So, on the day that the 2007/08 campaign kicks off, has he delivered what he promised? For me, the best way to answer that is to compare our squad now with that of last season in four areas;
Neil Alexander may not have been perfect and I know a lot of supporters will disagree with my opinion that he was the best keeper I have seen play for the club since 1963, but that is my view and so, from my perspective, we need to have the best keeper we have had in forty four years for Mr Ridsdale to be proved right in this position! I don't think David Forde is an improvement on Alexander and, surely, if Michael Oakes at 34 was he would have played for Wolves in those Play Off matches after Matt Murray got injured? Therefore, that leaves Ross Turnbull - perhaps he might turn out to be the best keeper we have had in nearly half a century, but the law of averages says he won't be, so I have to conclude that we are WEAKER in the goalkeeping department and the galling thing is that this situation has come about all of our own making.
Thinking about it, the only real change here is that we have swapped Kerrea Gilbert for Tony Capaldi. When we signed Capaldi, I viewed him as a solid Championship performer who was not the sort of player who, single handedly, would turn us into a promotion challenging team - so far, I think that judgement looks about right. For a few months last season Gilbert looked better than that, but (for whatever reason!) he couldn't maintain that form and played little or no part during the second half of the campaign - I would expect Capaldi to play more games than Gilbert did without delivering the sort of eye catching performances that the Arsenal loanee sometimes did.
In other areas, you would like to think that Chris Gunter will continue to develop and, with a full season now behind him at this level, Roger Johnson can improve on a good first campaign for us. On the downside, whilst younger players can be expected to improve, older ones can deteriorate and I have this slight doubt about Darren Purse - the team's record in games he has played in since about November is appalling and he has hardly made an encouraging start to this campaign in the few pre-season games he has played. On balance, I don't think there is enough evidence to suggest yet that Purse's career is definitely heading downhill, but, even if it is, I still say that we are just about STRONGER in our back four than we were last year.
For me this is the most straightforward department of the team to judge. The only players to have departed who were in serious first team contention are the ill disciplined Simon Walton and the under achieving Willo Flood, while we have added two full Internationals in Rae and Sinclair. In the central midfield areas we now have Rae to put the sort of pressure on McPhail and Scimeca that we didn't have last season, Darcy Blake can continue to improve and we have a joker in the pack in 16 year old Aaron Ramsey who is looking increasingly capable of playing a significant part at first team level this season.
On the flanks we now have genuine competition with Ledley and Whittingham on the left and Sinclair and Parry (who both can switch to the left if needs be) on the right. The only possible downside I can see in the midfield area again involves one of our older players - Ricky Scimeca will be 33 next year and his injury has meant he has missed a full pre-season, there has to be a chance that he won't be as effective as he was for much of last season, but, even allowing for this, I see us as definitely being STRONGER than last year in the middle of the park.
If midfield was the easiest area in which to come to a decision then this one seems to me to be the hardest. Although no one will miss Campbell, Glombard and Redan, it is a little different when you think of Michael Chopra. I don't think there is such a thing as a one man team in professional football, but we were pretty close to being one last season as Chopra's level of performance nearly always determined how the team would play. When Chopra was off his game (and when he was bad, he was really bad!), then the team did not perform, but, leaving aside his goals for now, such was his pace, movement, intelligence and skill when on form, it was almost inevitable that it would have a knock on affect on others in the team.
Okay, Chopra may not be worth £5 million, but he was a huge player for us last season, so can we replace him? Well, a motivated Robbie Fowler whose body coped with the ravages of a much more competitive league than the over hyped Premiership (I'm bored with it already!) could probably provide the goals that Chopra did, but, although Fowler would also provide guile and craft, he wouldn't offer Chopra's pace and movement. It doesn't seem like Steven MacLean will either, but, based on the very little I have seen of him so far, he looks a good craftsman who has a very acceptable goals per game ratio - I would guess that, as long as they played in the majority of our matches, a Fowler/MacLean partnership could provide more goals than our strikers did last year, but how many matches is Fowler likely to play?
What shouldn't be forgotten either is that we will be without Steve Thompson for the first half of the season at least (actually, I have my doubts whether he will ever play for us again). Whilst Thompson's lack of goals means that, for me, his season last year has to be deemed a poor one, it shouldn't be forgotten that he carried out many aspects of the target man duties very well and we don't seem to have anyone in the squad at the moment who will be able to do a similar job to him - whilst hoping that Feeney and Green can make good contributions this season, we do seem to have lost a lot in the striking department compared to last year and I would say we are very slightly WEAKER in this area than we were.
On the face of it, with two areas stronger and two weaker than last year, I suppose I am saying that Peter Ridsdale hasn't delivered on his promise, but, thinking about it, I should really have included a fifth category called the bench . This area seems to be the one that many people (including our manager) are basing their argument on that we are stronger than last time around. It is claimed that we have more strength in depth now than we did, but, I can remember much the same being said this time last year - I was amongst those that was saying such things, but I expected far more of contribution from the likes of Campbell, Flood, Glombard and, later on, Redan and Walton than we got.
Bearing that in mind, I reckon we have to accept that, at least, one or two of the newcomers won't measure up to what is being expected of them at the moment, but, because we seem to have more youngsters with the potential to get better than we do old hands who may get worse, I think we will have a stronger bench than last year which makes me believe that our squad is marginally STRONGER than last year.
So, as far as I am concerned, Peter Ridsdale has just about delivered on his promise, but, only to the extent that I can see us finishing in the tenth/twelfth position area as opposed to last season's thirteenth. However, with Dave Jones still, reportedly, looking for a defender and a striker before the end of this month, I would also say that if we got those two players and they were of the sort of quality I would hope them to be, then that should make us significantly stronger than last season in all of the outfield areas of the pitch as well as having a knock on affect on the quality of our bench - if that happened, then I think we could start looking towards a top six placing.