Next season is going to be a defining one for Martin O'Neill, much like this summer is going to be a defining one for Randy Lerner and while I've predicted our finish for the last two seasons correctly, this next one is going to be too hard to predict. This early anyway.
One or two people have asked me who I'd like to see come in and while my top two are Ronaldo and Messi, I know that isn't going to happen and I don't need to explain why. However, that doesn't mean we can't get some very good players to join us and it doesn't mean we can't finish in the top six again or actually, do even better than we have the last two seasons. But as I write this, it does take a great deal of optimism.
It really does come down to quality. Tom Huddlestone, Jermaine Jenas and David Bentley have all been linked recently as has Steven Defour and they all have qualities that would strengthen our squad, one or two might even strengthen our first team, in fact three might and I think we need a minimum of three players to strengthen our first team if we are to do better than last season and that will also require a little luck too.
But this post isn't about looking at individual players. Instead, I'm going to do what I've done the past two seasons and look to the manager. He will determine where we will finish next season and he also knows exactly what is needed for us to kick on.
Regardless of the point difference, we stood still last season and I fear the knives may come out early for our manager next season if we are not seen to be getting better or we're in a dire position come December.
For us to get kick on, we need more quality. You could actually say that Randy Lerner holds the fate of his manager in his hands. O'Neill is good, we all know this, but he is no magician and he does need better players, if only because he has lost two of his first eleven before the season has even started, so by my maths, I'm saying we need one more quality player on the back of last season, just to stand still and give us a chance, it isn't much and it is more than possible.
Jenas is a prime example of what I think will be a good signing for us. He shows glimpses of what he is capable of every season and usually against the big teams. He is only 26 years old so he is still to peak and O'Neill could be the manager to make Jenas more consistent.
Bentley is another; at Blackburn he was picking up rave reviews almost every week but he made the wrong decision in joining Spurs when he did. Maybe Martin O'Neill could bring the best out of him also. Jenas coming in could be a direct replacement for Barry and Bentley coming in would be a direct replacement for Milner, who should move into a more central role with Petrov and Jenas. I think if we did that, we'd all be happy, wouldn't we?
But we only have eleven positions to fill and we can't make too many changes and that is already two positions changed and a different formation, because don't forget we have Ashley Young on the left, who else is there to bring?
Here is some real optimism for you; I don't want to change the back four. I want to keep Shorey and Bouma fighting it out for left back. I want to have Davies and Cueller at centre back and Luke Young at right back. Sure, by all means, bring in cover, but I want those four and I think those four can do a job for us. You might disagree, but I'm trying my best to be optimistic.
One thing that I think is important for next season is we don't make wholesale changes all at once. There has to be some level of continuity, so while I think we need five to kick on from last season and fight for a higher place, I'm assuming we are going to get three players that will start above players that finished the last season and I think, if we get those three players, we will stand a chance of finishing in the top six.
My third player would be Steven Defour but like I said, I wouldn't make wholesale changes and while this post is written in Utopia, I don't think we'll get Jenas, Defour and Bentley, it would just be great if we did as I think it more than possible, in so much that they would come to us; two of them have spoken about is this summer already.
I also think, if we are playing five in the middle, we don't need to worry about who plays up front just yet, as we've got Nathan, Gabby, Harewood and Carew and it is possible the manager will bring in Michael Owen.
Bottom line, it all comes down to Martin O'Neill. If he starts the season with the players that ended the last, I can see us getting ninth place. If he adds three more to our first team and they are real quality, then I think we can fight for top six again and maybe even fifth and I also think that is what we need to be aiming for. Too many changes can spoil things and make it even more difficult, but I think we also have to learn from last season.
In January, Arsenal made an inspired transfer and it helped them kick on. We need to use January this season. The last two seasons we've missed opportunities by not treating January with the respect it deserves. Arsenal have now shown us how important January was to them and Martin O'Neill has to use it too.
In my opinion we can consolidate top six next season, maybe even steal fifth. Hell we could win the league if the money was spent, because I think our manager can handle it, but we all know it isn't going to happen.
My point is, it isn't difficult to figure out where teams are going to end up even now, if you assume how much money they are going to spend. The Premier League is fairly predictable, so assuming we get three quality players, we should stand still and that is hoping they all stay fit and we have no need to change formation through the season.
If we get four or five, who knows, we could kick on. Less than three and I fancy we might go backwards. Naturally, there are loads of other things that could go wrong and probably will, but this is a fairly simplistic view, because it actually, isn't that difficult if it all plays out how it should, which again, it won't.
Now I leave you though, as I've waffled on again too much, but I just wanted to write, seeing as there isn't a rumour to be found about us this morning, that it is possible for next season and I'm more than optimistic, it's just that my optimism rests firmly on the amount of money Lerner is providing O'Neill and the managers ability to go spend it, so maybe now you will understand my worry.