It is of course easier to judge transfer window activity down the line when results can be tracked, contributions accounted for and the true movement – up or down – of the club measured by league position and financial report.
Likewise, supporters rarely get any individual financial transfer information, just the large sums released annually mixed in with the corporate numbers and turnover, as the club reports its annual accounts.
Being a team game, just one part can affect others, and have a cumulative effect: take the loss of an important dressing room presence, who perhaps gives confidence to those all around and helps add to the intangibles.
Some fans will not take that into consideration, as the likes of Jamie Paterson, Jack Hunt and Tommy Rowe left the West Country this summer, with Paterson moving over the bridge as he picked up a Championship contract elsewhere, Rowe taking his children out from their school in north Bristol and returning to Yorkshire, and Hunt moving House to Leeds.
Undoubtedly the summer window leading into the 2021/22 season has been one of transition as new manager Nigel Pearson has put his stamp on the Robins, with four incomings plus Andi Weimann, Nathan Baker and Danny Simpson retained.
Here’s what we make of the club’s work this window, with a view to the immediate future at Ashton Gate.
The backdrop of course is that this transfer window – even more than that of a year ago – has been affected by an entire season without attendances and massively reduced revenues. It cannot be ignored and needs mentioning up front.
Steve Lansdown explained some time ago that when the next set of accounts are released, the numbers will look “horrific”.
Against that it has been near impossible for the club to spend, given that they are aiming to become self-sustainable over the long term. The club owner has underwritten losses this year and last and continues to convert share options into club equity each year, effectively writing off debts that the club then owes.
What went right in this window?
The signing of Rob Atkinson looks to be a real astute piece of business, especially at a price point under £2m. Atkinson has started well and immediately forced himself into Pearson’s plans.
At 23 there is good room for improvement and the manager has already explained that he sees the former Oxford United man as a Premier League player of the future.
Likewise, Andy King and Matty James look like solid captures and although both are heading to the twilight of their careers, both have arrived on free transfers meaning that it is the wages that need accounting for.
Ah, the salaries, on that note: renegotiating Andi Weimann’s deal and locking down the Austrian for three more years looks decent business too – no doubt on a lower wage than previously – and with four goals from the first five games, City may have tied down one of the best forwards in the division.
And picking up Nathan Baker for less money too looks good work, as does the snaring of young full-back George Tanner at a reported fee of around just £300,000. As advocates of planning and contingency, bringing in Tanner now to learn and then replace the likes of Simpson is particularly good work in our eyes.
Meanwhile Alex Scott is a gem and it will be a case of how long City can keep him for. Tying him down to a new long-term deal puts City in control of the situation and able to be rewarded if the England U18 player does move on.
… and what went wrong?
The final league position this season will go a long way to answering this but is there enough quality in the forward areas to make the top six?
To be fair, the front two have started the season well and look a blossoming partnership, even if the manager has stumbled across it after initially playing Weimann wide. And Nahki Wells is some back-up, with Sam Bell, Tommy Conway, Saikou Janneh and Louis Britton all showing good potential beyond that.
Indeed, if Famara Diedhiou – with the one-time club record signing unfortunately leaving on a free – is not replaced then it looks like the emphasis is on homegrown talent to step into the breach, particularly Britton who might offer the physical presence in attack if one is needed should Martin not be available.
To promote youth is a fundamental of the club and we’ll see over the next seasons just how good the current crop is and whether they can carry the Robins forward. But that might necessitate some patience and means we’re unlikely to see instant success.
That’s fine, and at least Steve Lansdown explained at the beginning of the season that it might take up to three years – as Pearson has pointed out too – to be strong enough to contend, and reach where they did under Lee Johnson just a few seasons ago, unable as they were to kick on back then. So the manager must be given some time to get things right.
And Pearson got everything he wanted this summer except one player, as we’ll come on to…
What does the summer business tell us about Nigel Pearson?
The manager was ruthless ushering in a big broom and sweeping away 11 senior players out of contract from 13 originally back at the beginning of the summer, although Baker was to then come back.
Pearson has wanted to do things his way and effectively start afresh at the club with his own squad (with three former Leicester City men joining; players he can trust – important to the City boss), as well as his own choice of head of medical. Dave Rennie has come in and certainly the squad looks much fitter and stronger than before. A huge improvement on last year’s constant injuries, so far.
And Pearson asked for five signings and has got five, if not the final most expensive outlay of a striker: “someone to put the ball in the back of the net”. Instead he got an extra right-back…
This area of the team may be revisited in January but perhaps originally the manager saw Weimann and Wells as playing wide and now sees those two as central options in a rejigged 4-4-1-1, as Martin described the current system recently.
Some changes from before: fewer outgoing loans, and possibly more of a decisive touch over younger players such as Taylor Moore, who may not have a long-term future in BS3 any more.
What about the market itself?
Spending is significantly down and the sale of Adam Nagy, sorry, release of Nagy highlights that all too well, although the club took quite a loss there for a player who was quite competent and an international but who didn’t look better than what City already had at the time or capable of propelling Bristol City on to higher objectives.
As mentioned recently by Bristol Live with regard to how the Hungarian was allowed to leave for almost nothing, “according to Transfermarkt.com, the league’s 24 clubs in the summer of 2019 spent a collective £215m, Bristol City making up £29.6m as the division’s third-biggest spenders.”
Now? £25.88m and £1.9m, respectively. Some 14 sides are reported to have not spent anything on transfer fees this window.
What does this window tell us about Steve Lansdown?
The club is still running along its previously set up lines: to become financially sustainable and to promote talent from its own academy.
Spending on the team has been judicious but off the pitch much, with the Robins High Performance centre now fully operational and plans in place to add to the sporting quarter around Ashton Gate, use rail seating around the ground and even eventually develop the Atyeo Stand into a hub for the community arm of the club.
Are City stronger or weaker?
It’s not too hard to be stronger than last season. City finished the campaign with the third most goals conceded, fewest shots made per game, the worst Expected Goals (chance creation) and the eighth fewest goals scored.
City look on course to record team statistics better than that this season. And with Andi Weimann on four goals already this season, the Austrian could well hit more than Nahki Wells who grabbed 10 last campaign.
The attack is mainly the same this year compared to last, swapping out Jamie Paterson for great prospect Alex Scott and Kasey Palmer, whereas James and King appear more consistent upgrades on Nagy.
The team looks better defensively, and with better player availability, such as Nathan Baker, then the back four should be more sound too. No change in goal or on the flanks currently.
Rating for this summer
We must bear in mind that Bristol City were set for a relegation battle last season if the campaign had lasted much longer, and that this has already been labelled a three-year project.
Given that this year is primarily about improvement and building the foundations for later success, there does look to be good forward movement, coming off the back of a superb Severnside Derby win as we are. With improved performances this year to last, and a lot more chances and shots on target, there are some promising signs.
Whether the squad strength is there this year will be sorely tested over the coming months but we see grounds for optimism for a solid midtable finish, and a base to grow from going forward: B-