An assessment of the 2002/03 squad that was too good to go down.
Too good to go down? Obviously not, but many people thought they were at the
time. Indeed the season started full of optimism that the club could build on
it's seventh place finish the previous season, and challenge for a European
place. It wasn't to be, and the club suffered relegation to the Nationwide
League. It's interesting to look at how the players from that squad are faring
now that the 2003/04 season is drawing to a close, and realise how many of them
may not have been as good as was thought.
Those who moved on:
Joe Cole - been collecting splinters in his backside by spending more time on
the substitute's bench than on the pitch, and hardly pulled up any trees when
he's played. If he doesn't make the Euro 2004 squad, it's a move he'll regret.
Glenn Johnson - made a good start to his Chelsea career, but seemed to be fading
a bit before injury spoiled the latter part of the season. Difficult to judge
his progress so far.
Trevor Sinclair - Patchy form, and not able to command a regular place in a poor
Manchester City side that narrowly avoided relegation.
David James - Established as England's no 1, but none of the top Premier sides
came in for him, and has spent his time back in the Premier fighting a
relegation battle again. Made a couple of crucial penalty saves lately that have
helped them survive. Kicking still exceedingly dodgy, and worryingly seems to
have passed this trait on to young Bywater.
Fredi Kanoute - Made a flying start to his Spurs career, scoring a number of
goals. Season fell apart when he decided to switch his international allegiances
to Mali, preferring to go play in Africa for a month, rather than help his
club's struggles. Unable to recreate his early season form when he came back
from the African tournament, and has not been a regular in the Spurs team since.
Jermain Defoe - Scored a fair few goals while still with us, but perhaps not as
many as we thought he might at this level. Disciplinary problems, coupled with
the ill-timed transfer request, meant he was not a popular figure at UP. We all
expected the bids to roll in during the transfer window, but in fact it was only
the North London minnows that actually made an offer. Got off to a great start
in his first few games, but then a run of just one goal in eight games saw him
being left out of the starting line up last week.
Les Ferdinand - Relegated again!
Seb Schemmel - Err....what can one say? He's a nutter!
Lee Bowyer - Failed to live up to expectations while with us, and has been a
flop at the Barcodes.
Paulo di Canio - Has done well at Charlton. Not been played every week by Curbs,
who seems (at the moment at least) to be able to handle the temperamental
Italian, and make use of his talents when required.
Edouard Cisse - Could be playing in the Chumps League Final soon. An exception
to the majority that left us, in that he's found real success. Many thought he
was very underused by Roeder last season.
Ian Pearce - Looked well past his best while still with us, and frankly I was
stunned when Fulham came in for him. Seems to be a regular in their team since
he joined, and the team has been doing OK, but I don't know anything about
Pearce's contribution to that.
Gary Breen - Been fairly impressive for the Mackems this year. One wonders how
much playing alongside the loose cannon that is Repka affected him last season,
or is it a case - like Dailly - that he's found his level?
Now for those that stayed:
Repka - Can be outstanding on his day, which is unfortunately all too rare, and
his temperament and stupidity continued to cost us dear this year as it did last
Dailly - Found his level in this division. Still prone to the odd silly error,
but looks far more composed without the dud Czech alongside him, as witnessed by
Michael Carrick - Lack of fitness (and IMO motivation) saw him struggling to
find form in the early part of the season, but in the second half of the season
he has certainly improved, with some quality performances at times. Is it a
coincidence that this improvement occurred at the time the club brought in more
competition for midfield places?
Rufus Brevett - Injury wrecked his season, and judging by his performances when
he joined us last year, he has been sorely missed this term. We've been very
weak at left back all year.
Don Hutchison - Been hit by injury problems for most of the season, but has
chipped in with some vital goals when he's played. Played very well - and scored
- in his first start for a while against Watford.
Steve Lomas - Also plagued by injuries, but now seems to be getting back to full
fitness, and his return has helped the team to put in some good performances at
a vital stage of the season. I wonder with so many of last years' remaining
squad plagued by injuries, just how poor the training and fitness regimes have
been in the past at UP. It's been an ongoing problem for many years, and I'm
hoping that Pardew's new outlook will sort this out.
Looking back at that list of players, only a couple can be said to have done
well at the top level, most of the others have found themselves at the wrong end
of the table again, or unable to get a regular place in their new teams. Of
those that stayed, it's been a rather mixed season. Which says to me that the
squad many of us thought should be one that challenged for a place in Europe was
in fact nowhere near as good as that.
Maybe Glen Roeder wasn't such a bad manager after all, and the players he had to
work with were just grossly over-rated.