When the signing of Cliff Akurang was first mooted by Drax, a week or two ago, it was made clear that the budget (which is currently being exceeded?) wasn't going to be increased and, as such, players were going to have to make way for the new arrival. With Akurang's signature now dry on the dotted line - and a partly supporter-funded Will Hendry set to follow - it was no surprise to learn yesterday that the squad-trimming has already begun: right wing-back Jack Bradshaw leaving to join St Neots Town (who?) of the United Counties Premier (what?).
More players will, no doubt, soon follow. In fact, if the budget really isn't going to be raised (and who believes that it won't be or, if it isn't, that Drax won't be allowed to regularly go over?), I question whether we'll be able to field a side shortly (Drax to be named, embarrassingly, as a sub again?); Akurang has a decent pedigree and I doubt he signed for Maidenhead United for the prestige of playing at the oldest senior football ground in the world used continually by the same club TM. Then again, Thurrock are one of the few clubs in the division with a lower average attendance than us so perhaps Drax enticed him with the prospect of playing in front of 311 people, on average, every home game rather than a paltry 306?
Anyway, Bradshaw is the first but he won't be the last. The fact that he is the first, however, got me thinking (always a dangerous thing). I like Jack Bradshaw ... and not just because, when coming over to applaud the fans at Dorchester following last season's Fancy Dress X, he readily held aloft the Pinky Punky that I threw onto the pitch (Rasher's letter re that breach of ground regulations presumably got lost in the post)...
Although there is little or no dispute that he was not nearly as impressive after signing permanently as he was during his spells on loan with us from Stevenage Borough (where, apparently, he started out as a striker), it could be argued that this was in no small part due to injuries (one serious) and the fact that the manager never seemed to have much confidence in him. IMO he was a more-then-serviceable right wing-back, though, and the fact that at least one other club (albeit one playing in a league I've barely heard of) was keen to sign him is probably as much the reason why he is the first to leave, post-Akurang arrival, as anything else.
On the face of it, then, Akurang's arrival lead directly to Bradshaw leaving. Methinks that's an over-simplification, however, and the seeds of Bradshaw's departure can actually be traced back to a misguided decision (or series of decisions) that continue to have an adverse effect on the team. Allow me to elaborate ...
One of my major - note I didn't write 'many' there - gripes with Drax's tenure at York Road is that, having stumbled upon a winning formula towards the end of his first season in charge (when we won 14 out of our last 16 league games to gain promotion from the Southern Premier via the play-offs), he needlessly tinkered with/broke-up one of the top two teams I think Maidenhead United have had in the last twenty-odd years. For the record, the side that beat Team Bath 1-0 in the play-off final at Twerton Park that season was as follows...
Nisbet – Cooper – Sterling
Telemaque – Lee – Behzadi – Brown – Smith
Newman – Hughes
Subs Used: Romeo, Parsons, Osman
Subs Unused: Fenton, Preddie
All that team needed in order to comfortably survive and, IMO, prosper in the Conference South the following season was a goalscorer (we actually got one, almost by default, when Leyton striker Emmanuel Williams asked to train with us in pre-season and was eventually signed on). Instead we inexplicably reverted to 4-4-2, with big-game-bottler Louis Wells (signed by Rasher during his ill-fated spell as Director of Football) replacing Chico between the sticks. Dwane Lee, meanwhile, was indulged and moved to centre-back (or wherever he fancied playing that week). The imperious centre-half Dominic Sterling was shunted to left-back (where he was far from imperious) to replace 'Ryman' Parsons (RP any worse than current incumbent, Bruce Wilson?). Grant Cooper (Lee Kersey was often favoured), Lee Newman (Carl Wilson-Denis anyone?!) and Errol Telemaque (who fell out with Drax after Dwane Lee fancied a stint at right wing-back) were gradually sidelined while, crucially, Wes Daly's signing from AFC Wimbledon (for the obligatory 'undisclosed' fee) meant that Bobby 'The Daddy' Behzadi was moved to right-back. The team struggled throughout the season and only three consecutive wins at the beginning of April (following the loan signing of Richard Pacquette) kept us up.
