THE football is over for another season and now Tranmere manager Ronnie Moore has switched his attention to a different kind of game – contract poker.
The business of signing players for the new season at a price the club can afford is tricky at the best of times.
When the purse strings are squeezed tight for the fourth season in a row at Prenton Park, then the manager must play his hand with even greater care because scarcely a penny can be wasted.
When tabling offers for 2012/13 to five out of contract professionals this week, Tranmere made the first moves to keep skipper John Welsh, creative attacker Andy Robinson, defender Ash Taylor, full-back Dave Buchanan and veteran centre-back Ian Goodison at Prenton Park. The five are also able, if they choose, to exploit their status as free agents by talking to other clubs and perhaps seeking out better deals elsewhere.
Tranmere have exercised options on re-signing three players until the end of next season, right-back Danny Holmes, midfielder Lucas Akins and front man Adam McGurk.
Four senior players – goalkeeper Owain Fon Williams, defenders Michael Kay and Mark McChrystal and utility man Zoumana Bakayogo – are signed on contracts that run until next summer.
Three trainee scholars, Jake Kirby, Cole Stockton and Will Vaulks, graduated to first-year professional status this summer and midfielder Max Power signed for a second year as a professional last week.
That gives Moore a potential 16 players for next season provided – and it is a big if – the five senior men accept the terms offered to them.
Players and their agents have to be careful too, as they seek to maximise income in a shrinking market. Many have paid the price in recent years for holding out – in the hope of finding a better offer elsewhere – for so long that the parent club withdrew the original offer. Those that were still able to find a club ended up a good deal worse off than if they had accepted the original offer.
Moore has already talked about withdrawing the offers made this week after a short, unspecified time.
“It is like a game of poker and everyone is looking at their hand now and deciding how to play it,” Moore said. “As a club we have to make the first move by putting out the offers. It is human nature for players to shop around when they think they can put our offer in their pocket.”
Delay can be costly from managers when it means players targetted as potential new signings are quickly snapped up by other clubs. Supporters won’t be surprised by the identity of the five players offered new deals. They were among Tranmere’s most influential performers over the season. However, an eyebrow or two may be raised by the name of Ian Goodison, given the recent romours that he is considering retirement. The former Jamaican international will be playing through his 40th birthday if he carries on at Prenton Park next season. He already has 378 Tranmere appearances under his belt since signing in February 2004.
Moore however, is in no doubt that Goodison has another season of League One football in his legs.
“Goody is a one-off,” Moore said. “He is unique. He is not the best trainer in the world but he does the business in games, week in, week out. We have not offered him the ideal contract he was looking for. If he wants to carry on next season it will be an important year for him and I would like to think he would come back in the summer and do some pre-season training. He often misses that and pays the fine.”
By releasing seven players, Moore says he has given himself the opportunity to introduce new creative and attacking talent into the squad. “It does not mean we will be looking to sign seven new players,” Moore said. “It may be we will sign four or five and so give ourselves an extra bit of money to pay for the kind of players we are looking for. We will be knocking on as many doors as we can to see what we can find. The kind of players we are looking for, strikers and wingers with pace, tend to cost more and we don’t have a great deal to spend.”
Moore admitted that releasing the seven players this week was difficult.
“Every one of them gave me everything I asked for from the moment I came into the club in March,” Moore said. “I just needed to create some room in the budget.
“The fans might find that the new players we sign in the summer are of similar ability to those who left, but with different faces. It’s not as if we are going to find world beaters on the kind of money we are able to offer and I hope people realise that.”
SEASON TICKET sales for the 2012/13 campaign at Prenton Park are running close to 10% ahead of last year’s levels.
Tranmere officials made the calculation after the deadline for the best deals on season-ticket prices passed last Friday. It could be good news for Moore, who has been told that if season ticket sales exceed expectations, the extra cash will be directed into his budget for players.
Chief executive Mick Horton said: “We are delighted and thank all the supporters.
“Times are hard across the country, so it is particularly pleasing that we are up on last summer’s numbers at the same stage.”