Will-e tough it out?

As Stuart McCall attempts to lift the players’ spirits for Saturday’s trip to Macclesfield, he may take a moment to smile wistfully at reaching another landmark in his managerial career.

After Willy Topp’s omission from the squad in Tuesday’s cup nightmare, Stuart admitted on the radio after the game that the Chilean striker is keen to leave the club. Speculation is rife as to the reason why, with most assuming it’s frustration at the lack of first team action. There are also questions marks over how well he has settled into the area – he is a 24 year old in a foreign country after all – and if the injury problems which have so far dogged his City career are still causing difficulty.

Whatever the reason it represents Stuart’s first – publicly at least – falling out with a player. A quick look through City’s previous managers shows it’s an inevitable occurrence that a player dispute would flare up at some point, Paul Jewell and Lee Mills and Colin Todd and Lee Crooks just two examples, rather than a negative indication of Stuart’s man-management skills. Nevertheless it leaves him with plenty to ponder as he attempts to get his new-look squad challenging for promotion.

The recent history of management-player disputes demonstrate that the majority of supporters will typically back the player in such situations, something Stuart himself will be well aware of after his bust up with Jim Jefferies in December 2001. It’s rarely as black and white to be able to lay the blame on one party, but a quick scan of the City message boards shows next to no criticism of Topp and plenty of Stuart for not picking him enough. If he leaves, a black mark will be put next to Stuart’s name by some.

Without knowing the full story there’s little to be done but speculate, too. If Topp’s reason for wanting out is lack of chances questions should be raised at him first. Topp’s introduction to English football last season was hindered by a muscle-tightening condition which prevented him completing a full 90 minute match. We saw glimpses of the player he could be, but at times, particularly in away games, he struggled to make an impact. He had plenty of tricks in his locker, but moves would often break down by his unwillingness to play the simple ball quickly. All of this wasn’t helped by those fitness problems and, when his season was ended early so he could have an operation, it was hoped we’d see the best of him this season.

Topp has been involved in pre-season and managed to complete his first 90 minutes in the Burnley friendly but, with competition for places up front increased following the arrival of Michael Boulding, it was obvious Topp faced a fight to become a regular. After just one game into the season, where he was an unused sub, the problems have emerged. It’s to be hoped Topp wasn’t truly upset to be left out Saturday – however much criticism Barry Conlon is currently getting it shouldn’t be forgotten he enjoyed an impressive pre-season – as no one has the divine right to be in the team or should be throwing in the towel so quickly.

It’s unfortunate Topp wasn’t in the squad on Tuesday as he would most likely have seen some match action. Indeed with Stuart wanting to rest Peter Thorne and Boulding not fully fit, who’s to say he wouldn’t have started the game alongside Conlon? In an evening where City were so painfully second best the failings were largely up front. Conlon and Boulding both struggled and when they were switched for Omar Daley and Thorne it wasn’t much better. Topp might have been more effective, but whatever has gone on behind the scenes meant we couldn’t find out.

If it’s homesickness it is something difficult to cure, but rather than fall out it’s an opportunity for Stuart to put an arm around Topp’s shoulder. There is something in the Chilean which suggests he can be an asset to the club, and giving up quickly on the first player City have paid a fee for in six years would be a great shame. Stuart has proved in the past, notably with Daley, that he is a manager who displays sympathy, rather than anger, when players are going through difficult times.

But ultimately it’s down to Topp. Playing in the 4th tier of English football is hardly what he grew up dreaming of, but if he is to leave because he can’t get in the team it doesn’t bode brilliantly for the rest of his career. He can go places with this club – or at least use it as a stepping stone. He might not have been in the team on day one but it’s a long campaign and he can work his way into it. A loan move has been suggested by some supporters and the examples of what such moves did for Jermaine Beckford’s and our own Joe Colbeck’s careers show it may not be a bad idea – as long as he is prepared to come back and prove his worth.

Stuart’s job is to get City promoted this season and in his judgement we must trust. Willy can play a big part but it’s down to his attitude and resilience to make that happen.

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