Written by Andrew Mccarten
Depth. In the context of a grueling 38 game Premier League campaign, accompanied with the FA Cup, League Cup, and Europe for some sides, it is perhaps the most important commodity in English football.
Depth is also what often separates relegation from survival. This year, Wolves were able to finish 15th, and comfortably avoid the hazard of the drop.
The case of Hull City should provide an excellent example for Mick McCarthy, Jez Moxey, and the rest of Wolves`s board room as they look to strengthen the squad.
This year, Hull had 22 outfield players make 5 or more appearances; among them were Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink (31), Craig Fagan (25), and Jozy Altidore (28). They combined for a total of 6 (six!!) goals, a paltry return by any standards and a major reason why they were eventually relegated.
Similarly, Paul McShane made 27 appearances at either center or right back,starting 26, and the ever-ageing Nick Barmby (20 appearances) and Kevin Kilbane (21) also featured prominently. Now this is not to say that all of these players are not good; Vennegoor was a goal machine for Celtic in the SPL, Barmby has 23 England caps, and Kilbane is nearing 100 caps for Ireland. However, aside from the disappointment that is Altidore, Hull put its faith in many players who simply were not Premier League quality.
Manchester United is somewhat irrelevant as an example, as their financial might and notoriety make it possible for them to hold onto players like Ben Foster (now with Birmingham), Tomasz Kuszczak, JS Park, and Darron Gibson for long periods of time despite only seeing spot duty in the league, and the occasional run in the team during the domestic cups.
A good example of squad management and depth is found at Stoke City, who have made themselves Premier League regulars and steadily climbed the table since joining the top flight.
Tony Pulis has been able to get the best out of unheralded players like Ricardo Fuller, Rory Delap, Danny Higgingbotham, and young star Ryan Shawcross.
Pulis has also assembled a capable cast of role players, including Liam Lawrence, Glenn Whelan, James Beattie, and Mamady Sidibe, all who could arguably be considered starter material on the sides relegated this past season.
Thomas Sorenson is one of the better keepers in the league, and Asmir Begovic is a highly-rated young keeper whom Pulis added during a raid on crisis club Portsmouth.
So often when teams are promoted managers make the mistake of counting on role players who worked well in the Championship to fill a similar role in the Premier League.
The hard truth is that some players are simply not up to the task of the Premier League.
Dean Windass scored 13 goals that helped Hull City go up in the 07/08 campaign, but struggled to even make the bench during their maiden season in the Premier League. Fan favourite Sylvain Ebanks-Blake led the Championship in 08/09 with 25 goals, yet managed just 2 in 23 appearances last year.
McCarthy`s aim this off-season will be to add depth at each position, so said position runs a few players deep, Wolves will not only be more durable, and hence competitive, but can also be more competitive in domestic competition, long ignored by sides in the lower half of the table, whose sole focus is survival.
Matt Murray`s injury problems mean that a viable second choice is necessary. Marcus Hahnemann and Wayne Hennessy do fit this mould, but a young, more talented keeper could be in order.
Supporters will surely be envious of Alex McLeish`s capture of Ben Foster, despite one`s opinions on his talents. Although there is a lot of manpower at forward (Doyle,Vokes,Maierhofer, Ebanks-Blake,Keogh,Iwelumo,etc), questions remain over the quality of those players in the top flight.
Doyle has surely proved himself, but Iwelumo and Ebanks-Blake will have a lot to prove this year, as will Maierhofer, who only scored one goal in the league, and had to go on loan to Bristol City in search of first team football after injury problems.
Another piece of business to the tune of Doyle`s success would strengthen the squad enormously. Another recent successful trend has been taking players on loan, notably Michael Mancienne of Chelsea and Darron Gibson of Manchester United.
Some potential candidates could be Vladimir Weiss of Manchester City, who impressed for Slovakia during the World Cup Qualifiers, but is mired under a slew of stars at Eastlands, with more additions likely to push him down even further.
Craig Cathcart is contracted to Manchester United, but has spent time on loan with Royal Antwerp, Plymouth Argyle, and Watford in recent years. At just 21, the Northern Irishman could leave on loan in search of first team football, considering he is most likely 5th choice centre back at best.
Perhaps the best option would be to take on one of Arsenal`s numerous promising youngsters; Nacer Barazite (MID/ST), Craig Eastmond (RB/CDM), Kerrea Gilbert (RB/RM), and Henri Lansbury (MID), among others, are all likely to go out on loan.
The options and strategies mentioned are just a few of the things McCarthy will no doubt take into consideration when undergoing this offseason`s business, and supporters can only hope he manages to acquire some effective players in much the same way Doyle, Ronald Zubar, and Christophe Berra panned out.
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