Where Blackpool's new boss Michael Appleton will be looking to strengthen in the transfer market

A major part of Michael Appleton’s work this summer will revolve around recruitment.

Wednesday, 22nd June 2022, 2:08 pm

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Prior to Neil Critchley’s sudden departure, it was already common knowledge at Bloomfield Road that the Seasiders - as well as they did in their first season back in the Championship - were in need of extra quality.

It was a running theme of Blackpool’s campaign that they would largely perform well and remain competitive in games, but would often lack that cutting edge in the final third to find that breakthrough and swing the momentum in their favour. Goals change games, as we know.

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Saying that, the Seasiders are already in a strong position in terms of numbers. This summer will surely be a case of adding quality, rather than quantity, as the squad is already looking pretty bloated as it is.

By the latest count, Pool already have 25 ‘senior’ players (those aged 21 and above) contracted for the upcoming season and beyond.

Obviously there’s flexibility and you don’t have to name all 25 in the official squad list, which must be submitted once the transfer window closes on September 1. But you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out there’s likely to be departures as well as arrivals.

The list of 25 includes players like Bez Lubala, who doesn’t appear to have a future with the club, and new signing Doug Tharme, who is now in training with his new teammates having been loaned back to Southport for the second half of last season.

Michael Appleton will be on the lookout for quality additions in the transfer market

Elsewhere, you have a player like Oliver Casey, who the club looked to loan out during the January window only for a move never to materialise. Whether Appleton concurs with the view that Casey needs to drop down to get regular game time to continue his development, we’ll have to wait and see. But he could be one of two or three that leave the club temporarily.

If we assume Josh Bowler is still set to depart, and I’ve been given no reason to believe that won’t be the case, that could, potentially, create four or five spaces for the Seasiders to bring in reinforcements when you factor in other potential outgoings.

Having worked closely with Appleton during his loan spell at Lincoln City, where he helped the Imps reach the League One play-off final, the Man City winger now has extra motivation to make the move to Bloomfield Road.

Elsewhere, the club is now entering its third consecutive transfer window where they will be aiming to strengthen in central midfield.

Conor McGrandles, a player who recently opted to leave Lincoln on a free, is understood to be a player under consideration. Another former Imp in Jorge Grant, now on the transfer list at Peterborough United, has also been mentioned inside the offices of Bloomfield Road. And dare we even mention Cameron Brannagan?

What Blackpool need is a midfielder who they can rely on to play 30 to 40 games a season. McGrandles certainly offers that, having made 95 appearances across all competitions for the Imps during his two years with the club.

Having that reliability will prove priceless when you consider Kevin Stewart, an excellent combative midfielder, remains frustratingly injury prone, while Matty Virtue and Sonny Carey are still working their way back to full fitness.

Pool will also need cover at right-back following Dujon Sterling’s return to Chelsea. I think it would be unwise for the Seasiders to limit their recruitment to former Lincoln players, but Arsenal’s 18-year-old Brooke Norton-Cuffy was a revelation at Sincil Bank last season and would certainly fit the bill.

Over on the other side, it will be fascinating to see what Appleton does with his left-backs, given there are already three in the building. Are they all required? On the face of it, three seems like a bit of a luxury, especially when space is already tight in the squad.

Saying that, Reece James does offer versatility and there was a point last season where all three were out of action at the same time, so you just never know.

One of Appleton’s main strengths as a head coach is that he’s incredibly well connected. His use of the loan market at Lincoln in particular was hugely impressive.

He would often turn to West Brom, for example, as he enjoys a strong relationship with his former club having played there before returning to coach and work in the academy. I’m not sure that relationship will continue to be as strong now he’s managing in the same division as the Baggies, but you never know.

Given Blackpool’s size and stature in the Championship, and when you consider Critchley’s connections with Premier League academies, especially those in the North West, I was surprised the club didn’t utilise the loan market more last season.

Sterling and Tyreece John-Jules came in from Chelsea and Arsenal respectively, while Ryan Wintle (Cardiff City), Owen Dale (Crewe Alexandra) and Charlie Kirk (Charlton Kirk) all came in from fellow EFL sides.

Realistically, if Blackpool are going to compete in the Championship they’re going to have to make the most of their loan signings, take advantage of their location in the North West and look at the best young talent from sides in the Premier League.

Of course, in a perfect world every player in the squad would be your own. But are Blackpool going to attain the level of quality of a player like Sterling or Rogers, to name just two, on a permanent deal? It’s highly unlikely.

Yes, Appleton’s remit is to develop young players and sell them on for a profit later down the line. But he can still do this while complimenting the squad with a sprinkling of added quality across the board.

Let’s not forget how instrumental the likes of Dan Ballard, Jordan Gabriel, Elliot Embleton and Ellis Simms were during Blackpool’s promotion from League One. And look how well Nottingham Forest used the loan market last season to help earn promotion to the Premier League.

One player who will arrive this summer is Harvey Hughes, from Portsmouth, as reported by our sister paper Portsmouth News. The 18-year-old left-back will link up with Blackpool’s development squad when his contract at Fratton Park ends at the end of the month.

But aside from that, we’re still waiting for the first real sign of movement.