Once again Hull’s season has begun with a thin squad that a new manager is having to patch up as he goes, with any success despite, not because of, the club’s owners
25 August ~ The wearying effect of the Allam regime at Hull City is epitomised by them taking less than two months to turn new Russian manager Leonid Slutsky from a cheery breath of fresh air from the east into the deeply disillusioned figure he cut after last Saturday’s defeat at QPR. After building a successful career at CSKA Moscow and with the Russian national team, Slutsky spent many months intensively learning English and studying the game here as preparation for fulfilling his ambition of coaching in England. Sadly for him, it seems he has been sold a dud.
Rather than planning for immediate promotion back to the Premier League, acting chairman Ehab Allam has repeated the penny-pinching, chaotic pre-season that caused last season’s relegation. Then, it was Mike Phelan who was left to start the season with 12 fit first-team players. A remotely viable squad was only assembled in January, leaving Phelan’s successor, Marco Silva, too little time to pull off the minor miracle of keeping the Tigers up.
This time it is Slutsky who was left to preside over a pointless pre-season training camp in Portugal featuring untried youngsters, players who knew they were on the way out and just a handful that were ever likely to be regulars this season. Several weeks later Slutsky has still not been given the tools for the job.
Fifteen players left the club over the summer. At the time of writing only eight, mostly inexperienced, replacements have arrived (including two loans). Around £48 million has been received in transfer fees (not including the £20m plus from last January’s sales), only £10m of which has been reinvested. And that’s not to mention the parachute payments that give Premier League failures an unfair advantage over their Championship rivals, which City have sportingly opted not to use. Although plausible rumour has it that the club owners drew those funds in advance for other unknown purposes earlier in the year.
In these circumstances, the arrival of Swansea reserve left-back Stephen Kingsley this week felt like the first sign of the cavalry coming over the hill. More may well follow in the final days of the transfer window. But as Slutsky pointed out in his press conference last week, acquiring quality players at this late stage is difficult. At best, he will be left with the task of being a new manager, integrating a new team on the hoof with the season in progress. Slutsky also made clear that the situation was so dire at QPR that he was obliged to select players who were not fully fit. Two of whom, striker Fraizer Campbell and midfielder Kevin Stewart, failed to finish the match and will now be out for longer spells.
As far too dispiritingly often at Hull in recent years, the actual football game tonight against Bolton feels incidental to the off-field frustrations. Allied to the Allams’ unpopular membership-based ticketing policy which offers no concessions to the young and old, this disillusionment means the crowd will be low and many of those in attendance will be disgruntled. Despite it all, whichever players are available may well put in a spirited effort, as successive groups of them have done for several seasons now. Whether that, and the arrival of an actual recognised full-back, can cover up for the absence of any strikers remains to be seen. Paul Knott