League One looks set to be a highly competitive division in 2016-17.Many punters will look at the likes of Millwall, Sheffield United and MK Dons as favourites for promotion, whilst newly promoted teams such as Bristol Rovers and Oxford will be hungry for more success. Last year's 'nearly' teams such as Scunthorpe, Coventry, Walsall and Gillingham will also look to go even further this time around. Fans of every team will be hoping that their manager has unearthed some gems to fire them to success, and these three signings are amongst the best deals done so far this summer.
Nicky Ajose to Charlton Athletic
Nicky Ajose has had quite the journeyman career to date. His summer move to Charlton Athletic means that, despite only being 24 years old, he has now taken in 11 clubs, of which 7 (including his first spell with Swindon Town) have been loan moves. A player with such a nomadic background might usually be scouted with caution, but in Ajose's case he is very much a player whose stock is on the rise. Swindon came calling last September after Leeds agreed to mutually terminate the forward's contract, and even the most optimistic Robins fan wouldn't have expected the season that followed. Ajose's eventual haul of 24 league goals was bettered only by a flaming hot Will Grigg, even though Swindon themselves struggled with mediocrity.
Charlton, unfortunately, are a club on a downward spiral. The controversial and turbulent ownership of Roland Duchatelet has forced the loyal Addicks fan base into matchday protests at a perceived lack of investment, out of touch attitude towards fans by the board, and general mismanagement. One area where this has hit hard is the obvious lack of a goalscorer on the pitch in the last few years. Since Bradley Wright-Phillips netted 22 the last time Charlton were at League One level, no player has managed more than 12 in a single league campaign (and that was a midfield player, Johnnie Jackson) and last season’s top scorer only registered 6 goals. Ajose will certainly be aiming to match Wright-Phillips’ total and maybe even become a Charlton hero in the process.
Sheffield United endured another underwhelming season last time out. Seen by many as the biggest club to play in the division, they now face their 6th straight year at this level. They will fancy their chances at another promotion attempt in 2016-17 and midfield signing John Fleck could be a catalyst to achieve this, having been Player of the Year at Coventry City last season, as the Sky Blues narrowly missed out on the Play Offs.
A highly rated talent since his days as a youth player at Rangers, Fleck never went on to forge his career north of the border due to insolvency of The Gers in 2012. He moved to Coventry that summer and has since built up considerable League 1 experience, making 162 league appearances over 4 seasons at Coventry. Although at times inconsistent, he seems to have flourished as time has gone on, making the most of his technically excellent playmaking skills and strong left foot. He will look to add more goals to his game but if he continues in the same vein of form this season as he ended last season in, Sheffield United have arguably bagged the best midfielder in the division.
Admittedly, this is not the most obvious name to include in this list. A free transfer, whose only experience of first team football at any level has been fleeting loan spells at Blackpool and Barnsley, Rothwell’s arrival at Oxford United over the summer may not have captured the headlines but there are good reasons for including him in this list.
Ultimately, teams at League 1 level don’t have the biggest budgets to work with. Oxford’s will have been nicely supplemented by the profitable departures of Kemar Roofe (Leeds) and Callum O’Dowda (Bristol City) but they will know as well as anyone that they shouldn’t rush into the spending game. A lot of the time the canniest signings at this level are the players who arrive having not quite made the grade at Premier league clubs and are looking for a new arena to hone their skills in. Roofe was a prime example of this, having left West Brom after a series of unmemorable loan moves to become one of the Football League’s hottest prospects.
Joe Rothwell has what it takes to be the next Kemar Roofe. He has learned his trade from arguably the best footballing academy in the country, having been with Manchester United from the age of 6. Although he never made it onto the pitch competitively, he was named in a matchday squad as recently as March, suggesting that he had good admirers within the Old Trafford ranks. His pedigree has also been recognised at international level, featuring at U-16, U-17, U-19 and U-20 level for England. Style wise, he is a very competent playmaker, combining a clever range of passing with dynamic running and a high work rate.
His loan moves may have been underwhelming so far, but he is definitely highly rated and one for the future. Oxford may well have secured themselves a bargain.
Do you agree with these choices? Let us know in the comments below!