Thursday, 2 May 2013

The Retained List Debate

It's always one of the most interesting parts of the close-season: the announcement of the retained list. Some years there are relatively few changes, with big players secured on longer contracts and little work to be done; other years we see wholesale change as the club seeks to rebuild. This year is one of the latter. And with the announcement that twelve players are to leave the club this summer, including big names such as Peter Leven and Michael Duberry, this move was always going to spark vigorous debate among United fans. Here are a selection of differing opinions on this year's retained list:


I am always one for going with first gut reactions and in the case of Oxford’s retained and released list the first reaction was one of mild shock and surprise. However, having mulled over the names released and retained it actually makes a great deal of sense, with a couple of names that I perhaps disagree with. The list is however the biggest indication yet, in my opinion, that Lenegan and Wilder are desperate to change the state of play at Oxford United FC.

The retained list is promising; including the likes of Crocombe and Marsh shows Oxford’s desire to bring youth through the ranks and this will sit well with many fans I’m sure. Young players who have learnt the trade with Oxford, live in Oxford and have the club at heart can only be a good thing. Giving Alfie Potter and Andrew Whing new contracts was almost a given, certainly with the former. The only concern is with Whing and the potential injury threat he carries. The one shock is the much maligned Deane Smalley. I’ve never been a massive fan of his, and the times I have seen him play this season have not filled me with confidence. The performance against Dagenham and Redbridge earlier this month showed me he should probably have been on the other list.

Those who have been told their futures lie away from Yellow and Blue, I wish to say thank you and all the best to every single one of them. The names that stand out most of all, for me, are Batt and Davis. They were a solid pair and with Wright and Duberry they made one of the strongest back fours in the league. Oxford’s problem was getting all four on the pitch at once!

The club was right to not renew contracts with Leven and Duberry. Both were fantastic for Oxford and were firm favourites with the fans and were promising signings for Oxford in what was our second season in the league, but injury stopped any progress they made with the club, and with the new breed of youth coming into the squad it was perhaps inevitable they would not get new contracts. Leven will find a new club, either in League Two or One. Duberry may call it time on his fantastic career, but I wouldn’t be surprised for “Dubes” to feature in the Oxford set up in a coaching role in the future.

The other names on the list are also not that surprising. Pittman and Richards are just too injury prone, Worley was not rated by Wilder for whatever reason; this was obvious in his picking of Raynes over him even when the latter was woefully out of form. Parker and McCormick were promising but were only ever signed as a stop gap to the end of the season, with the latter’s signing incredibly controversial. And as for Craddock, his name appearing on the released list was perhaps the worst kept secret of the second half of the season.


We knew this was coming. An impending doom or relief for a number of Oxford United players and supporters, as they await confirmation on their future. We’ve had the furore over Chris Wilder, with the ‘Grenoble Road’ civil war of “Wilderites” and “Wilder Outers” finally taking a backseat. Now we can divert our attention elsewhere momentarily as we decipher, analyse then praise/criticise the look of next year's playing squad.

A dozen players were released, sparking quite the debate in the ‘twitter-verse’ amongst United fans. Stemming from who we should’ve kept, who should’ve left, and how good so and so was anyway. You start to really understand why the summer of transfers and negotiations is often referred to as ‘silly season’.

The Goalkeepers for next year looks to be an immediate strong suit, with the first alliterative goalkeeping battle since Turley/Tardif of the mid 00’s. With youngster Max Crocombe finishing the season in splendid form, easing the fears of any fans who had reservations over his potential to be a future number 1. I envisage Ryan Clarke will resume duties in goal however after recovering from injury; after all he is “England’s Number One”. With two solid goalkeepers, the release of Luke McCormick seemed inevitable. McCormick provided good cover, and will no doubt be well received if he ever returns to the Kassam.

Full backs are where the first controversy arises. Damian Batt, a stalwart in the United back four for a number of years now, has been released. For all the faults aimed at Batt, whether it is his inability at crossing or his tendency for erroneous positioning, this disappointed me. Batt, voted the best right back in the division in our first season back in the league, has always offered an outlet bombarding down the right flank. He’s been a solid player for a number of years, he has held his place from challenges from the likes of Ben Purkiss, and from his goodbye tweet today, seemed to thoroughly enjoy his stay here. If forced to select an Oxford United XI in my time watching the team, I think Batt ousts Scott McNiven as the starting right back. I, as well as I would imagine most other fans, wish him nothing but the best in his future.

On the opposite side, we saw Liam Davis and Tony Capaldi both released, but a contract offer extended to Luke O’Brien. I have no qualms about any of this. Davis hasn’t lived up to his first few months of his spell at the club, and this season has been below-par on numerous occasions. Capaldi enjoyed some of his best displays in yellow in the heart of midfield, whether that’s testament to his versatility, or an indictment of his inadequate performances in his natural position, I’ll leave up for debate. O’Brien has deputised admirably when called upon, whether or not he’ll be the first choice next year is questionable. I’d anticipate a couple of new full backs come August.

