Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Saturday, September 2, 2023

The curious case of Rob Apter (What are we? )

Last night I joked with someone that 'we'd probably let Apter go out on loan just to piss me off' Lol. Banter. What are we like eh? 

Then we actually did that.

I'm still fuming about it. It might seem a bit weird to pick a kid who hasn't actually done anything yet to lose your shit over, but I've thought it through and I'm still hopping mad. 

Apter is literally the embodiment of the vision we stated we had when Sadler took the club over. I've seen 4 games this year and we haven't scored any goals. (It was my luck to be on holiday for the week we scored 5) We've looked timid, cautious, lacking in technique in certain positions when receiving and moving with the ball and we've also played games where we've been crying out for a different threat to break down teams late in the game.

We can rage back and forth about notions of 'ambition' and that can get very binary and very murky and everyone falls out but risking a player like Apter costs us absolutely nothing. It's a free hit. He doesn't even count towards the squad numbers. Pretty much everyone wants to see him have a go. I wasn't the only one who waited to see him come on when we were 5-0 down and it was late and I had a 3 hour drive home and had to get up at 6 in the morning. That's a sign that the fan base rate him. Football fans can be unreasonable but they're also, by definition, into football and one of the glories of football is, it's actually quite accessible. It's not 4d chess. It's not Brian Cox banging on about particle physics. Most fans can spot a half decent player and most of us have seen something in Apter. 

It's a good move for Rob, I get that, but how he hasn't had more minutes and a chance to stake his claim, is, in my humble opinion, bizarre (and that's me carefully choosing an adjective), at a club where the owners stated vision is to develop youth talent and the manager's stated goal is 'front foot football' and who is also on the record as not wanting to put too much faith in loans and to prefer having 'our own players'

How does that then square with the fact our two best young players are not here (Moore and Apter) and our other talented one (Holmes) can't even get a gig on the bench when there's no one else to play his position? Why? 

I've seen Rob play maybe about 11 or 12 times, maybe a bit more. I'm adding up preseason, youth games that were streamed and his odd appearances for the first team. He's clearly got some ability. At Wolves, he gave us, for 15 minutes, a bit of tempo. The other players perked up, we held the ball better, because he wasn't frightened to receive it and hold/turn. He wasn't frightened to make direct runs at them either. He gave us, relative to other players who've played this year, an outlet. There was a sense that he made us a better team for that brief period because he constantly showed for it and was good enough to at very least give and go and make another pass. In some of our attacking play, that basic element has not been present. Apter looked to have some confidence. A bit of self belief. His attitude was 'fuck it, I'm going to score or make a goal' and in a game that isn't actually as complex as sometimes we make it out, it's quite handy to have that kind of intent and instinct, especially when you've not seen much sign of it all for ages... 

Granted, my impressions of Rob are fleeting ones. I actually have no idea if he's going to make a long term impact because technique alone isn't always enough but part of what makes football worth watching is seeing narratives like young players testing their mettle and I've not been as interested to see one get a chance for ages.

I'm excited to see Dembele, don't get me wrong... but I'm absolutely shocked that his incoming means Apter's outgoing - as if we can't have more than one creative player at any one time. It's also true to say that he's not our player and if the model is develop and cash in and incrementally improve then Dembele doesn't really add anything to that long term vision. 

In this league, we're not a little plucky success story. We're actually a relatively medium to big fish. There are teams who we need to get at, teams we need to blow away with quick, skilful attacking football, dogged defences we need to unlock with movement and interchanging and angles. We need pace, verve, energy and invention. Apter possesses that.

I feel like I don't know what we're trying to do. We've got a load of fairly middle aged players (by football standards) and a couple of slightly younger ones and one or two older ones. We've played boring and not particularly effective football in all the games I've seen so far.

I look at other squads and I see them embracing young players. I see fan bases who are enjoying that but meanwhile we're playing a cautious brand of football with some honest, but not particularly thrilling players. I can see us improving, but I don't see the thrilling football team lurking inside what I've seen so far. 

Apter made his debut 3 seasons ago. He then played in the Championship. We won the game he started and he set up a goal when he came on. I'm looking at players who, to be honest, I'd have to go and look up to find the last time they actually did anything for us. 

