Torquay United have taken a calculated gamble on the 2020-2021 National League season starting on time by drawing up their player ‘retained list’ before the final details of this campaign have been thrashed out.
The Gulls are poised to announce the list this weekend but they have offered most of their current squad the security of new contracts, which will start when the government-backed ‘furlough’ scheme ends.
But no-one yet knows when that will be. Or if there will be any more (play-off) action for this season. Or even whether next season will start on its scheduled date of Saturday, August 8.
Despite the NL’s canvassing of opinion over how to finish their curtailed 2019-202 season, Play-offs are looking increasingly doubtful.
That’s mainly because the noises coming from the Football League (EFL), where they have to find an ‘extra club’ to make up for the demise of League One Bury, are that League Two’s bottom club Stevenage will be spared relegation.
Then, only one club (Barrow) will be promoted to League Two, rendering any NL play-offs unnecessary.
Torquay plan to be among next season’s promotion contenders, so they have allowed manager Gary Johnson to try and be a leader in the player recruitment drive rather than a follower.
He has 17 players under contract, all but four ending this Saturday (May 2).
They are goalkeepers Shaun MacDonald and Lucas Covolan, defenders Ben Wynter, Kyle Cameron, Liam Davis, Ryan Dickson and Louie Slough, midfielders Asa Hall, Jake Andrews, Matt Buse, Kalvin Kalala, Armani Little, Aaron Nemane and Ben Whitfield and strikers Jamie Reid, Jared Lewington and Olaf Koszela.
Dickson has effectively been released already, and four of the other 16 are believed to have deals which cover next season.
Johnson has made offers to most of the remaining 12 in an effort to keep together the group he has built over the past 18 months.
He believes he has the basis of a promotion squad, especially with three or four new ‘marquee’ arrivals and some more of the loan signings which have served United so well over the last two seasons.
They might include returns for some of the six current loanees - Connor Lemonheigh-Evans and Robbie Cundy (Bristol City), Frank Vincent (AFC Bournemouth), Joe Lewis (Swansea City), Jackson Longridge (Bradford City) and Ade Azeez (Newport County).
Johnson is unlikely to be throwing money around, far from it.
The marketplace is nervous, to say the least. Clubs have been pushed to the limits of their financial capability or beyond during the current ‘shutdown’ and that may well force down wage offers.
Many clubs will release all their players and hope to assemble new squads when the proverbial dust swirling around the game has settled.
United have already done much of the groundwork on their transfer targets, although Johnson accepts that the reverse may be happening with clubs interested in some of his own key players.
In these unprecedented times, everyone in football is entering the most difficult close-season in living memory...