Sunday, August 22, 2004

Woodgategate: the SWSL verdict

Now that the dust is settling on Jonathan Woodgate’s whirlwind move to Real Madrid two days after the event, I’m at last able to bring myself to write about it in some kind of coherent fashion without being reduced to a torrent of obscenities and a series of inarticulate groans.

When I described Woodgate in the SWSL season preview as our “defensive lynchpin”, I meant it. He’s an exceptionally talented defender. With him in the side last season, we looked organised and efficient. His confidence and composure in the tackle and on the ball spread throughout the back line. Without him, we were by and large sloppy, nervous and frail. His fitness (or lack of it) is of course a key issue, and I’m not disputing the fact that he clocked up too many hours on the treatment table, but to sell a player who had such a great influence over the way the team performed seems insane.

£13.4m is a lot of money, true, but those bleating on about it being “a sound piece of business” seem to be forgetting that we’re only making a profit of just over £4m on a player we signed on the cheap in the first place. What particularly upset me, though, was the way that we seem to have thrown our hands in the air and waved the white flag as soon as Real’s interest was firmed up by a concrete bid – all this talk of both club and player being powerless to resist the overtures of a club of their stature. Sure, who wouldn’t want to play for Real Madrid? Woodgate was always going to find it hard not to be tempted. But couldn’t we have put up more of a fight, instead of playing the good little puppy by rolling over and playing dead at their feet? There was a depressing inexorability about it all. The fact that we were prepared to let perhaps our best player go that easily, even if it was for a big pot of cash, does not suggest a great deal of ambition.

What’s more, the transfer has publicly reopened the rift between Sir Bobby and Freddie Shepherd, the manager insisting that if it was up to him Woodgate would have stayed at St James’s Park and thus implying that the chairman continues to ride roughshod over his opinions. There may be (further) trouble ahead.

What we need to do urgently is to invest some of the transfer funds in at least one quality replacement. Numerous names are being bandied about in the media, as might be expected – Jean-Alain Boumsong, William Gallas, Ledley King, Wes Brown, Michael Dawson, Robert Huth, Jon Fortune. Confirming the suspicion that Sir Bobby has had the responsibility of deciding upon transfer targets rudely wrested from his grasp, Fat Freddie claims to have something up his sleeve and is confident it’ll be to the fans’ liking. Let’s just say it’s going to have to be something very special indeed to appease this supporter.

Perhaps it’s too early to be trying to assess it all – but if, when all’s said and done, the deal doesn’t take the club forward significantly in the long term, then it has to be regarded as a bad move. It’s as simple as that.

Alternative perspectives on the transfer from fellow fans:
Paul (1000 Shades Of Grey)
BykerSink (It's Wrong To Wish On Space Hardware)
ILuvNUFC (Look At This...)

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