The Yorkshire Post’s chief football writer Richard Sutcliffe sets the scene on the 2016-17 season for Yorkshire’s clubs.
Half of the county’s Football League members have changed manager since the curtain came down on last season, while Hull City have spent the past fortnight searching for Steve Bruce’s successor at the KCOM Stadium.
Throw in the fact that Barnsley, Huddersfield Town and Doncaster Rovers have also changed manager in the past 12 months and it paints a picture of upheaval across the Broad Acres.
That Carlos Carvalhal, a little under 14 months into his time at Sheffield Wednesday, is the county’s second longest serving manager behind Aitor Karanka merely underlines just how fast things have been moving of late in White Rose football.
This extends to the pitch, too, with four of those 10 clubs kicking off the season in a new division, as will York City and North Ferriby United in the National League. All this makes 2016-17 potentially one of the most fascinating seasons in many a long year.
Nowhere is this more the case than in the Premier League. For the first time in seven years, Yorkshire has two clubs in the top flight. Hull City’s play-off triumph, coming on the back of Middlesbrough clinching automatic promotion, was a welcome tonic for a county that has for too long struggled to punch its weight.
Mind, since May the fortunes of the Tigers and Boro could not have been more contrasting. Where Karanka has made astute additions with Alvaro Negredo and Victor Valdez bringing plenty of experience and quality to the Riverside, the summer in the East Riding has bordered on calamitous.
Mohamed Diame, City’s match-winner against Sheffield Wednesday, appears bound for Newcastle United to continue a miserable few weeks that has seen Bruce depart along with, as it stands right now, much hope of the Tigers beating the drop.
It has been a wreetched time on the banks of the Humber and Bruce’s successor has an almighty job on his hands. Long-term injuries to Michael Dawson, Allan McGregor, Moses Oduabjo and Alex Bruce combined with the lack of signings mean City were down to the bare bones even before Newcastle swooped to trigger a £4.5m release clause in Diame’s contract.
No wonder the joy and elation of May 28 has long since given way to deep sense of anxiety about just what lays ahead in a division that can be horribly unforgiving.
Contrast that doom and gloom with the feelgood factor on Teesside. Boro’s clinching of automatic promotion on the final day against Brighton has been followed by a productive close season.
Chairman Steve Gibson is clearly in no mood to let Middlesbrough waste this opportunity to re-establish the club at the top level and has backed Karanka with the huge riches that come with being in the Premier League these days.
Negredo is the marquee signing but midfielder Marten de Roon, a £12m capture from Atalanta, should also bring vital steel to the midfield.
Boro are also making strenuous attempts to bring in a centre-half, an attempt to sign Borussia Dortmund’s Neven Subotic having been frustrated by an injury to the Serbian international.
Into the Championship and Wednesday, beaten play-off finalists in May, seem the most likely side from within the county to challenge.
The Owls, after far too long in the doldrums, were a revelation last term as Carvalhal’s managerial savvy and the deep pockets of ambitious owner Dejphon Chansiri combined to bring the club to within 90 minutes of a Premier League return.
With a year together under their belts and a sense of belief restored, Wednesday look a good bet to go one better and claim an automatic promotion slot.
It will not be easy, of course. Newcastle United have bought well this summer, while Nigel Pearson’s arrival at Derby County and the presence of Norwich City back in the Championship means the race for the top two is likely to be keenly-fought.
But the addition of Steven Fletcher and Almen Abdi, plus the permanent capture of Daniel Pudil, make Carvalhal’s men a formidable force.
Elsewhere, Leeds United’s promise to refund season-ticket holders a portion of their outlay if the club finishes outside the top six adds an element of intrigue to 2016-17.
Garry Monk, an appointment that pleasantly surprised those same fans after earlier indications had suggested the club would look abroad, has brought in astute signings such as Kemar Roofe, Pablo Hernandez and Kyle Bartley. Even allowing for the departure of Lewis Cook for £6m to Bournemouth, United look stronger than this time last year but the play-offs may still be out of reach.
Huddersfield Town are another club that looks in healthier shape than 12 months ago. David Wagner has been embraced by supporters, who will this term benefit from the cheapest season-ticket deal in the Championship. Town can not compete financially with most of their Championship peers so have to try and do things differently, hence the influx of signings from abroad this summer.
Barnsley and Rotherham United complete the Yorkshire contingent in the second tier and the bookmakers do not seem to fancy either’s chances. Paul Heckingbottom’s men, though, could surprise a few sides after a recruitment drive that began early and has included a host of players who are hungry to prove themselves at this level. It has been a more frustrating summer at the New York with ambitious bids for Tom Bradshaw and Lee Gregory proving unsuccessful.
On paper, League One does not appear as strong as it was when clubs such as Southampton, Norwich City and Leicester City were passing through. Yorkshire’s two representatives, both under new management, will be looking to capitalise on that.
Sheffield United will start with high hopes under new manager Chris Wilder, especially after some much-needed goal-scoring support for Billy Sharp arrived in the form of Leon Clarke.
Bradford City, meanwhile, lost Phil Parkinson – the county’s longest serving manager at the time – to Bolton Wanderers. That has meant a summer of rebuilding for the club’s new owners, not least because three key figures in the side that reached the play-offs were loanees, and it will be fascinating to see how Stuart McCall fares in his second stint in charge at Valley Parade.
Doncaster Rovers, following two relegations in three years, fly the White Rose flag in the basement division and are strongly fancied to win an instant return. Let’s hope so, and that 2016-17 is a season to savour for Yorkshire football.