Mark Bonner has come out in the press today explaining the contractual situation around a number of players at the club going into next season. UTAS tries to make sense of it all.
What We Know:
We’ve got a number of players tied down to contracts already. Lewis Simper, Liam Bennett, Adam May, Jubril Okedina, Zeno Ibsen Rossi, Michael Morrison, James Brophy and Jack Lankester are all going to be here next season barring offers from other clubs. On top of that Brandon Haunstrup, Saikou Janneh and the two reserve keepers Mannion and Holden are signed up for another campaign.
There’s also a number of players who are out of contract. Bonner admitted the club had reached out to some of those in January, but now that no more talks would take place until the end of the season. Dimi Mitov, George Williams, Lloyd Jones, Ryan Bennett, Greg Taylor, Harrison Dunk, Paul Digby, Liam O’Neil, Shilow Tracey, Joe Ironside, Harvey Knibbs and Sam Smith are amongst those whose deals expire in June.
That’s obviously a big chunk of our team, and whilst we don’t know who the club have offered extended deals to, the lack of any announcements would suggest that those players haven’t accepted the new offers. We also don’t know where we’ll be playing next season yet – it’s looking likely it’ll be League Two, but there’s still a fighting chance we can get out of this mess and have another season in League One and that will make the situation very different for both club and players.
Who’s Likely To Go?
We’ve no concrete information but we’d expect the likes of Ryan Bennett, Smith, Knibbs and Lloyd Jones to all have offers from other clubs in League One or above, and we’d be surprised if we saw any of those three here again next season, regardless of whether or not we stay up.
Of the others, we expect this to be the end of the road for Liam O’Neil and Greg Taylor’s time at the club. Both have been here a significant time, and have experienced significant success at the club but haven’t contributed in a way either of them would have hoped for this season. O’Neil in particular has suffered yet another long term injury, and Taylor has struggled with the quality of League One after missing all of last season through injury. Could they do a job in League Two? Quite possibly, but we think it’s time for a change.
George Thomas and Fejiri Okenabirhie haven’t worked out here due to injuries, and whilst there’s no doubting their quality we simply can’t afford to take a risk on injury prone players again.
Mitov, Digby, Dunk, Tracey, Worman and Ironside have proven their quality at League Two level before, and if we do go down there’s a chance they could be here next season, and I don’t think anyone would begrudge them that. Whether they want to stay at United and fight to get out of League Two again or whether they want to look for another League One club is a different matter
That just leaves George Williams; he’s undoubtably a quality player, but he’s also on high wages and we have a ready-made replacement in Liam Bennett so we expect he’ll move on too.
Who Needs To Come In?
We’re not going to name any specific names here, and we’re not privy to any names being bandied about, but our number one priority has to be strikers. With only Saikou Janneh contracted for next season (and he’s likely to be allowed to leave on a free anyway) there’s a distinct lack of senior forwards at the club.
We’re unsure if the club will look to replace Mitov if he leaves, or promote Mannion to first choice keeper, and there’s also a need to bring in a couple of central midfield players, an area we’ve been notoriously short in this season, although the return of Adam May in the summer should be like a new signing assuming he’s got no long term effects to his injury.
The defence could do with a couple of new faces too, although we’ve got enough players to cover each position and the experience of Morrison on board for next season it would be great to add another centre-back or two, preferably one who can weigh in with the odd goal too, something we’ve missed this season.
To sum up, it’s going to be a busy Summer at the Abbey, with a lot of players coming and going. There can’t be any room for sentiment this transfer window and I hope we stop taking chances on players with poor injury records unless they’re proven to be recovered. It’s going to be a hugely important Summer for Bonner and Strang, as we look to either consolidate for a third season at League One and cement our status here, or rebuild and put together a promotion challenging team to get out of League Two.
Strang and Bonner have built teams before, notably the 2020-21 promotion squad and the 21-22 side which was an evolution of that, and whilst this season has been a disaster on the recruitment front we did move to bring in some decent players in January. One thing’s for sure, it’s going to be an exciting Summer on the transfer front, and we’re looking forward to seeing what new heroes come to the Abbey.
I’m willing to bet Liam O’Neil gets a new deal.