The U’s new pulling power in the transfer market
- Credit: Andrew Partridge
July has only just arrived, but Colchester United’s squad for the coming season is already taking shape.
In fact, not many League One clubs, if any, have enjoyed such fruitful dips into the summer transfer market over the last few weeks.
It was perhaps beyond the wildest dreams of even the most ardent of Colchester United supporters, for all three of the loan players who arrived on the same day that Joe Dunne was installed as the new manager, on that landmark day of September 27, to return to the Essex club on permanent deals this summer.
But that is just what has happened.
When Dunne was elevated to the hot seat, and the trio of Jabo Ibehre, Craig Eastmond and Sanchez Watt were swiftly recruited just hours later, the U’s were stuck in the relegation mire, without a win all season.
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The transformation was quick, and dramatic.
Of course Dunne’s appointment was a key factor in the U’s sudden upturn in fortunes, following the traditional pattern of a new manager’s honeymoon period.
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But the three new boys were also a major reason why the U’s quickly shed their losers’ tag, becoming the in-form team of League One almost overnight.
Ibehre, on loan from MK Dons, gave the U’s an attacking edge, leading the front-line with power, pace and guile.
Meanwhile, it soon became obvious that the Arsenal loan duo of Eastmond and Watt were class acts on the League One stage.
Both Eastmond and Watt had virtually no hope of ever breaking into the Gunners’ first team on a regular basis, but they quickly blossomed in Dunne’s regime, where the emphasis was on attacking flair and slick passing.
Eastmond sat in front of the back four, spraying passes in all directions with accuracy and penetration, while winger Watt roamed the flanks, giving opposing full-backs a real roasting.
But just at the point where the U’s advanced into the top half of the table, for the one and only time in a troubled last season, progress was snuffed out and Dunne’s men began to slither back towards the relegation zone. It is no coincidence that the new downward slide arrived at the same time as first Watt, and then Eastmond, was lost to injury. Ibehre followed them out of Essex before Christmas.
Watt had scored two goals in seven outings, and set up a flurry chances for fellow team-mates with his darting runs and teasing crosses, when he damaged his hamstring.
Likewise, Eastmond’s season was prematurely ended by a metatarsal injury and Ibehre, whose game suffered following the loss of the Arsenal duo, also limped back to MK Dons.
Fortunately, the U’s managed to escape relegation, on the final day of the season.
And now, all looks very rosy for the 2013-14 campaign.
First Eastmond was signed, on a two-year contract, and then Ibehre also put pen to paper on a similar deal at the start of the U’s first week of pre-season training, joining up with the rest of the team in Ireland.
Most U’s fans would have settled for the return of this duo – ‘two out of three ain’t bad’ – was the popular view.
And yet last Friday morning, the third member of this dynamic triumvirate also pledged his long-term future to the U’s.
Flying winger Watt, released by Arsenal in the close-season, signed his own two-year contract.
It just shows that Colchester United, whose managers used to struggle to attract new players during the Layer Road days, when players had no training base and not even their own car parking space, is now a completely different proposition.
With an ambitious young manager at the helm, committed to an entertaining brand of football, and with a plush new training headquarters in place at Florence Park, Tiptree, Colchester United is now an attractive place to come and play football.
Eastmond, Watt and Ibehre could have chosen to sign for different clubs, that’s for sure.
But in the end they all chose the U’s.
As such, it is a tribute to owner and chairman, Robbie Cowling, and manager Joe Dunne, that talented players are flocking to the U’s.
Roll on next season!