Why Bristol Rovers Have Dropped The Ball

As I write this the shock news surrounding Bristol Rovers has yet to subside. In the last few hours the galling news has broke that star striker Matty Taylor has become the first player since 1987 to directly cross the Bristol divide and join bitter rivals Bristol City. The fee appears to be roughly £300K, which is believed to have been the clause inserted in his contract.

Whilst the entire move is a hammer blow for the high flying Rovers, the timing of the move is especially troubling. The fact the move was finalised late afternoon on transfer deadline day is especially hard to take as it leaves Rovers almost no time to find an adequate replacement. It appears from the fans perspective that every part of this move has seen Rovers drop the ball massively, effectively shooting itself in the foot.

Whilst it’s understandable if Taylor had a clause in his contract the club had no authority to stop him talking to potential other clubs, however why was this clause needed in the first place? And for such a paltry sum? Whilst it’s true Taylor could have left the club on a free last summer when his contract expired, he was persuaded to sign a new deal which I am told made him the clubs highest paid player since cult hero Rickie Lambert.

When negotiating this new deal it seems unfathomable to the ordinary fan that a buy out clause with such a low value would be agreed and inserted into the contract. Without this clause and with his goal scoring form this season, 16 goals in 29 games, he could have easily fetched between £1 and £2.5 million from prospective buyers. Even going back to last summer and before his 16 goals this season, surely £300K was a very low value for a player who was the top scorer in League Two last season with 27 goals.

Along with this, was there anything the club could have done to tempt Taylor into staying with the blue side of Bristol, especially considering the current position of the club. After back to back promotions for the first time in a very long while the club has real forward momentum and has performed admirably in the first half of this season. With a largely similar squad manager Darrell Clarke has taken them from the Conference to the brink of the League One play-offs, all in two and a half seasons.

In comparison Bristol City have been on a very poor run of form recently which has seen them plummet from play-off contention into a relegation battle. At this moment after 27 games they sit 21st in the league and are only two points above the drop. With key games coming up against Sheffield Wednesday and bottom club Rotherham this week the club need to gain some positive momentum of their own if they don’t want to be sucked into the drop zone.

The current fortunes of both clubs therefore makes this move even more puzzling. Whilst it’s true at the moment City are the higher rated club who have more money to spend and have a better team than Rovers, but the clubs are not a world apart. It could be entirely possible both could be playing each other in the league next season, games that would surely prove to be very bitterly contested. Also with Rovers recent new owner Wael Al-Qadi the club have new investment which would likely mean that the extra money Taylor would make at City would not be a world away from his wages at Rovers.

It’s rumoured that former professional Danny Coles is the agent for Taylor, which is the only factor which makes sense so far in this transfer. Coles played for both City and Rovers in his playing career and it’s largely felt that he left Rovers in an unsavoury fashion. His relationship with Rovers was likely not helped by his celebrations in front of Rovers fans when scoring the eventual winner for Forest Green Rovers when the two played in the Conference in October 2014.

Rovers had the last laugh however when they comfortably knocked out Forest Green and Coles in the play-offs 3-0 over two legs later on that year, as the club earned immediate promotion back into the Football League. Whilst it’s unclear if he had any input in the move, many Rovers fans may feel his potential role as Taylor’s agent will not sit easy.

With less than six hours to go until the end of deadline day the options Rovers have to replace Taylor are very slim. The clubs next top goal scorer is fellow striker Ellis Harrison with eight this season, however he has not been an established starting striker until recently. His recent upturn in form will be needed if the club are to remain close to their current form, although it will be very difficult for him to replace Taylor’s goals. Alongside Harrison the only other viable strikers the team have are Peterborough loanee Luke James and Rory Gaffney. James has yet to score for the club and Gaffney has scored five this season.

With a lack of  depth at striker it would seem wise to sign a replacement before the end of the window this evening, although with such little time this move is easier said than done. Rumours are suggesting the club have lined up Dover striker Ricky Miller as a player to help replace Taylor, and his 27 goals so far this season suggest he could be an adequate replacement for Taylor, however some question marks would remain on this transfer.

With so little time to organise it the negotiations are likely to be fraught in the coming hours should the clubs be in serious discussion. Dover will likely not want to part with him cheaply and therefore Rovers will likely have to cough up good money to sign him. Also the step up from the Conference to League One is very big and it may take Phillips time to adjust, something the club cannot afford with such a pressing need for goals. He would effective be walking into a pressure cooker environment where the only way Rovers could carry on in their current play-off chasing form is likely for him to carry over his great goal scoring form almost immediately.

In so many ways this move is troubling for fans of Bristol Rovers, as bitter rivals City have pulled one over on them and signed their best player for well below his market value. Whatever Taylor now does at City is irrelevant, the embarrassment and damage have already been done. This move is indicative of the way modern football is going, where money talks and player loyalty is a rarity. The division within Bristol will have been widened with this move, and if by some miracle the two club do end up playing each other in League One next season, expect a very hostile encounter for both games.

Any thoughts on this article? Please feel free to comment below and I thank you for reading it. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.

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