Now, I realise that Behzadi was apparently a marauding right-back during his early days at Hayes and then Yeading but, as anyone who saw him bossing the midfield exchanges during our triumphant close-out of the 2006/7 season (and anyone who has played as Maidenhead United on Football Manager) will testify, his best position is - unarguably - central midfield. If Daly - who's red card in his last game for AFC in the play-off's essentially cost them promotion that season - had to be signed (and I, for one, was never as critical of him as many other Magpie fans) then it should have been as replacement for the Gretna-bound Abdul Osman (whatever became of him?) or the ageing Darthaniel Brown. Behzadi in central midfield - as virtually the first name on the team sheet (in that position) - was a no-brainer.
As it was The Daddy was quickly moved to right-back and, in October, unfortunately suffered a serious knee injury in an FA Cup game against his old teams (Hayes & Yeading). Obviously the injury could well have happened if Behzadi had been playing centre-mid that day. That's not my point. My point is that right-back is not Behzadi's best position for Maidenhead United – it wasn't before his injury and it certainly wasn't when he returned from it, as he had lost much of his pace and mobility.
I think/presume that it was during Behzadi's lengthy injury lay-off that Bradshaw first came to the club on loan, a move that would eventually (after two temporary spells) become permanent. With Bradshaw impressing (albeit decreasingly so) at right-back and a slower, post-injury Behzadi back, The Daddy did eventually return to a central midfield spot last season after Wes Daly's replacement, Ashley Nicholls, left York Road after just 12 months for his 9th club in as many years (soon to be followed by his 10th and 11th).
After an inauspicious start to the campaign (our first win came in our 9th game) the young and inexperienced team steadily improved and, despite dodgy periods (one point in five games around February, for example), never looked like finishing in the relegation places (not that doing so would've seen us drop a division anyway, of course). As well as the addition of Kieran Knight, the eye-catching form of Sam Collins (who inexplicably began the season behind Steve Barnes and James Hamsher in the left-wing pecking order), five goals in a month from Will Hendry, and solid contributions throughout from Mark Nisbet and Chris Tardif, one of the major factors behind our relative success last season was the combative midfield pairing of Behzadi and Bradley Quamina.
During last summer, with Steve Williams and Andrew Fagan replacing Tardif and Nevin Saroya, I was looking for Drax to add a striker (or two) and, ideally, sign a creative midfielder who could add a touch of flair to supplement the more defensive-minded Behzadi and Quamina, and mentor the promising Lewis Ochoa (where's he gone, BTW?). Instead we went into this season with no significant additions in the striking department and our marquee signing (again) being exactly what we didn't need: another defensive midfielder (and one, in Ashley Nicholls, who had no hesitation in leaving the previous summer after the budget had been cut).
The re-signing of Nicholls meant, of course, that Behzadi went to right-back again and Bradshaw found himself warming the bench. Is Behzadi a significant upgrade on Bradshaw at right-back? Is Nicholls a significant upgrade on Behzadi at centre-mid? No and No, IMO. As such, why, when the budget is apparently so tight - and we have pressing needs elsewhere (upfront) - did we re-sign Nicholls? We needed a goalscorer in the summer and, if some of the Thurrock fans' comments on Akurang are to be believed - “a great winger and average striker ... has the potential to be the best player in the league but is more likely to be a weight around your necks” - we still do.
Bradshaw is leaving, therefore, not solely because of Akurang's arrival but because Drax needlessly wasted a proportion of the summer budget on another defensive midfielder (Ashley Nicholls) and because he continues to play Bobby Behzadi out of position at full-back. Who will go to right-back if, for whatever reason, The Daddy is missing? Marcus Rose (a centre half by trade, and one who is coming back from a serious injury himself)? Ashley Smith (a winger)?
Either the budget is unrealistic and/or it is being mismanaged.
Either the budget is unrealistic and/or it is being mismanaged.
Hey ho, all the best Jack.