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Inside Wanderers: Investing in top targets sound business

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
Wanderers have underlined their promotion intent in the transfer market by chasing the likes of Eoin Doyle and Antoni Sarcevic – but fans should not expect a summer of gazumping League One clubs to the top-earning free agents.

For the first time in quite a while, supporters are looking towards the start of a new season with optimism.

The club staggered through the last 12 months with a Ken-sized hangover but have now had a good night’s sleep. Re-signing Ronan Darcy and Ali Crawford was the equivalent of a strong morning brew, so now they face the day with the kind of energy reserves only possible when you have spent the previous 24 hours tucked up in a dark room watching Super Sunday on low volume with only a bottle of Lucozade for company.

Signing Doyle was a smashing start to the Ian Evatt era, and having sat pondering whether Bolton would ever again have a 20-goal striker in their midst, it was refreshing to see he was the first one through the door; box ticked.

The addition of Sarcevic – another player promoted from this division last season - also looks close. He scored 10 goals from midfield for Plymouth and was voted their player of the year, so to get another winner in the building is another big statement.

But to think that Wanderers will cherry-pick what they like in the coming weeks is unrealistic, especially with the footballing economy being in such a delicate state.

It appears to me that in a marked departure from the norm, Bolton have chased and secured their top targets first. Call me a pragmatist, but I’d like to see a couple more defenders and a goalkeeper on the list of ‘top targets’ but there is an undeniable advantage to being able to turn to a player during negotiations and say: “Wouldn’t you want to play alongside these guys, for this manager, in THIS stadium?”

As Tobias Phoenix put it in a recent interview, Wanderers are not a “cash cow” and Football Ventures are most certainly not immune to the squeeze being put on everybody during the pandemic. So while their first couple of deals have raised eyebrows, I would expect the majority of the business Evatt and Co do from here on in to be sensible and financially structured.

Whether salary caps are adopted, or what guise they will arrive, is still a mystery. Clubs are still very divided on whether they will cut the lower leagues off for good from the Championship, or whether they are the salvation to save football’s financial demise.

Wanderers certainly cannot afford to be teetering near the edge any longer. The stench of administration and the previous regime may have died down considerably but the new ownership must gather by now that the fanbase will be forever vigilant about signs that the club is going down that slippery slope again.

A penny for their thoughts, then, on a radio tirade by Swindon Town boss Richie Wellens earlier this week?

Referring to Bolton’s ability to coax Doyle away from his club after promotion, he sneered: “How are they furloughing the players, not paying the bills, and then paying compensation for the manager?”

Nothing like being gracious in defeat, eh?

The fact is that the bills ARE being paid, even if some have been restructured, or tied to charges on land. In that sense, we can only trust Football Ventures that it is the correct course of action. There has been no sign whatsoever of the typical red flags – missed HMRC payments, wages etc. And while barely a week goes by without another rumour of outside investment, it has been refreshing to concentrate on what might happen on the pitch, for just a little while.

Doyle’s three-year contract has raised a few eyebrows. It is a bit odd to hear the Irishman described as some sort of veteran at the age of 32, though. As the 33-year-old Adam Le Fondre will attest, the ability to score goals doesn’t dull with age.

Cash has been laid down to secure some solid foundations: A bright young manager in Evatt, a top scorer in Doyle, and in Sarcevic, one of last season’s most effective midfielders in League Two. One might suggest that is actually good business.

Evatt talked about establishing a “spine” of players as his number one aim and he is already well on the way to achieving his goal. Suggestions that Wanderers are splashing cash around unnecessarily, though, are far-fetched.

That being said, it is quite nice to see Bolton being talked about elsewhere by opposition managers and fans with a degree of envy. Certainly beats being the financial whipping boys of the EFL, hands down.

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