Gab

‘It was the right time to move on – some people have been here too long.’ Darragh MacAnthony, speaking about Gabby Zakuani after he left the club for Greek side FC Kalloni in a very frank interview on 3rd April.

Fast-forward through a miserable defeat over two-legs to Leyton Orient in the play-off semi-finals to the evening of the 6th of June…

Cue chatter across Twitter and popular forum londonroad.net being dominated by the return of Zakuani. Was Darragh just ‘fishing’ and Gabby acting as the bait, to dangle a Zakuani shaped piece of crill in front of Posh fans? Well two days later, after some more Huddersfield related ‘banter’, Posh fans got this news…

ZAK IS BACK.

Gabby signs a new two-year contract, citing that ‘re-signing for the club is like a homecoming’.

Second time lucky

‘I know the saying is ‘never go back’ but I don’t believe in that.’ The words of Darren Ferguson after his return to the club, just fifteen months after his sacking and the bumpy break-up-holidayish-thing which was Preston North End.

Did he believe it when he said it? Perhaps not. The man needed work. Especially after an awful season at Preston North End, which no doubt lowered his managerial stock considerably. However after Paul Taylor’s second spell and now the return of Zak, it’s got to be said that the man is not afraid of kicking a certain cliché right in the spuds and telling it to get stuffed.

Fergie’s immediate return was obviously lauded as a success. Posh stormed into the Championship after a second half of the season which involved some of the most exciting football seen at London Road – followed by the club staying in the Championship against all odds. But since then, Posh have seen relegation and a stagnant campaign in League One which led to many fans falling/jumping off the much subscribed #InFergieWeTrust wagon.

So with Zak coming back to Posh what does it mean for the sides fortunes next year? And what will it mean for the Posh players who are still at the club?

Where will Zak fit in?

One thing is for sure here. Gabby Zakuani has come back to London Road to be first choice in Darren Ferguson’s back four – alongside Jack Baldwin. The ex-Hartlepool defender impressed in his performances in the play-offs and in games against MK Dons and Coventry; performances which lead some fans to liken him to Ryan Bennett.

What was apparent though, especially during the play-offs, is that Baldwin struggles with extreme physicality. When Baldwin has come up against big strong centre forwards he has failed to hold his own – with Kevin Lisbie, in particular, dominating the slightly built defender. Baldwin is a ball player and a good defender. But with the physical battles which League One will throw-up in mind, Fergie has brought in Zakuani.

The advantages of bringing him back, over the importing of an unknown entity from the lower leagues, is that the coach, the fans and the players will know exactly what to expect from Zak. He’s not the classiest footballer and is a keen purveyor of the type of passes which are sure to make fans and Bobby O, if he is still around, sphincters tighten in earnest regularly throughout the season. But the man heads it and kicks it and gives 100%. Any Posh fan knows that without a doubt. His performances in the season past left a lot to desire – however the same could be said of most of the team’s top earners and most experienced players. On top form Gabby Zakuani will undoubtedly be a class act at League One level.

We saw him a few seasons ago, alongside Bennett in League One, play superbly. With Michael Bostwick he was solid. Alongside Craig Morgan he was a colossus. Posh fans will be hoping on that evidence, another cliché can take a bashing this season.

‘Form is temporary, class is permanent’

At this level Gabby Zakuani unquestionably has the class to make a huge impact for Posh.

What is Michael Bostwick?

With Zakuani’s arrival questions must be asked of the future of players who occupy a similar position. Are they considered to be good enough by Fergie? If not, why are they still at the club?

The question I want to answer though is one which has plagued me about a few Posh players in recent times. Most recently it has been ‘What is Danny Swanson?’ A fleet footed winger? A creative number 10 threading passes through? An agile midfield pivot on the right side of a diamond? Perhaps we’ll learn next season, eh? That’s of course if the much lambasted player signs a new contract.

The question for now is ‘What is Michael Bostwick?’. He arrived from Stevenage off the back of a campaign where he’d played almost solely in central midfield and scored seven goals. He then slotted into Posh’s Championship midfield the way a Cyclops foot would slide into a ballerina’s pair of point shoes. With Shaun Brisley flattering to deceive alongside Zakuani, Bostwick was moved back to centre-back and seemed to find his place there. In midfield he seemed to slow play down and often get left behind, whilst in defence – he wasn’t imperious – but he was certainly more proficient than he was in midfield.

Then after relegation and starting the season in League One at the heart of Posh’s defence, as arguably the club’s best defender Bostwick was moved into midfield. Why? That move followed Posh’s mid-season slide, so Fergie had to change something. Did moving Bostwick forward make much difference? Arguably not! He again looked sluggish and didn’t provide any of the incisive passing the McCann’s, Rowe’s, Coutts’ and even the Paynes’ have provided in the past from central midfield.

But, with Zakuani returning and Bostwick (last season’s most used outfield player, with 40 appearances) most definitely staying around the first team, it seems Posh fans should expect to see Bostwick in the midfield role for which he was expensively acquired.

Of course it is a worry that Fergie still after two seasons, doesn’t know where one of our most experienced and arguably most talented player’s best position is. But hey, Tommy Rowe played in central midfield a lot when he’s quite obviously a left-back… Or a left-winger… Oh god.

The end for Shaun Brisley?

Nathaniel Knight-Percival has left London Road, leaving Brisley, Baldwin and youngster Ricardo Santos as the only specialised central defenders at the club. As form goes it seems obvious that Baldwin will be a first team stalwart for the campaign to come, and as mentioned Gabby will not have been signed to warm the bench. So with the middle of the back-four effectively printed on the team sheet before the season starts in August where does that leave Shaun Brisley?

A bastion of petulance on the pitch – perhaps not in the same way Lee Tomlin was – and regrettably not the footballer he thinks he is, Shaun Brisley looks set for a season of strain upon the gluteus maximus.

He may have been Man of the Match in Posh’s Johnstone Paint Trophy Final – but indisputably his performances during the season have perturbed, frightened and even annoyed many Posh fans. He’s had good games for sure. Nevertheless he lacks the kind of consistency that top teams must demand of their central defenders. The blips in his concentration which have affected Posh over the past two and a half seasons have been plenty and without a move on the horizon (that I’m aware of) the ex-Macclesfield man will, absent of injuries, likely be third choice for the lion’s share of the campaign.

Is there anyone BETTER out there?

When Gabby Zakuani was signed again, Posh had only made one other signing. Jon Taylor from Shrewsbury – a superb young talent who ticks all the boxes of a MacAnthony/Fergie era signing; young, talented, hungry, petit and pacey.

More recently Peterborough United has seen Erhun Aksel Oztumer arrive. Boxes ticked once more.

Zak of course fits the bill far less than say a Baldwin, a Taylor or an Oztumer, but he brings with him bags of experience for the level at which Posh are competing. A quality which when coupled with the class Zakuani brings to the team, cannot be found easily or cheaply.
Baldwin is obviously a phenomenal talent – looking to emulate the feat of Norwich’s Ryan Bennett. Nonetheless he’s a player who will only benefit from the experience and guile which a player like Zakuani brings.

Darragh knows it:

And it’s quite obvious that Fergie believes it as well.

The verdict of course will be passed at the end of the season. But, in re-signing Zakuani, Fergie has made a bold statement and nailed his colours to the mast. There will be no mid-season departures without uproar, so Fergie will need to hope that his ‘Plan Z’ will come good. That, or he’ll most likely find Darragh getting ready to go over the side on the #InFergieWeTrust wagon.

Written by John Fernandez, We Are Going Up’s Peterborough United Blogger

John tweets @johnfernandez1

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