In previous years, a pre-season defeat to Telford would have been the catalyst to a good old fashioned social media meltdown. It happened two summers ago when we lost 3-1 to the same opposition, with fans questioning why we’ve given the job to another rookie in Sam Ricketts. But this time, we were far too pre-occupied by news of the bombshell takeover bid to give even a passing thought to a paltry friendly. Just about the only man who was talking about football that evening was Dean Keates, who, when asked about his squad for the upcoming season, said “We’ve got two players for every position.” It was a typically dry, unvarnished response from the gaffer. But what he was really saying, of course, was: “We’ve got two players for every position who are good enough to start.”
Certainly when you look at our midfield options this season, he seems to have a point. First of all, last season’s best player by a country mile, Luke Young, is still here. Given how last year unfolded – and the way much of the squad downed tools under Bryan Hughes – Young tops a very short list of players who can hold his head high for the way he conducted himself. Like Shaun Pearson, Young has made Wrexham his home and the people have taken to him with open arms. Despite many new arrivals this year, you have to think the two-time consecutive Goal of the Season winner is still one of the first names on the team sheet. It’s also nice to know there’s a guaranteed worldie coming at some point this season.
Jay Harris returned in January, but barely had a chance to get in his stride before the season was curtailed. He’s 33 now, but will have lost none of the bite and passion that made him a fan favourite during his first five year spell with the club. He won two consecutive promotions with Tranmere in 2018 and 2019, playing in a similar 4-4-2 system to the one Keates is looking to employ this season. Even if he’s not a nailed on starter every game, his experience will be invaluable to a squad with few promotions to their name overall.
Similar to Harris, Dan Jarvis was another player snapped up by Keates in the January window. From what little we saw of him, despite having not played many senior first team games in his entire career, he looked like a player of real quality. More technically gifted than anyone in last season’s squad, Jarvis wasted little time striking up partnerships with the likes of Davis Keillor-Dunn (now at Oldham) and Jordan Ponticelli. You get the impression he is someone who could be a genuine superstar at this level (and above) under the right set up. But will that be the case in a Dean Keates 4-4-2? It might not be perfect for Jarvis, but he will find a way of making things happen wherever he plays.
When Devonte Redmond signed a two year deal with the club last summer, it was viewed as a real coup. Having come through the Manchester United academy, he’d just propelled Salford to a play-off final win against AFC Fylde. Expectations were high. Perhaps they were too high. At the start of the season, Redmond was deployed as a central attacking midfielder in Bryan Hughes’ lopsided 4-2-3-1 formation. Longing to play deeper, he struggled to influence games and was often reduced to the role of passenger. He was in and out (but mostly out) of the team for the rest of the season. With expectations tempered and just a year left on his contract, I expect to see big improvements to Redmond’s game this season, if he is given a sustained chance.
Since Elliot Durrell first left Wrexham in 2015, there was a sense that we never saw the best of him in a red shirt. A sensation at Hednesford Town, his first spell at the Racecourse was blighted by fitness issues. Since then, he has impressed at numerous clubs, but garnered rave reviews for his performances at Macclesfield when they won the National League in 2018. There, he was often deployed wide right in a 4-4-2, which is exactly where you would expect him to play this season. Last year he saw game time hard to come by at York City, but a move to Altrincham proved a springboard for his return to Wrexham – bagging a number of crucial goals (including two against Chester) on their way to promotion.
Jordan Davies is the third new signing who has returned to the club after years away, though his is a different story to Harris and Durrell. A product of Wrexham’s youth academy, Davies was sold to Brighton before he could make his senior debut. Three and a half years later, he will be looking to prove himself in the men’s game the same way Jarvis is doing. Whisper it quietly, but this could end up being another really good signing. However, a bit of patience might be needed.
In the stats obsessed sport of baseball, there was once a player whose batting record was so average, an entire branch of analysis was named after him. It was known as ‘The Mendoza Line.’ Any player who fell below the line was informally deemed not good enough for Major League Baseball. At Wrexham we have our own version of ‘The Mendoza Line’ and his name is Paul Rutherford. Not necessarily in terms of hard numbers, but what’s required of a player when it comes to application and effort. Any winger at Wrexham who finds that they are: A) not scoring enough goals, or B) not assisting or creating enough chances, have tended to find themselves dropped in favour of Rutherford’s industriousness. He’s never been first choice at the start of a season but always ends up first choice by the end of it. That says a lot about the quality of players signed in recent years, but it says just as much about Rutherford himself. After all, there’s a reason this will be his fifth season at the club and there’s a reason he’s featured under seven different managers. Just what exactly are Jack Mackreth, Callum Powell, Jonathan Franks and Ben Tollitt up to these days? Rutherford won’t drive the team to promotion himself, but he will make sure those who might be capable of doing so remain on their toes.
Anthony Jeffrey nearly drowned trying to earn a contract with Wrexham, and the footage of him submerged underwater during the club’s gorge walking excursion ended up being one of the greatest twitter signing reveals of all time. We’re just hoping his spell at Wrexham hasn’t peaked before it’s even begun. In the friendly footage, Jeffrey has looked promising. Reports from his previous club’s paint a picture of inconsistency, but isn’t that every winger in the National League? He has pace to burn and a willingness to beat full backs, get to the by-line and put a cross in. Wrexham have been crying out for a player like this. Let’s hope he lives up to the billing. He has to be a favourite to start on the left side of midfield this Saturday.
Summary: On paper, there’s more creativity in this squad than we’ve had for a number of years. The lack of a defensive midfielder is a worry for some. But remember, James Horsfield – who we covered in the defenders edition – is also capable of slotting into the middle of the park. Feasibly, any of these might start our first game, with Luke Young the only one you’d consider a guarantee.