In the middle we saw the departure of Harry Worley and Michael Duberry. The former has been obvious for months. Once ‘young player of the year’, Worley has been resorted to being an emergency striker, turned fourth-choice centre back. His exit is understandable. Duberry, again a release with a sense of inevitability about it, led to a more nostalgic feel. Despite his advancing age, and the scepticism his signing came with, Duberry immediately became a firm favourite. His performance and subsequent post-match celebration at Swindon last season placing him in the history books of the club.

With Jake Wright contracted, although undoubtedly peaking the interest of clubs in higher divisions, and the much-maligned Michael Raynes the only remaining centre backs from this past season, I would expect another arrival, and maybe a bigger role for youth-teamer Sam Long. If we’re to believe that the squad is to be “25% Youth teamers” next season, this seems a logical scenario.

Onto the midfield, the season’s scapegoat Simon Heslop has been let go. Despite often being played out of position and sporadically, Heslop has had a thoroughly underwhelming season, looking a shadow of the player we signed in 2010. This, alongside the release of Peter Leven, the oft-injured but ever-influential Scotsman pave the way for another addition to go along with Scott Davies and Andy Whing, who have been offered new deals.

Josh Parker, who impressed at the turn of the year, but then found himself on the fringes of the squad has moved on. This comes as no surprise to many, and again seems a pretty obvious decision to make. With the release of injury-prone Jon-Paul Pittman as well, much to the chagrin of a few, leaves Alfie Potter (who had his option activated) and Sean Rigg as our two wingers for next season. I would think that there’s potentially another acquisition for next season, probably to cover Rigg and Potter, who were two of the standout performers over the season.

In the striking department, the release of Tom Craddock was met with relief by many. Craddock, often seen as “lazy” certainly mixes opinion with supporters. I personally believe we haven’t utilised him to the best of his ability. In his first season, playing on the left in the infamous 4-3-3 (or 4-5-1 depending on your philosophical bend) he scored 15 goals and instantly made his signing from Luton look like shrewd business.

I believe Craddock is an intelligent footballer, maybe sometimes a bit too intelligent, putting him on a different wavelength to others. His effort (or lack thereof) isn’t helped when compared to James Constable, who chases and harries every loose ball like a puppy in the park. If Craddock was scoring goals in the league above next season, I wouldn’t be overly surprised. Justin Richards was also unsurprisingly released.

Next season, the striking options looks to be James Constable, Tyrone Marsh, who was offered a new deal and Deane Smalley, who to the surprise of many, if not all supporters, was offered a new deal. Not necessarily saying I disagree, I thought I’d be vehemently against this. However I cast my mind back to early on this season, prior to an injury, when arguably Smalley was our best striker turning some high calibre performances. If fit, this could be a wise decision on the part of the manager.

As for who we will sign to replace those released, I’m seeing names appear that seem wholly unrealistic. Jacques Magohma and Calvin Zola will not be signing here. Burton potentially will be promoted, and Magohma is attracting interest from higher divisions. Could we see Jake Wright going to Bradford or Plymouth? I would expect to see some , shall we say, “budgeted” moves. With high earners like Leven, Duberry and Craddock off the books, there’s a genuine opportunity to bolster the squad and make it deeper than seasons past.

Robbie Hall proved the idea behind the loan market. I wouldn’t be averse to seeing more youngsters from Premier League development squads plying their trade here. Younger players are often hungrier for success (a theory Dubes makes hard to justify), and are more than likely highly skilled players.

Next season will see a lot of different faces, hopefully a revitalised attitude in the stands, and dare I say a promotion push.


With a dozen players released from the club (a dozen? that's nearly a squad full), and with a handful being kept, or offered new deals, have the club made the right decisions?

In terms of the retained players, I believe the club were right to keep Whing and Potter, and I also think Davies did enough to earn himself a new deal too. But what about Smalley? Last year he had poor form, this year he was injured for most of it, maybe the 3rd year is the charm?

As for the players who were released, a lot of good players like Leven, Duberry and Jon Paul Pittman were let go, but they have barely been fit this season, and it's hard to have a consistent season when you don't have a consistent starting line up. Hopefully any new signings won't have the same injury troubles. I was personally shocked at the departures of Batt and Davis, Davis especially.

As for the others, they just aren't part of the future plans. We may see players like Worley and Craddock thrive at other clubs, but it's just not happening here for one reason or another. And with 3 youth players given pro contracts, it's possible we may see more chances given to youth players in the coming seasons. 

Thanks a lot to those three for sharing their opinions on this year's retained list. Here's what a few more of you had to say on Twitter:

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Youth players + Davies and O'Brien not expensive members of the squad, and Whing and Potter already negotiated, so seems clear the Chairman is getting on top of the wage budget prior to bringing in some quality.

Should also remember that Mr Lenigan has a very strong fitness/rugby background, and has hated having highly paid squad members sitting in the stand nursing injuries. I expect some very interesting targetting is going on for new players as CW prepares to recruit - exciting times!

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