Only twice this century have Bolton Wanderers gone the entire month of July without signing a single player: 2019-2020 and 2021-22.
The circumstances for that to have happened are quite different. It is the difference between could not and did not. It is the difference between life support and free will.
A couple of years ago we had very little hope of being able to exist in League One let alone compete. It was Bolton’s make or break summer. It was the culmination of years of decay, negligence and harm. It didn’t ‘sting’ because that would give off the sense that this was a sharp pain. This was dull, bruising and numbing to most, if not all, associated with Wanderers.
We didn’t choose to not sign anybody – we simply couldn’t.
Now, here we are – two years on. This isn’t the culmination of anything but more the creation of it. This isn’t make or break because ‘break’, for the time being, appears to have been a consequence eliminated from the rhetoric that does surround and will surround Bolton Wanderers. This is not the end of anything but the continuation of a ride back that is set to thrill and excite; and we’re only at the start.
We could’ve signed somebody – we simply didn’t.
“Preparation, preparation, preparation…”
Whether you believe that Wanderers should’ve added in certain areas already in this pre-season is besides the point. Our recent seasons have seen a necessity to bring people in just to put an XI on the pitch – this time, we get to choose. Your opinion might be that the squad is thin or the squad is weak in certain areas but, once again, it is besides the point. For the first time in an extremely long time, Bolton’s manager gets the luxury of choosing when to add or where to strengthen rather than having his decisions made for him due to a fundamental lack of basic recruitment and squad planning.
That is emblematic of the ownership of the club; in many ways. There could be things that concern you or things that you maybe even dislike. However, the underlying and key point is, for once, that there is a plan and there is a structure.
Last season was ridiculous.
The pandemic-enforced closure of the stadium meant that Bolton hovered above the League Two relegation zone in front of empty stands in a thoroughly depressing situation all-round before a run of form in the second-half of the season that could genuinely challenge any run of form in the history of the EFL brought about the most unlikeliest of promotions. It was unique, bizarre and extremely special.
We head into this campaign with a plan. The evolution of Evattism should continue to take hold of a squad that is led by a magnificent midfield. “Juego de posicion” is the often pretentiously used Spanish term to describe a style of play in which the speed of pass and angles of players allow the ball to simply be a tool that manipulate and disorientate the opposition in order to create space. No players should be in straight lines and there should always be a short option for the passer.
As with any sort of tactical innovation, it can be lambasted for its aforementioned pretentiousness but when effectively deployed, it is more than just “pass and move”; it is a complex and exciting tactic. However, the key word is complex. It takes time to do be able to do it in-game let alone perfect it; and let alone try and impose that in a League Two match.
Time, though, is something that Ian Evatt has now had. A lack of disruption to pre-season with little upheaval in terms of personnel as well as a full season putting these ideas across should mean that Evatt’s exciting young career continues to blossom.
The playoffs and back-to-back promotions aren’t out of reach for Bolton but it is going to take a lot for The Whites to break through a fairly free-spending division with nearly £10 million having already been spent in League One with just short of a month to go in the window.
A striker and a winger or two will probably be required as well as any replacements for any outgoing, dependant on the depth in that position. If Bolton do intend on being authoritative and establishing themselves as a contender this season then the development of Evatt’s system as well as a couple more incomings will be essential – it isn’t out of the question, though.
…And that’s what matters… it isn’t totally unreasonable. It’s a dream, it’s a goal and it’s attainable.
In order to truly understand the feeling among Bolton fans, the recent past must be remembered and understood. This club hadn’t just collapsed for a few years, it had disintegrated into almost nothing but dust. That is why, despite the seemingly impressive work being done by the current ownership, it is important to always have scrutiny.
That doesn’t mean overriding scepticism and cynicism should be the automatic response and reaction to anything the club do but it is important to be cautious about off-the-field matters.
…And that’s why the on-field excitement should remain loud and, maybe even, over-the-top. That’s football.
Football is the playground of the dreamer and, finally, Bolton Wanderers are giving us a chance and a reason to be that dreamer again.