Norburn, Brannagan, Sangare - no secret where Blackpool will be looking to strengthen in the summer

I’m sure Blackpool will be looking to make improvements right across the board ahead of next season, but there’s one position in particular which clearly has to be a priority.

Thursday, 14th April 2022, 9:00 am

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It’s no secret that during the last two transfer windows the Seasiders have attempted to bring in a new central midfielder.

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Oliver Norburn, of Peterborough United, also emerged as a leading target towards the end of January, but again circumstances conspired against them.

Despite Norburn insisting on a return to the North West for family reasons, Posh refused to let him go midway through a season when they’re in the midst of a relegation battle, which they’re well within their rights to do given they had only just handed their skipper a three-year contract at the start of the season.

Nevertheless, if you’re minded to believe Darragh MacAnthony and Barry Fry, an agreement was in place for Norburn to join the Seasiders at the end of the campaign.

Oxford United's Cameron Brannagan has been strongly linked with the Seasiders during the last two windows

He wasn’t officially a Blackpool player and yet he’s still having rotten luck with injuries! You really couldn’t make it up…

The news is a blow for the Seasiders, but I’m sure they have other targets in mind and shortlists already drawn up.

Some have questioned why Blackpool were willing to part with so much cash, stated as £800,000 by MacAnthony, for a player that turns 30 in October.

My understanding is that any agreed deal would have involved add-ons, instalments and so on, so I highly doubt it would have been that figure up front.

Given it was heavily rumoured that Blackpool were willing to pay as much as £1m for Brannagan a few months ago, that just shows you how keen Neil Critchley is to get the right man in the middle of the park.

Kevin Stewart, when fit, is their best performer in that area and I’m sure most would agree with that view.

But can he be relied upon to play 30 or 40 games a season? Unfortunately history would tell you no.

The 28-year-old, who is currently out with a quad problem, has only made 11 appearances for the Seasiders this season in another injury-hit campaign.

Kenny Dougall, on the other hand, certainly can be relied upon. He’s featured in around 90 games for club and country since joining the Seasiders at the end of October in 2020.

Perhaps he’s relied upon a bit too much though? While he was better against Blackburn Rovers last weekend, it’s fair to say he’s not been at his best in recent weeks and has looked a little jaded and perhaps in need of a rest.

Callum Connolly has shown he is more than capable when called upon, but is he going to be a regular first choice? He hasn’t been this season, so you suspect he won’t be next year either.

You’ve got Matty Virtue, Grant Ward and Sonny Carey to factor in as well, so Blackpool will have quantity when everyone is fit - albeit Ward is out of contract at the end of the season.

But the bigger question is, do they have the quality required to push on and help Blackpool take the next step in their development? We have to be brutally honest here and say no.

The Seasiders took a look at a trialist on Monday in the form of Newcastle United’s Mo Sangare, who is shortly expected to become a free agent.

The 23-year-old did himself no harm in the FA Lancashire Senior Cup semi-final defeat to Liverpool, where he was arguably Blackpool’s standout performer.

I thought he did okay, but I wasn’t wowed by his display. But then again it was an odd game - one where the Seasiders were well beaten 4-1 - and difficult to take any definitive conclusions away from.

You’ve got a team put together normally at the last minute with players who have rarely, if ever, played alongside each other, so there’s little to no understanding.

Liverpool, on the other hand, were well coached and you could tell they were supremely talented and well-coached, but more importantly a cohesive unit where each player knew their role down to a tee.

It’s also wrong to characterise Liverpool’s line-up as a bunch of kids either as it was their Under-23 side, not Under-18s, and players like Tyler Morton - who I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing on loan at Bloomfield Road next season - have already featured for Jurgen Klopp and the first-team.

Jarrel Quansah, an imposing centre-back, was another player that caught the eye. He’s already been included in some of Klopp’s squads too.

But back to Sangare, I don’t know the finer details of his trial period but I suspect Critchley and his staff will learn more about him from their training sessions, rather than a slightly peculiar cup tie.

He’s got an intriguing back story though. He only moved over to England from Liberia at the age of 14 and he was picked up while playing in a seven-a-side game by one of Newcastle’s scouts.

Whether Sangare is the player to take Blackpool to the next level, I don’t know. What I do know is that if the Seasiders are to close the gap to the top six next season, an improvement in central midfield is paramount.