Lower league summer – League Two
The Re-Birth of Portsmouth
Several of the key players who battled on while Pompey were almost literally falling apart last season have signed on for the new season, with Johannes Ertl, Ricardo Rocha, Patrick Agyemang and David Connolly all staying at Fratton Park for another year.
They’ve been supplemented with Simon Ferry and Joe Devera from Swindon, League Two title winners two years ago, and Tom Craddock, scorer of 17 and 12 goals in two of his three seasons for Oxford, while missing most of 2011-12 through injury.
Though, the squad seems to be lacking depth (it’s hard to be certain how many young players at the club can rise to the challenge of filling in the gaps), they have the basis of a squad that’s both experienced and youthful with knowledge of the division and experience at higher levels.
Away from the playing side, there’s the possibility that the capacity of Fratton Park could be reduced because of health and safety concerns over the standard of the Milton End. Coverage from The News refers to ‘parts of the stadium that have aged over the years’, suggesting the problems relate to lack of maintenance by the previous owners.
It’s going to be a steep learning curve for Pompey Supporters’ Trust this season. Tony Brown has this week been appointed as Portsmouth’s new Finance Director, as part of a transition from fans who have expertise in the vague general area to experienced but trustworthy football industry professionals, as they work to integrate idealism and practicality.
The Spireites and Cod Army Recruit
Alongside Portsmouth, League Two’s other big spenders are Fleetwood, who’ve made a number of big name signings. Big names for League Two, anyway.
They’ve brought in Southend’s goalscoring centre half Ryan Cresswell, York’s inconsistent but thrilling Matty Blair and former Manchester City fullback Stephen Jordan.
Fleetwood have also signed Mark Roberts, Jeff Hughes and Stephen Schumacher, all of whom were playing regular League One football last year, and putting in the kind of performances that could have seen them step up a level rather than drop down.
The majority of Fleetwood’s signings are ‘chequebook’ signings – the type who are obvious, if you’ve got the resources to make them possible. But while The Cod Army can be criticised for lack of creative thought, the signings are of a very high quality.
At Chesterfield, Paul Cook looks set to put his vision of a passing game into place 10 months after his arrival. The Spireites have made some impressive additions – Swindon’s Gary Roberts, Scunthorpe’s Jimmy Ryan and Hartlepool’s utility man Ritchie Humphreys were first-teamers a division higher last season, while Sam Morsy won promotion from League Two with Port Vale.
Everything I’ve seen from Chesterfield fans seems to suggest they’re optimistic about the new season, and while they haven’t made any stand-out mind-blowing signings in the mould of Fleetwood, they’ve quietly put together an impressive squad.
A new approach at Bury
Last week, Bury signed Rwandan international Jessy Reindorf, who’d previously played in France, Italy and Belgium. It’s the kind of signing you wouldn’t expect in the lower leagues, but seems to be part of an overall focus on spotting bargains from across the continent.
Talking about the approach in June, Kevin Blackwell said: “Players from across Europe who are playing outside the top leagues are not being paid. We need to tap into this.”
Although the signing and release of Jeanvion Yulu-Matondo after one day attracted ridicule earlier in the year, signing a 27-year-old former Belgian U21 international with no previous experience in England shows a level of connections and persuasion that most lower league managers don’t have.
It’s an understandable approach and innovative in its way. All lower league teams, aside from the handful who’ve either fallen below their natural level or have a sugar daddy, need to shop for bargains. Still, the idea of pushing British players who in an earlier generation would have been professionals in the top or second tier ever further down the ladder makes me feel a little uncomfortable.