. Apart from CMS and JGS, though, it’s hard to see any departures – loan or otherwise – barring any bids simply too good to turn down. Josh Parker has seldom played since penning a two-year deal in August and is clearly below Adebayo Akinfenwa and Alex Samuel in the pecking order for the centre-forward role, but lose both of them and we are in a bit of a hole. You can’t recall players from short-term loans, so it would be a risk to send him out on one. As long as he’s happy here – and he certainly seemed it when warming up at half-time of the Ipswich clash – we really ought to keep hold of him. He looked very useful during his latest brief cameo against Coventry last Sunday, so he might yet have an important part to play in the rest of the campaign anyway.
New Contracts for the Player of the Season and the Best Midfielder in the Football League?
Darius Charles’ current deal expires this month, but one at least hopes that an extension until the end of 2019/20 is on the table and will be announced once the change of ownership is rubber-stamped. I’m sure he’ll want to stay no matter what – for starters, it’s clearly working for him here in terms of the management of his chronic hip condition – but I’m tempted to say we should give him whatever he wants. An absolute legend.
As for Dom Gape, we were kept waiting nervously in the summer, only for him to commit for another year just as he was about to become a free agent. His best chance of playing in the Championship is going to be if he gets promoted from League One, and he’s not exactly in a bad position at the moment to be able to achieve that. As it stands, he will be available on a free in July, so we should be safe from any suitors for now, but now would also be the time to try our utmost to secure him to a longer contract. For the second time in little more than half a year, we’ll just have to wait and see…
Between the Sticks
Ryan Allsop has had an excellent 2019/20 so far. The four in front of him may have afforded him quite a few quiet days, but he’s had their backs when called upon as an integral piece of the Wall of Wycombe. His kicking is arguably among the most effective in the league too. Long story short: he’s silenced his doubters (of which I was one from late last season until early this) and is absolutely assured of his number one spot.
I can say next to nothing about Cameron Yates as I’ve never seen him play – only anyone who’s watched any of our FLT matches has. All I know is that the 20-year-old former Leicester youth stopper is rated highly by the coaching staff and must have shown them enough to become Allsop’s understudy this term. We’re one of only a handful of League One clubs with just two registered goalkeepers. We’re probably also the only one with a single registered senior goalkeeper (EFL Trophy matches don’t count as senior appearances). And that’s where we can get a helping hand should we need it: If Allsop is ruled out at any point, we can make use of the emergency loan rule as we did last winter. It would be less than ideal if he were to be forced off mid-match, but we won’t be making an addition in this department.
At the Back
It may have been most obvious after Sido Jombati’s horror show in the 4-1 drubbing by Coventry, but we have really missed Jack Grimmer at right-back on the few occasions he’s been out injured – and we were never going to get away with a prolonged absence for the Flying Scotsman. He is our only player truly cut out for that position. While he hopes to be back for next Saturday’s trip to Sunderland, it’s plain to see that we need cover there; Giles Phillips filled in adeptly enough last time out but is definitely a centre-back, as Sido very much is these days. I’m not going to speculate over potential targets – mainly because we’ll probably be looking at relatively unknown youngsters on loan – but we need someone athletic with decent positional awareness and the confidence to drive forward with the ball – who can learn behind the well-established Grimmer.
Should we bring in a fifth centre-back? Well, Anthony Stewart and Charles’ spots in the side are under no threat. In reserve, the aforementioned Jombati and Phillips are reasonably dependable, but the former is prone to the odd moment of madness even in his better position and the latter, only nine league appearances into his senior career, is still developing as a player. In an ideal world, given how unexpectedly high we find ourselves in the table, we’d probably go out and get an alternative more in the Stewart or Charles mould, but there aren’t likely to be too many of those knocking around in the loan market – not with similar experience anyway. The option of another Premier League or Championship loanee could prove useful, though, and you never know if you might unearth Alfie Mawson II (actually, we could do with another left-footer there).
In the Middle of the Park
I’ve seen calls for another creative midfielder. We’ve already got two: Nick Freeman (the obvious one) and Nnamdi Ofoborh (watch passes like his deft lob over the top for Samuel against Ipswich, for example). They’re plenty in a system which doesn’t exactly make use of the midfield for creative gain. And I don’t think we need to increase our stock of ball-winning terriers…
First things first, we are not signing Danny Hylton. The same rumour seems to come up in every window nowadays, based on nothing more than, well, nothing. He’s only just returned to training after the best part of 12 months on the sidelines. Anyway, does this kind of behaviour really fit into the culture Gareth and co. have worked so hard to foster at Wycombe? Not gonna happen.
We shouldn’t be targeting a new striker. A: we can’t afford an established one. B: even if we have the funds for a loanee we’re already completely convinced by, you can’t just plonk a ‘traditional’ striker into the side without fairly significantly altering the system. We don’t create many high-quality chances and are hardly missing spectacularly with any of the ones we do create – Paul Smyth’s shocker was certainly an anomaly – and that’s not something we can change quickly. It’s too much of a risk to abandon the philosophy which, the majority of the time, works so well for us. Alex Samuel probably should score a few, but if those either side of him are at the top of their game – as David Wheeler is at the moment and you’d hope Fred Onyedinma will be when he returns (potentially at the Stadium of Light) – we don’t necessarily need him to. The Beast is also keeping his tally steadily ticking over. Besides, our unprecedented success so far has been built on our sensational defence, which means we can win games by narrow margins.
Just for the record: when Burton went up, much to people’s surprise in 2016, their top-scoring out-and-out striker – former Chairboys star Stuart Beavon – bagged seven goals in 43 appearances. Bayo has already managed seven (five from open play) in 23 this season. Somewhat bold prediction: the big man, Wheeler (three in 22 so far) and Fred (four in nine) will combine for 30+ goals… 🔮
Wycombe league scorers 2019/20
|Adebayo Akinfenwa||7 (2 pens) (0.4 per 90)|
|Joe Jacobson||6 (3 pens) (0.3/90)|
|Scott Kashket||4 (0.4/90)|
|Fred Onyedinma||4 (0.6/90)|
|David Wheeler||3 (0.2/90)|
|Rolando Aarons||1 (0.2/90)|
|Nick Freeman||1 (pen)|
|Paul Smyth||1 (0.2/90)|