For Part One and the rules, plus how and why we have come to the 'transfer' budget we have for this project, please read part one here: https://www.oakroadhatter.com/post/premier-league-recruitment-the-balance-sheet-part-one
Players signed so far: Marvelous Nakamba, Nathan Ferguson, Timo Horn
Budget remaining: £33.5-48.5m
Filling the Gaping Holes:
There are two gaping holes I see with the squad as we have it at this point. While the formation in the image above is more 3-4-1-2, I think we can all agree that we will spend a lot of the time with Nakamba as a holder, with two central midfielders in front of him. As a result, there is no natural replacement for him. Louie Watson could play deep, but he is much more of a 'quarterback' in that role than a natural defensive midfielder. Plus, as highlighted, we would quite like to loan Watson out at some point.
Meanwhile, looking at the back three, we have nobody who is at their best as the commanding presence in the middle of the back three. Even Lockyer, who has been brilliant there, is probably at his best on the right side. That is before we even consider the possibility, however remote, that he is either physically or mentally affected by the incident at Wembley (we obviously hope not but failing to consider the possibility is bad squad planning).
Looking at the options, there are two absolute stand-out options who are so comfortable, they could occupy both roles. Ethan Ampadu would be the dream, despite the weirdness of his career to date;
All of those relegations have come from loan spells away from Chelsea, who poached him from Exeter, currently he has just one year on his contract. This is unquestionably the summer he will be leaving West London permanently.
I have seen every single one of those 42 caps and what strikes me most is his presence and command that suits that central back three role perfectly. Within ten minutes of his first competitive start for Cymru he was organising and demanding his teammates, including the likes of Ben Davies, Aaron Ramsey & Gareth Bale, despite still being a week short of his 18th birthday. Despite this, he has very much become the starting holding midfielder for the national team (based mainly on the fact that the central-midfield cupboard is so bare that the best option is genuinely Joe Morrell), where he was quite probably the only player to leave the Qatar World Cup with credit it the bank from his performances.
His only weakness in holding midfield is when teams counter at pace in transition. This is where he will often backtrack naturally into a centre-back role and opposition attacking midfielders can end up with too much room to shoot from 25-30 yards out. All that, plus the fact he is only 22, makes him the absolute perfect player to bring in.
Given Chelsea's need to trim the squad, I genuinely think we can get him for the £5-7m mark. However, we have one major problem; Fiorentina. Ampadu is obviously comfortable in Italy given the fact he was willing to go on a second loan to Serie A this past year and while all premier league clubs can win a bidding war with most clubs in Europe, that weird relegation quirk may well lead him to choose Florence over Luton, even though West Ham's win last week prevented Fiorentina from qualifying for Europe next term.
Plan B would be Ellyes Skhiri, who would be perfectly suited to our direct style coming from a side who may well be our most direct Bundesliga equivalent in FC. Köln, which would also give Timo Horn a partner to settle in. The Tunisian international is dominant in the air, is a tackling machine in the Nakamba-mould and has a range of passing you would expect from a man with over 50-caps and a former Tunisian footballer of the year. The 28-year old is out-of-contract by choice and would attract a wage on a par, if not more, than what we have paid Nakamba in part-one, probably demand a starting role above him and a signing one fee at least along the lines of what we are willing to give Chelsea as a transfer fee. All this would be worth it because of both his quality and the help he would give Timo Horn, but even that might not be enough seeing as he seems to be wanting to move closer to the Mediterranean, not further away.
Surely there is someone we could get?
So we are down to at least Plan C then and in a similar vain to other reclamation projects, we are looking at the injury-prone aisle of the supermarket. This is a guy who came back from two back-to-back ACL injuries by coming off the bench and scoring an injury-time equaliser with an overhead kick, but injured his shoulder in the process. However, Krystian Bielik went on loan to Birmingham last season and played 35 times in the Championship, the most of his career. Yet, at this moment in time, he is still at Derby in League One with a year left on his contract.
We already know that his former national team boss basically instigated the Birmingham move by saying he would not consider a third-tier player in his World Cup squad. While Poland have had a change of manager, there is no guarantee that the new boss will have a more forgiving view.
