Tuesday, 28 July 2009

China in your hand

Hull City are in China now, preparing for their first of two games in the flesh-pressing Barclays Asia Trophy. It's been known for months that the Tigers would be in the Far East for this mini-tournament, but right now one can't help but wish they weren't.

Aside from promoting the club name (which isn't a bad thing at all as a Premier League club; may as well make hay while the sun shines), this involvement in China will surely only serve as a hindrance to the club's ever more urgent need to get new bodies into the first team squad after a frustrating and supremely anger-inducing transfer window so far.

Nobody, and I include both Paul Duffen and Phil Brown in this, would have expected to travel halfway across the world, to the heat and smog of communist China, with a squad dented quite so substantially thanks to departures, injuries and a complete lack of fresh faces. Aside from Steven Mouyokolo, who was a January signing anyway, nobody new has been added. What feels like a thousand centre forwards have said no, while the hoped-for recruitment of extra midfield strength and - after the saddening sale of Sam Ricketts - a good full back, simply hasn't happened.

More than ever Brown needs to be chatting up fellow managers and sweet-talking agents and players whose services he has been granted permission to pursue. As he rightly says, he can do this by telephone in China, but it isn't the same. Being so impersonal and distant, figuratively and literally, from the object of his desire could act solely as a handicap to the progress in the market City desperately need to make. Four or five days of being stranded on the opposite side of the world may be enough to make a targeted player, reliant on feeling his ego swell, decide he isn't loved enough and join Portsmouth or Wolves instead.

There is every good intention within the trip to China and many of the players will enjoy the experience of playing for a madcap crowd who have been allowed in more enlightened political times to embrace something which is as westernised in its appraoch as most things associated with big, bad capitalist instinct. But maybe a week ago, the sanest thing to do in these trying circumstances to please fans, players and locals was for the squad to go under Brian Horton's stewardship while Brown stayed behind and got on with his primary role during the close-season - persuading footballers to join Hull City. It's going to be hard to do that in a place so unfamiliar and with so much else to occupy his attentions.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Grand Sam

Sam, you'll be sorely missed. Thank you for the effort, the crosses, the consistency, the brilliant late clearance at Wembley and for simply being the best in your position we've ever had. Good luck.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

About Turner

Just as his hallowed, worshipped name seemed to have escaped the summer speculation, Michael Turner's future at Hull City has become slightly precarious.

Phil Brown has revealed in one of his press briefings that he has had a couple of inquiries about Turner. These have been turned down, flat. Well, that's certainly good. And it's not good, but also unpreventable, that other clubs have got their beady eye on our prized defender. What isn't good and was unpreventable was Brown making this issue public.

Why has he done this? He can't surely need or prefer the money to such an accomplished central defender. Given the lack of summer acquisitions, despite bids of magnitude going in left, right and centre, the budget allocated by the chairman remains intact. So even though one would hope for an eight-figure fee in exchange for the great man if and when he does depart our patch, it's not as if the money is vital. There is money in the bank and a stack of it burns a hole in Brown's pocket. There's no point in adding to it if you're struggling to use it.

So why else could he have done it? Well, maybe he has one eye on Manchester City's situation and is taking the risk of slightly unsettling Turner in the hope that Mark Hughes may see him as the central defender his gargantuan plan requires but can't get. Thanks to a swathe of fresh purchases, Hughes suddenly has ten centre forwards and City need at least two, probably three. Hughes wants Joleon Lescott but can't get him, so maybe Brown is teasing Hughes with Turner in the hope of getting a couple of decent strikers to travel the opposite way, with still a few quids thrown in on top. And maybe Richard Dunne, too. But this ambitious intention could backfire spectacularly. All Manchester City would need to do is declare their lack of interest in Turner and Brown ends up with no new signings and a deeply browned off centre back requiring an explanation.

Brown is media-friendly, but one hopes he learned from some of his outbursts and moments of preening last season which saw our club nosedive in neutral popularity. By the end of the season, people wanted the Tigers relegated just to get shut of Brown from the top division. Two wins in 29 games suggests that City survived despite Brown, not because of him. While it remains a crazy idea to consider replacing him - he got us up, and then we stayed there, come on! - one key lesson we needed to learn from a turbulent opening year was that it was never about the manager as much as the manager eventually seemed to think. Yet the manager has now made more headlines out of giving the media something to gnaw on, potentially upsetting his star asset in the process.

If Turner, as unassuming and likeable a personality as City has ever had, on top of being our finest ever defender, gets his back put up by Brown's cosy words, then City fans will be apoplectic.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Striker pose

Boyhood Dreams has arrived back from holiday today and has to cope with the news that seemingly nobody wants to join Hull City.

