Bristol City’s perfect transfer window sets up Nigel Pearson’s Premier League dream
As summers go for Bristol City, they can’t have gone any better, but there’s still a month to go.
The Robins have continued that optimism that came towards the second part of last season into the summer period and what is a huge year coming up for Nigel Pearson, could be a successful one.
Pearson is entering the last year of his three-year deal and when he was appointed as Dean Holden’s successor, he said he wanted to be part of a team that gets to the Premier League.
From an outside point-of-view, the finishes of 19th, 17th, and 14th highlights an obvious progression but don’t necessarily scream play-off material. A general feeling though of those involved with the club or those who have an affiliation or connection with it though, believe that this could be the year that City break into the top six again.
It’s been 15 years since Dean Windass broke the hearts of City fans at Wembley when Gary Johnson’s side who had only won promotion from League One the previous year, came 90 minutes away from reaching the promised land.
Step forward Johnson Jr, Lee. He took over from popular boss Steve Cotterill who gave the club a facelift after their relegation to League One. Johnson - who guided the club to the Carabao Cup semi-finals went near but still couldn’t break into the lay-offs and they finished eighth in the 2018/19 campaign. He wouldn’t get another full shot at it, as he would be replaced by Dean Holden, who went from caretaker manager to head coach but was sacked following a poor run of form.
Pearson, who has done a tremendous job in first and foremost being a football manager, has dealt with having to get rid of a host of players over multiple windows and working with what he’s got. He’s developed a team that the fan base can resonate with and that is local heroes who are giving their all for the shirt. They’ve either come from the city or nearby towns like Cheltenham or in the case of Alex Scott, been signed after the clubs’ links with the small island of Guernsey.
It’s a different strategy to what they did before under Johnson, which was to splash the cash a little bit, and now after Pearson picked up the pieces from their failed attempt at promotion, he is now well positioned to have his own crack at it.
The squad is in a good place, and by own his own admission is ‘well-balanced’ and capable of beating anyone on their day. Areas of concern have been addressed with Rob Dickie, a surprise signing with Championship experience coming in, Ross McCrorie, and then the youthful arrivals of Haydon Roberts and Jason Knight. All four signings add something that wasn’t there at City last year and can be seen as either good replacements or an upgrade on those who they are replacing.
There’s also the January arrivals to think about, who in the excitement of the summer business, may have been forgotten about. It’s been a slow start to life at Ashton Gate for Harry Cornick, but time is on his side, and he was a major part in helping Luton Town’s rise through the leagues, and now he wants to bring that recipe of success to the West Country. Anis Mehmeti was the more lauded signing, because of his style of play which gets fans off of their seats and applauding. He’s been described as his own worst critic and sometimes is too harsh on himself, but hopefully this season we’ll see a player that is ready for the challenge of Championship football.
As to what will be a good window or summer, however, will be decided on the future of Alex Scott. For the last 18 months there’s been speculation, and the list of clubs growing interested in him, but now that is being dwindled down to two clubs, AFC Bournemouth and Wolves. The Cherries look to be in the best position to sign the 19-year-old who was once on their books. They have the financial resources to sign him but have so far held off in meeting the £25m valuation.
Earlier this week, Pearson sent out a firm message to Bournemouth, Wolves, and anyone else interested in him. For anyone thinking that a player with less than 10 goal contributions in his two-full seasons of Championship is overpriced, you’d be wrong. He has an insane amount of potential and has been admired by a £100m footballer and one of the greatest minds in world football. A fee of £25m has been placed on him because City do not want to part with their prized asset, and that’s a stance to be admired.
The club are taking an ambitious stance, and that is to back Pearson by keeping hold of their better players. It remains a big possibility that Bournemouth eventually budge and meet the valuation, but should the Guernsey Grealish remain until at least January, that is already a statement in itself. Scott is not the only player subject of Premier League interest now either, West Ham are said to be admirers of Cam Pring, but there’s a hope that these homegrown stars won’t need a move to reach the top flight of English football, and instead, they’ll achieve that with the club they’re currently with now.
Football is a funny old game, and optimism can be taken away from you very quickly. In January, Pearson was under an immense amount of pressure and described it as his ‘weakest’ point with a section of the supporter base calling for the sack. With a change in formation, a sale of Antoine Semenyo which helped with the finances, and an FA Cup run later, he is now seen as City’s best of guiding them to the top-flight, ending more than a 40-year await. It’s a long 46-game slog and there will be plenty of twists and turns, but as pre-season optimism goes, this really could be Bristol City’s year, but don’t let anyone else know, because being the dark horses suits them just nicely.