For as little as about £1-1.5m, which a still recovering Derby will be delighted for, we could give the former Arsenal youngster, who the Rams paid 'towards the £10 million mark' for, another shot at the top-flight. That opportunity would probably convince the 25-year old to take the similar wage that he is currently on of around £15kp/w. This would be especially true once you add the £1.5m signing-on fee that a contract like that would entail.
A 'turbocharged' Sonny Bradley
While he can play at the back and certainly adds an aerial presence. I much prefer him to be considered primarily as a holding midfielder. That still leaves that dominant centre-half position to fill. There are plenty of options that I have seen mentioned. Joe Rodon would give Locks PTSD based on the fact he is already keeping him out of the national team; Reece Oxford is a free-agent and would at least speak German to help Timo out and Trevor Chalobah, who is basically a poor-man's Ampadu that would cost more.
However, when you think about what the gap we are trying to fill is, it is a distinctly Sonny Bradley shaped one. We have come up against a player over the last few years that is basically the turbocharged version of our former captain.
Man-mountain (wikipedia actual his him as an inch taller than Sonny); dominant in both boxes; left-footed and leader of a big, physical side. The only differences are that this replacement is over three years younger, definitely quicker and has significantly less tattoos of questionable quality. Millwall fans may be spitting feathers, but I am going after Jake Cooper.
Despite only having a year left on his deal, we'll have to act quick as the South London club are desperate to tie him down for longer. As a result, it may cost more than it should for a guy that close to the end of contract. But, while it might not be the best value for money, when you get the chance to grab someone so stylistically perfect, it is worth the extra. £3.5-4m with an additional significant survival bonus (that would be paid out of the extra monry that survival would net) may be more than we should pay, but Millwall will know his value to him and his value to us. That additional cost will probably spread to the wages too, he is already on £12kp/w so would probably be being offered at least £15kp/w by Millwall now. Therefore, to get him to stomach leaving The Den, where he is a feted hero, it'd probably take £20kp/w and a £2.5-3m signing-on fee.
So far, we haven't yet actually added that is straight out going to replace someone in the starting XI, who will still be around, with someone with added class. The Nakamba-Pelly-Clark axis has been brilliant but we have the opportunity to add something to it, and like after every other promotion, it'll be Pelly that will probably be the man having to force his way back in.
People may look at that and think it's Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, who knows the club, has been brilliant in a similar role and adds a left-footed pure midfielder. That isn't happening, speaking to those who know about Leicester, there is a very good reason he signed a contract through to 2027. Not only do they rate him as a player, but the Foxes see the local lad as the future captain of the club. All that relegation has done is expedite that process, maybe as soon as August.
Gustavo Hamer's injury may well be the number one reason we were able to swing the play-off final back onto an even keel and would be a great addition. However, Fulham and Brighton are lining up bids up to '£10m', which would blow us out the water and Leeds have said they are interested but doubt they could pull it off because of interest from elsewhere in Europe. Not only that, but we saw the best of the Brazilian once he was freed up in an attacking midfield role and that would probably put him in competition more with Jordan Clark.
However, we can combine the two by just going back 12 months and finding the talented all-rounded midfielder for the 'other' unfashionable play-off side. Lewis O' Brien is a player we wouldn't have had a hope of getting back then, probably even if we had beaten Huddersfield and Forest to go up. He himself describes the experience of being left out of the 25-man Forest squad as having ' been the toughest part of (his) career so far'.
Comparing with the two discounted options, he is younger than Hamer by a year and KDH too (well, by a month), plus adds the left-footed option to our central midfield.
Stuck out on loan at DC United and with no sign that his parent club will stop the spending this summer, it is safe to say that both parties would be happy for someone to provide a permanent out. £4m would be a significant loss for Forest but one they would be happy to swallow and while his Forest wages may be out of our reach, a pay-cut to about £20kp/w, allied with a £3m signing on fee, with Forest negotiating a pay-off is reasonably possible.
Stay tuned for part 3.
Sum Spent: £32.5m
Sum remaining: £13.5-28.5m