This isn't a fresh revelation, as anyone who remembers the number of players who turned us down in the 1990s because we were skint and rubbish will attest. However, when you have just stayed in the Premier League by a pipe-cleaner's width and urgently need reinforcements, only to see every viable target thumb their nose your way and hook up with somebody else, it becomes a worry.

But let us not forget that it is still the middle of July and a whole month still separates us from the new season beginning, while a further two weeks can be grafted on before the transfer window closes. During this time, City will begin their pre-season campaign - today, actually - and get some international exposure, complete with new kit, when they go to China for the Barclays Premier Asia trophy.

So far, Michael Owen has decided that Manchester United represents a marginally better option than Hull City; Marc Antoine Fortune has opted for familiarity at Celtic (by hooking up with Tony Mowbray again) rather than competitiveness at the KC Stadium, and Fraizer Campbell, most disappointingly of all, has gone to Sunderland after many weeks of procrastinated talks and whispers about the alleged certainty of his move, on a permanent basis, to the club that gave him a taste of Wembley glory.

Campbell's decision has caused anger among the unintelligent element of local support who keep the moderators busy on unofficial forums, who believe somehow that the player was being disloyal for choosing not to become a full-time Tigers player. Certainly one can feel despondent by Campbell electing to go to Sunderland, but one shouldn't have any fury to vent, nor be surprised. The amount of delay Campbell and his advisory father instilled in the move (initially via his England Under 21 commitments, then a family holiday after England's defeat in the final) was more than enough indication that the player's heart hadn't returned to the KC, and once he said no the binding deal with Manchester United to sell the player only to City was unravelled and Campbell promptly signed for Sunderland, a club with a proven manager, bigger stadium, more money for wages and more to purchase big-name players.

If consolation needs to be proffered, then it comes in the form of an absolute lack of guarantee that Campbell will be any good as a Premier League striker, and given the money that a flush Sunderland have paid and City previously offered, you would expect to purchase a goalscorer from whom a good strike rate was inevitable. Campbell's reputation is still maintained, predominantly, by his immense season with the Tigers in which he scored 15 goals and represented quite easily the most gifted young footballer ever to wear the sacred colours. Since he walked away from Wembley 14 months ago, his career has been about being not quite good enough for Manchester United, a reluctant acquisition for Tottenham Hotspur who, one regime change later, made him feel as necessary at White Hart Lane as he had previously been at Old Trafford thanks to the surge in centre forward purchases which shoved a glum Campbell back down the order.

Sunderland have, therefore, bought a completely unproven player and it may well be that Campbell doesn't even secure himself instant Premier League football when the new campaign kicks off. If he does start the season, he will have to shine quickly as there are ample other marksmen able and waiting to steal his place if the goals don't start coming. While much is made of centre forwards who can graft and contribute, ultimately only goals will win games and secure prizes and security, and Campbell will go to Sunderland under more pressure to score than he ever would have been at the KC. Goodwill alone would have given Campbell settling time with the Tigers but that will be absent entirely from the Stadium of Light.

Perhaps Campbell has gone to Sunderland for that reason; perhaps he is a character who doesn't want to be in a comfort zone, as he has rarely been in one in his career, and certainly never been in one in the Premier League. It would have been easy for him to become a Premier League striker in Hull City colours than it would at any of the 19 other top-flight clubs. Many would argue it would also have been sensible too. But he has made his red-and-white quilted bed, and it will be with interest, without any wish for gleeful posturing, that we wait to see how well he lies in it.

Meanwhile, Bobby Zamora has been on City's radar for a little while now, a striker who has flitted around clubs in his time but his place in history only exists at Brighton & Hove Albion, where his career began and where he is rightly regarded as a demi-god. Since his elevation to the highest level, his reputation has been more about teamwork and selflessness than goalscoring, and while at West Ham United he was unappreciated and at Tottenham Hotspur marginalised, he emerged from last season with credibility within a fine Fulham season, even though goals were rare. This shows the level of centre forward that the game values now - the industrious worker rather than the ruthless finisher, and it's the sort of centre forward City need.

City will never have a prolific centre forward for as long as they are in the top flight, simply because those players are fewer and further between and cost fortunes. The Tigers are chasing two, possibly even three, new strikers who, along with Daniel Cousin and backed by Geovanni and Nick Barmby, might get 15-20 goals between them and be prolific as an entity rather than an individual. Zamora is as good a target to start with as any.