WELL that’s another Â£2m shaved off the wage bill then. Gary O’Neil is poised to join rock bottom Premiership outfit West Ham after the clubs agreed an undisclosed fee – around the Â£1m mark – and the engine room enigma settled on personal terms on a two-an-half-year deal at Upton Park. He has had a medical and it just needs a bit of fine-tuning.
It will relieve some of the pressure on Tony Mowbray and along with David Wheater’s exit will free up some space in the wage bill to bring in a couple of stop-gaps to plugs some gaps in the squad and get us through this season until a more far reaching and managed makeover can be undertaken.
It also brings to an end the longest running transfer saga in Boro history. O’Neil has been reported as “unsettled” since the day after he arrived. Six successive transfer windows have come and gone in a flurry of tabloid tales linking him with pretty much every average team treading water in the lower half of the Premiership in need of an identikit versatile hard-working benchwarmer to make up the numbers.
Now I don’t mind O’Neil as a player. For all the slating he got at Boro he is not a bad player. He is industrious. He has good engines. He does a job. He was said in the coaching community to be “the most naturally fit man in football” (although that claim has been at odds with his increasingly frequent spells on the sidelines with knee/thigh/groin bone connected to the hernia bone style injuries). He never quite evolved into the goal-scoring midfielder we were told to expect but alongside a more creative presence he would probably be quite effective and efficient, even at the higher level.
Every team needs an energetic box-to-box battler who can run around a lot to no great effect – but not the tune of almost Â£40k a week. And there’s the rub.
After the hastily activated contract extension last January gave him a big pay rise that shattered the wage ceiling, O’Neil became Boro’s top paid player. But he is not a game changer. He is not a match-winner. And when you are shelling out a sum maybe ten times the Championship average wage, that’s exactly what you expect. You expect someone who can transform games by grabbing the midfield by the scruff of the neck, by moments of creative magic, by surging runs and visionary passes. And you expect goals. Not every week maybe, but every month would be nice.
He is not as good a holding midfielder as Nicky bailey. He is not as creative as Julio Arca. He is not as much as a battler as Barry Robson. He is not as fast and direct as Marvin Emnes. He isn’t really a flanker because he doesn’t have pace or a trick. He doesn’t get crosses in. His dead-balls are woeful. But boy, he can run all day. But that isn’t enough to justify top dollar.
For our bank-busting expenditure in this league we need someone with the galvanising impact of a Paul Merson, or in new money, an Adel Taarabt or Charlie Adam. In fact we got someone who runs around a lot without ever really influencing the game and they are ten a penny. Gary O’Neil could be replaced tomorrow by any one of an android army of equally industrious midfield eager beavers on a tenth of his wages.
We play teams every other week who have at least one well above average midfielder that would walk into our current team: Albert Adomah at Bristol; Wes Hoolahan at Norwich; Jonathan Howson at Leeds, Jimmy Kebe at Reading. All cost a fraction of what Boro have invested in Gary O’Neil, which with his initial Â£4m staged transfer fee and wages over four years must be pushing Â£10m.
It is important we get it right now. The club are borassic. We can’t afford to squander big money on players who don’t produce. We need to start getting more bang for our buck. The money saved in wages this week – probably the entire weekly total for some of the clubs with a rea scrapping for survival with – must be used effectively if we are to claw away from the relegation zone.
If we stay up we will be meeting Gary O’Neil again next year as the troubled ‘Appy ‘Ammers look doomed. If he plays (and he has a history of missing games against his former employers so who can say) will anyone notice?
SORRY this is a bit late but I went to see the kids battle to a gritty 1-0 win over Everton in the FA Youth Cup fourth round. A very polished first half saw Boro patiently pass Everton to death and carve out a string of chances but only score one goal (Charlie Wyke header, 20 minutes) then after the break they were battered by the Scousers for long spells but – unlike the first team – they resisted the pressure and held out.
Away to Forest in the next round.