Mackail-Smith's big move: West Ham, Leicester... or Brighton?
A few cones here and there. A jog over the hill and back. A bleep test. Some sprints. Footballers up and down the country are returning to their training grounds and preparing for the season ahead. Among the men who will be tapping a new postcode into their satnavs is Craig Mackail-Smith, who is swapping Peterborough United for pastures new – at the time of writing, pastures unknown. One can imagine his training regime in the mean time.
In this imagined world, Mackail-Smith chases a carrier bag around a deserted car park in gale force winds for several hours. The bunny in the Duracell adverts only found employment after Mackail-Smith turned down the part. Mackail-Smith is forced to crash in the spare room because he runs in his sleep. He is a restructured Robbie Savage – retaining the hair and the workrate; adding pace and humility; losing the ego and nearly a decade in the ageing process. Despite scoring 35 goals last season, Mackail-Smith didn’t manage a single hat-trick. The reason? He doesn’t like taking the match ball home. He prefers someone else to have it so that he can pursue them relentlessly for the rest of the evening.
You get the picture. Craig Mackail-Smith puts the hard yards in. Right up until the dying moments of Peterborough’s 49th league fixture of the season, opposition defenders were hustled and harried. The final pair of centre-backs to attempt to contain the whirling dervish in blue, Huddersfield’s Peter Clarke and Antony Kay, were unable to contain his goal threat and neither were plenty of others during a magnificent campaign for the man Posh signed from Dagenham and Redbridge four weeks into 2007. Four and a half years later, two shy of a century of goals for Peterborough, he moves on.
As these words are written, Peterborough are believed to have accepted four offers for Mackail-Smith. On the evening of Sunday 3rd July, Posh chairman Darragh MacAnthony revealed that a late bid had been received when it looked almost certain that his star striker would be choosing between Leicester City and West Ham United – having reportedly turned down Queen’s Park Rangers already. Immediately, rumours seemed to suggest that newly-promoted Brighton and Hove Albion were the potential gatecrashers.
Mackail-Smith would mean something very different to all three Championship sides to have had bids accepted for his services. For West Ham, his acquisition would signal a fresh start and a sign of the club’s intentions having been relegated from the Premier League in chaotic circumstances. With the Olympic Stadium fiasco still hanging over all future plans at Upton Park, there are still many unknown factors which can dictate how easy Sam Allardyce’s job will be over the next ten months. Ah yes, Allardyce. And Kevin Nolan, too. Both freshly installed in east London, these two former Newcastle United employees show that West Ham certainly mean business this season and Mackail-Smith must be tempted by the opportunity to work for and alongside figures which have arguably merited Premier League status at this stage of their respective careers.
Leicester appeared to be in pole position for Mackail-Smith for a long period, but doubts have surfaced over the apparent probability of his signature. With City’s Thai owners desperate to make a big statement in the transfer market but struggling to arrange the arrival of a centre-forward, the news that they had agreed a fee for the Peterborough man made it seem inevitable that he would travel west down the A47 for the new season. Yet, despite well-sourced speculation that Mackail-Smith had chosen Leicester, the weekend came and went with no confirmation forthcoming.
His potential role in Sven-Goran Eriksson’s side is up for debate. Last season, Leicester played a 4-3-3 formation in the main and Mackail-Smith would effectively be a direct replacement for Everton loanee Yakubu Ayegbeni. Their workrate could barely be further in contrast, but even Mackail-Smith’s 35 goals in League One and a £3million transfer fee pales into insignificance when compared with Yakubu’s achievements in the game. In the end, it seems his wages and reluctance to drop out of the Premier League on a permanent basis opened the door for Mackail-Smith. Whether he chooses to cross the threshold is another matter entirely.
And then there is Brighton. Promoted alongside Posh from League One, there were strong whispers on Sunday evening that they had leapt from nowhere to head the marathon race for the hard-working striker. Brighton fans had cause for concern about the season ahead, outside of the understandable optimism surrounding their splendid new stadium and the ease with which Gus Poyet steered the Seagulls to the title last season. Because despite these bright spots, forward Glenn Murray departed for bitter rivals Crystal Palace and stand-out winger Elliott Bennett moved into the elite with Norwich City. The apparent news that Brighton had agreed a fee, which must be in the region of £3million, is a huge statement and one which throws much external perceived wisdom about the club into some doubt. To Brighton, the signing of Mackail-Smith would merely be the latest in a growing number of exciting developments.
By the time you read this, the situation may be even clearer. So where should Craig Mackail-Smith’s big move take him?