Premier League 2016-17 preview No7: Hull City

Hull City caretaker manager Mike Phelan before the match

Guardian writers’ predicted position: 20th (NB: this is not necessarily Louise Taylor’s prediction but the average of our writers’ tips)

Last season’s position: 4th (Championship)

Odds to win the league (via Oddschecker): 1,000-1

Hull City have devoted the summer to offering a whole new definition of the term “perfect storm”.

With Assem Allam, their owner, seriously ill, Steve Bruce, the former manager, falling out with Assem’s son, the vice-chairman Ehab Allam, and takeover talks with a couple of interested American consortiums either placed on hold or collapsing, the portents were never overly promising.

Hull City's position in last five seasons

Throw in an ongoing, smoke and mirrors, endeavour to lure Chris Coleman from his post as Wales coach and the dismissal of Keith Bertschin shortly before he was due to board a flight from Humberside to Austria for this week’s pre-season training camp and it is no surprise Tom Huddlestone seems a little underwhelmed. “Strange old pre-season so far,” tweeted the midfielder. Talk about understatement.

All it took to tip things into chaos was an injury crisis which, at one point, left Hull with only 10 fit experienced professionals, and a total lack of senior signings – so far the sole new face is Will Mannion, an 18-year-old arrival from AFC Wimbledon earmarked for the under-21 squad. The only money invested in a senior player during 2016 has been the £200,000 spent on bringing the reserve goalkeeper Dusan Kuciak from Legia Warsaw in January.

Whoever takes over – and Gianfranco Zola, sacked by Qatar’s Al-Arabi in June, appears to be the second choice, or backstop option, on a shortlist which also included Roberto Martínez before he was appointed as Belgium’s manager – will need to be an optimist.

Small wonder Bruce, who had pondered his future long and hard both before and after May’s 1-0 play off final win against Sheffield Wednesday, walked out only three weeks before the season’s opening game at home against Leicester City, the Premier League champions.

Hull's results last season

Significantly few fans – or players – blamed the manager who, in four years, had led them to two promotions and an FA Cup final and departed with “a heavy heart”.

Right from the start of a pre-season training camp in Portugal things began going wrong for a man who would miss out to Sam Allardyce in the race to become England manager and should surely be a strong contender for any soon to emerge Premier League vacancies.

At its outset Bruce said he needed six signings, including two strikers, in order to be able to compete back at top-tier level but, since then, Hull have lost four key players to injury for a combined 21 months. The influential centre-half Michael Dawson will be sidelined for three months and the right-back Moses Odubajo, goalkeeper Allan McGregor and central defender Alex Bruce are each six months from a return.

Minor injuries to Huddlestone, Jake Livermore and Harry Maguire have dictated that this potentially important trio have missed a chunk of pre-season and currently lack the requisite match fitness.

With the departures of Chuba Akpom and Isaac Hayden – who were on loan from Arsenal last season, although Hayden has since joined Newcastle United – and the release of Sone Aluko and Ryan Taylor further debilitating the squad, it is small wonder Bruce believed his position to be untenable. Or that he felt he had to get out while his stock remained high.

The tipping point was possibly Ehab Allam’s refusal to sanction the signing of Nick Powell. The midfielder spent part of last season on loan at Hull from Manchester United and Bruce wanted to keep him but Powell instead ended up joining Wigan Athletic.

Since then things have all but descended into farce with Newcastle United signing Mohamed Diamé after activating the £4.5m buyout clause in his contract. The midfielder scored the winning goal against Wednesday at Wembley and was arguably the team’s outstanding individual. Rafael Benítez’s side may boast considerable pulling power but, for Diamé to be set to swap the Premier League for the Championship, still emphasises Hull’s plight. It also rather makes a mockery of Humberside billboards adorned by a picture of the Senegal international proclaiming: “We’re back.”

Worryingly, it also appears that Maguire’s head may well have been turned. Aitor Karanka’s Middlesbrough are in hot pursuit of the young defender and do not seem minded to give up easily.

Meanwhile, off the pitch, Peter Chapman, the honorary club president, a close Bruce ally and a dissenting voice this summer, has been told he and his money are no longer welcome at Hull.

As if the general mood was not bad enough already, fans have been further angered by the club’s new ticketing policy. The brainchild of Ehab Allam, the “Earn Your Stripes” membership scheme had duly replaced now abolished old fashioned season tickets.

Having been thwarted by the Football Association in their attempt to re-name the team “Hull Tigers” – a potential move which divided supporters – an even more controversial initiative, namely a membership scheme featuring monthly payments and no concessions for children or pensioners has not gone down overly well.

Although some adult seat prices at the KCom Stadium have actually been reduced significantly and there will clearly be winners as well as losers, many pensioners and parents of young children feel disenfranchised and unfairly penalised.

The club point out that, by national standards, following Hull is relatively inexpensive. They add that, for those buying tickets on a game-by-game basis, no one will pay more than £33 for a seat at any fixtures at the KCom Stadium this season with the cheapest vantage points at some matches costing as little as £9.

There will be nothing cheap about an August rummage sale which surely must provide a few lucky dip buys before the transfer windows’ closure. The alternative is near certain humiliation. Bruce’s successor may not get the new goalkeeper, right-back, pair of centre-halves, central midfielder, winger and trio of strikers many fans are convinced Hull required but he will hope to face Leicester in the season’s opener with a slightly stronger armoury than that which drew 2-2 with Barnsley in a friendly last month. At Oakwell only 11 of the top-flight side’s 21-man squad had started a league game for the club.

Those players on the teamsheet for that curtain raiser against Claudio Ranieri’s champions can expect to kick off against an angry soundtrack as the fans protest against the Allam family’s stewardship.

“It’s clear the desire to protest against the way the club is being run is stronger than ever before,” said the Hull City Supporters’ Trust (HCST) in a statement on Wednesday.

“No communication, no manager, no engagement, no signings, no identity, no concessions, no honesty. The list goes on. The owners are digging their heels in more than ever, discarding people at an alarming rate and pushing ahead with all of their ill-considered ideas with their usual arrogance and complete lack of interest in the damaging effects they will have. We will be organising and coordinating protests over the coming weeks.”

What a mess.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Louise Taylor, for The Guardian on Thursday 4th August 2016 09.00 Europe/London

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