Ian Evatt had warned that last month’s business would have a temporary feel and that developments behind the scenes would soon lead to a better structure to scouting and planning for signings in the summer.
For several years, deadline day has been thrilling and horrifying in equal measure at Bolton – the drama and excitement of late deals balanced out by the apparent absence of any forward thinking whatsoever.
And so it was the case again last month as Evatt took control of the recruitment reins following the departure of Tobias Phoenix from his frankly disastrous spell as head of football operations.
The appointment of the former Macclesfield Town director of football last February proved controversial from the off, as it appeared to significantly weaken the position of the incumbent manager, Keith Hill.
With Phoenix came lofty talk of performance data, algorithms and Moneyball, plus the disbanding of the Under-23s. Eventually, it also spelled the end for Hill, although his often-fractious relationship with the Bolton fanbase did him no favours, either.
Modelling Bolton on Brentford sparked the interest of many supporters and seemed a reasonable, modern way of thinking at the time. But a football lockdown and amid a global pandemic forced everyone to check their ambitions, especially when lower league clubs voted in salary caps and squad quota. All of a sudden, greater emphasis was placed on signing the right players to fill limited available space. And it is on that front Wanderers truly failed in the summer.
Whether several signings were rushed, unresearched or simply misjudged it is hard to tell but Evatt’s willingness to disassociate himself with the mess which spilled over into the season, coupled by the noticeable upturn in quality of player he brought in on his lonesome during January, speaks volumes.
At time of writing Wanderers sit 19th in the League Two table, so it is fair to assume they may have to write off this season as a bad job. Evatt remains typically bullish about a late run, as he must, but most fans who have watched on from their laptops would be content to finish the current campaign strong and look forward to witnessing a promotion push in the flesh from this summer.
There is no doubt that Bolton have a more balanced squad after the January window but one still populated by quick fixes – i.e. seven loanees – and no fewer than 18 players with first team experience whose contract runs out this summer.
Of the 12 who are contracted beyond 2021, two (Ali Crawford and Liam Gordon) are out on loan elsewhere, Liam Edwards and Denis Politic are injured long-term and neither Brandon Comley nor Ronan Darcy have started a game since November.
To underline the instability, more than 70 players have been used by Wanderers in the last season-and-a-half, the carousel of characters now spinning so quickly that signings made in by Phoenix/Evatt in late August have been written off and shipped out less than five months later.
Bedding down this cast of many has been tough for Evatt, a young manager is his first full season of EFL football, especially with such a slender backroom staff. It is to his credit that he has juggled the task of manager and chief transfer negotiator for the last few weeks – but surely it is not a long-term policy?
Without saying it outright, Wanderers have attempted to correct their post-Phoenix course. Owners, Football Ventures, have backed their manager in the transfer market at a time when it may have been tempting to save a few pounds and see out the campaign. And part of that policy may be an admission that their initial recruitment plans were the wrong way to go.
What appears to be their next priority is finding someone who can anchor the scouting and analysis department and provide some structure and sensibility in the longer term.
Depth of football experience – a factor constantly in question with Phoenix – and a working knowledge of the level Bolton Wanderers now find themselves is a must for whoever walks through the door in the next few weeks.
The restructure of the academy saw several good coaches and popular figures trimmed, their replacements as yet un-announced. That has left no obvious development territory for players like Adam Senior, who has dipped his toes into senior football, but has no weekly match, nor for long-term injured players like Liam Edwards to make a phased return.
Covid issues have meant friendly games are difficult to organise and have also left non-league clubs unable to take players on loan because of the uncertainty on fixtures.
Callum King-Harmes, who has been out at Bamber Bridge, has not had the game time Wanderers would want, and though the Under-18s continue to operate on a regular basis under the eye of Mark Litherland, the likes of Matt Alexander and Sonny Graham may well feel they have outgrown Saturday morning football after so long in the senior ranks.
Wanderers now have some stability in the boardroom but if they are to find it on the pitch then some key appointments must be made soon, lest the club be involved in another Supermarket Sweep in the summer.
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