Another summer arrives, and another star player leaves on a free. Speculation concerning another now in the last 12 months of his contract is also growing. It’s all painfully familiar.
James Norwood finally had his move to Ipswich confirmed on Monday night, but if you believe the press reports that surfaced months ago, this has long-since been done and dusted.
However, it’s a familiar feeling for us fans, one we have been used to before and a scenario that just keeps playing out year-after-year. Think as far back as Alan Mahon, Gareth Roberts and even Max Power. There’s almost certainly more.
Cook, 2018. Norwood, 2019. Connor Jennings, 2020?
Before we go on, this article isn’t about how we should be breaking the bank or stretching resources to tie key players down. We absolutely shouldn’t. The opposite, actually. It’s about protecting the commercial value of the club’s prized assets.
Andy Cook had a mixed first season at Prenton Park having joined in 2016, but it was clear early in the 2017/18 season that he was a key player. Arguably, it was evident a year earlier that he was good enough to be a hit at Rovers.
However, as he smashed the goals in during Tranmere’s promotion season from the National League, seemingly nothing was happening on the contract front. By the time the season had ended, his stock was so high that we had no chance of keeping him with his contract running so low.
If Walsall hadn’t offered him League One football, Salford were willing to offer him big money to go to the National League.
So, what of Norwood?
Nors joined from Forest Green in May 2015, Tranmere’s first signing of the non-league era. He was popular from the off, and while his improvement in the last 12-18 months has been marked, his deal was extended in December 2016 to keep him at Tranmere until now, 2019.
Given that Cook had gone and Rovers needed stability as they entered League Two last year, extending Norwood’s deal again should have been top priority 12 months ago. If we’re honest, it should have once again been done in the December (2018) rather than take this risk of entering the last year of his deal at all. Maybe it was and it wasn’t signed, but nothing ever suggested that this was the case.
Instead, we’ve got to June 2019 and Norwood has gone. At what point did Rovers open negotiations with Norwood? Was it as late as the New Year when that odd twitter message with a photo of pen was sent by Nicola Palios to Norwood? Who knows. Let’s hope it was much earlier.
If this move was agreed as far back as some suggest, you’d hope the club would have proactively identified targets and gone out and done similar – ready to pull the trigger once Norwood did leave. Perhaps our play-off involvement slowed that down, or re-focussed it, but being on the front foot is vital. Time will tell whether that has been done.
The club has been riding the crest of a wave after back-to-back promotions. The moves it makes over the next few weeks are going to be pivotal. To continue momentum, boost inward investment opportunities and continue strong ticket sales, on-pitch assets need to be in place and tied down.
We also need to be mindful about what we’re losing off-the-pitch. Whoever replaces Norwood, Tranmere would do well to be mindful about how important Nors was to our young fans. He was far and away the most popular Rovers player for many a year with the younger generation, and if the club keep stats about such things, it’s likely his name on replica shirts would be far and away the most popular for some time. Ironically, probably only Cook and Jennings rival that in recent times.
We’re not a Premier League club and individuals will not have the commercial pull of players at that level, but let’s not underestimate how much losing Cook and Norwood in the space of 12 months will disappoint our younger fans. The much-marketed SWA2 needs personalities that kids can adore on and off the pitch – although, we’re moving in to another conversation altogether here.
With the Cook and Norwood departures fresh in the mind, you’d like to think lessons are learned and new contracts are in place with those we consider important enough.
Yet Connor Jennings – the man who scored that goal at Wembley a couple of weeks ago – has now entered the last 12 months of his own contract and has reported interest from a host of so-called bigger clubs. Even if cash bids came in tomorrow, by the virtue of being in the last year of a deal, our negotiation position is surely weaker? If it gets to Christmas and no new deal is in place, Rovers will surely have missed the boat again.
Let’s hope the club tighten up in this department. It could feasibly undo so much good work that has gone on. We got away with losing Cook, will we do the same with Norwood now gone?