It's far too reductive simply to say 'fans just want signings' and 'fans are entitled' 

I'm not at all into the idea of buying the league. It actually doesn't interest me. I like seeing players grow and develop. I like seeing players who didn't fit elsewhere coming good. I like the feeling of winning because of tactical nous and bravery. I like the feeling of winning because we try harder or are more together than the other team. I like the notion that sometimes, the other team can have better players but the best team wins. I honestly don't mind losing when we've done our best and it just didn't happen. I don't mind losing when we played well last week because 'you can't win them all' or you think 'an off day' and you look forward to the next game. 

I like the idea that when the game kicks off, you don't know. I'd actually hate to support Man City. Genuinely.

I look at us right now though, and I don't understand what it is we're trying to do. Critchley keeps saying things like 'I want us to be us' and I actually don't know what he means. I know Lavs is waspish, Grimmy has a beard and mostly sleeps and Matty Virtue often doesn't quite score the goal his bustling intent nearly creates but it feels slim pickings in terms of definable character.

'Us' - what is that? Anyone? shapethegrouponandofftheballinandoutofpossessiononthegrassmomentsofqualitygoodpositions etc. Rinse. Repeat. What are we actually aiming for? For what it's worth, I understood the Appleton idea. It just didn't work often enough. I'm struggling to follow the logic of playing a defensive midfielder/utility right sided centre back on the left wing and so on and so forth. 

I actually think we've got a decent enough squad in some respects. It feels as if we're short of maybe 3 pieces of quality and that that quality would in turn, bring out a lot of the quality in the players we already have. Players with reasonable all round quality need players whose attributes are skewed in one particular direction. For every Connolly you need a Bowler so to speak. For every Turton, you need a Madine is a another way of looking at it. 

What is frustrating is that Apter looks to me like at least half of one of those pieces of quality. He has something a bit different to offer. Letting him go out seems fearful. It seems risk averse. It seems to smack of 'we've got too many senior pros and we don't want to upset them by giving Rob a bench place or a game ahead of them' - it seems like the easy way to go, the way you'd go if you wanted a quiet life... 

I've been baffled by some of the tactical choices we've made and I've been baffled by our reluctance to use some of the squad and I'm baffled when I look at players like Apter (and to an extent Dale and the way we use Carey as anything but what he is good at and a different thing every other week) and I then look at other teams and see them doing those things and enjoying themselves.

I know Apter doesn't fit a conservative 532 particularly, but again, if it was up to me, (granted, I'm neither a holder of an Elite Pro Licence nor in the employ of any professional football club,) I'd want my substitutes and fringe players to have the ability to give us options. Flexibility was, after all one of the key elements in our previous successes under Crithley. Apter, Carey, Dale and Dembele all strike me as players who could make, say, 4231 work in certain circumstances and whose youthful zest and/or technical ability could be helpful in feeding a clinical and  but somewhat aged striker in Rhodes. 

I think I'm probably more pissed off by this than even watching Mick have Curtis Nelson drill long balls at Ian Poveda because things had clearly spiralled out of control and the car was on fire and that happens sometimes and when it does, you just have to hope it's over quickly and you can salvage something from the wreckage. 

This season seems like a calculated plot to not take any risks at all and I frankly don't understand it, especially in the light of the fact that last season, when we did chuck in the kids, we actually improved and looked at valid proposition after months of being dysfunctional. I'm not writing this blog to have a go at players but some of the 'established' players have been poor for a long time. 

I think it's important sometimes to wonder if the noise about money obscures the fact that money has to be used well. Don't get me wrong, I think we needed to be a lot more active in the market, but also, I'm looking at our players and I'm not convinced we're making the best of them and I'm certainly not convinced that we've taken the chance of a reset and a return to the vision of the club as outlined at the outset of the new era. 

If we're not going to trust some of the youth OR make signings to fill some of the gaps then what are we expecting to see as a result? Granted, Gabriel and Joseph will improve us a lot but they're nowhere near fit. 

I honestly don't know how 'Lavery pressing until his hamstring goes again whilst we stay as solid as we can' is going to propel us up the league. I could be wrong. I am often wrong. I want to be wrong.  

I genuinely hope that having written this that my words are shoved down my stupid blogger throat and we win the next 20 games 10-0. 


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