Oxford have returned home from their tour of the States and begin their home friendlies on Saturday which, for many fans, will be the first opportunity to see the new signings in the flesh. Some of the new players will already be familiar to Oxford fans, others less so, but as we will be kicking off the new season with so many new faces in the squad, we thought it might be helpful to provide you with a brief introduction as well as a little information on our new recruits ahead of their debut appearances on Oxonian soil.
Ryan James, a left footed centre back, arrived at the club from the Nike Academy, having impressed when the Academy came to the Kassam for a training session. He was asked back for a trial and clearly did enough to earn himself a six month contract, during which time he will most likely serve as cover for Jake Wright while the club tracks his progress.
He initially joined the Nike Academy as a 'promising striker', having previously played there for Grays Athletic (as well as the youth systems of QPR and Millwall), but switched to centre half where he seems to have thrived. Considering how recently he has switched to this role, he hopefully must have some natural ability in the position to have impressed already and hopefully he will continue to show promise to match his potential over the next six months.
Tony Capaldi is a 29 year old left back signed from Morecambe, who looks likely to pose a serious challenge to Tonkin's position at left back. He was born in Norway but grew up in Birmingham, emerging as a product of the Birmingham City youth system, though he failed to make any fist team appearances for the Blues and was loaned out to Hereford United during the 2001/02 season.
He joined League 1 Plymouth Argyle in 2003 on a free transfer and would go on to make 141 appearances for the Pilgrims over four years, helping them win promotion to the Championship during his first season at the club. He suffered a broken leg in September 2004 which caused him to miss the first half of the season but recovered and went on to play an important role for Plymouth before his move to Cardiff City in 2007.
By the end of his first season at Cardiff he had managed to break into the first team and played in the FA Cup final against Portsmouth, however a knee problem was to haunt the rest of his time at Cardiff and he eventually left the club after his contract had expired in 2010 following a short loan spell at Leeds. Following this he went on trial to many clubs, but none were prepared to take a chance on him and he started last season without a club.
In September 2010 he signed for Morecambe, but his time at the club turned sour after he made a series of comments on Twitter, branding the club 'rubbish'. Wilder signed him up on a two year contract not long after last season had finished, which must have come as a relief for Capaldi, who has admitted his time at Morecambe was a mistake.
It is to be hoped that Capaldi, who did not seem to be overly impressed with his former employers, will fit in better at a bigger club and the experience he will be bring to a back line that was prone to errors last term could prove to be invaluable. A player with the ability to be playing higher up the ladder who has paid the price for misfortune and poor decisions, he could prove to be a hidden gem and his experience of higher level football should serve as a positive influence on a defence that was prone to mistakes last year.
Perhaps one of the more surprising stories at OUFC this summer was the unusual rumour of the club's interest in former Chelsea and Leeds star Michael Duberry. While at first rumours were shrugged off as simply a result of 'silly season' transfer talk, speculation continued and 35 year old Michael Dubbery was unveiled as a new addition to United's defensive lineup.
Duberry began his career at Chelsea and, after a short spell on loan at Bournemouth, he became a regular starter at Stamford Bridge, winning the League Cup and the Cup Winners' Cup there in 1998. In his final season with Chelsea he played against Oxford in the now infamous Mike Reed FA Cup match.
He left Chelsea at the end of that season, joining Leeds United in June 1999, though he struggled to break into the first team. Perhaps his best moment at Leeds came in September 2000 in a surprise 1-0 victory over AC Milan at Elland Road. However it is off-field matters that made the biggest impact on Duberry's time at Leeds, after he testified in court against team-mates Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate which led to convictions for GBH. Shockingly, he was vilified for this and became an outcast at Leeds, while some executives at the club allegedly plotted to ruin his career by spiking his food with cocaine, ecstasy and steroids so he would fail a drugs test.
With Leeds' relegation from the Premier League, Duberry moved to Stoke and then to Reading, where he found himself again playing in the Premiership, but suffered relegation back to the Football League in 2008. Duberry left Reading when his contract expired in 2009 and joined League 1 Wycombe Wanderers, but struggled and despite signing a two year contract in July '09 this was terminated by mutual consent in January 2010. Just 4 days later he signed for SPL side St Johnstone where he became a firm favourite with the Saints fans, featuring regularly in a strong defensive line that made it all the way to the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup.
After making 50 appearances north of the border, and being targeted by giants Celtic, Duberry sought a move back down south to be with his family and Wilder moved to bring him to Oxford. Wilder has clearly targeted the defence as an area requiring extra experience and the acquisitions of Capaldi and Duberry should bring much-needed leadership to the position, while a player of Duberry's obvious pedigree will also hopefully benefit the younger players such as Worley and James and aid in their continuing development.
Birmingham-born Whing began his playing career with Coventry City, where he played for 4 years, making over a hundred appearances at Championship level. He is best remembered from his time with the Sky Blues as the scorer of the last ever goal at Highfield Road in a 6-2 thrashing of Derby on the final day of the 2004-05 season.
From there he signed for Brighton & Hove Albion in 2007, making 91 appearances for the south coast club. After helping Brighton avoid relegation in 2008-09 he was voted player of the year with a 'staggering' 77% of the vote. However, with the arrival of Gus Poyet at Withdean, Whing struggled to get into the first team and was first loaned out to Chesterfield and then Leyton Orient, whom he joined in January 2011.
Orient offered him a one year contract extension at the end of the season, but in a surprising move he rejected the offer in favour of Oxford's two-year deal, saying: “The contract offer from Oxford was good for me and my family. It means I can live at home in Birmingham and won’t have to take them all over the country”. The move turned some heads, firstly because Whing turned down a League 1 contract to sign for the club and secondly because he will be competing directly for a place with Damien Batt, who was named in last year's League 2 Team of the Year. The acquisition of Andy Whing shows that Wilder is looking for strength in depth and I would imagine that the competition for right back next season will be fierce.
American-born Pittman joined Oxford from local rivals Wycombe Wanderers after his contract there had expired. He began his career at Nottingham Forest but failed to make a first team appearance there and was loaned out Hartlepool and then to Bury, though he failed to make an impression at either club.
With his career in the Football League seemingly going nowhere Pittman was forced to drop down to the Conference. Perennially cash-strapped Crawley Town, under new manager Steve Evans, took a punt on the unproven striker and their gamble paid off as Pittman rewarded them with 22 goals over a period of a year and a half, including scoring against us for Crawley in a depressing home defeat typical of the Patterson era.
Having impressed at Crawley, he was signed by Wycombe in January 2009 for an 'undisclosed fee', though Evans characteristically let it slip that it was a 5-figure sum. Pittman's spell at Wycombe would also last for a year and a half, during which time he made 77 appearances (though many of these were off the bench) and scored 14 times, experiencing relegation from League 1 and promotion from League 2 twice. When Oxford and Wycombe met in the league towards the end of last season, Pittman came off the bench to score Wycombe's equalising goal in a 2-2 draw.
With Wycombe's promotion back to League 1 at the end of the season, Pittman was considered surplus to requirements and was not offered a new contract at the club. Pittman reportedly jumped at the chance to join Oxford when he was offered a contract, telling the local media when he arrived, “I am really excited about it. I think they can get promotion – that’s one of the reasons I came here. The potential is here for everyone to see”. His pace will hopefully provide a new threat to the forward line and also present a more effective wide option, a player capable of both creating goals and scoring them, as he has shown in the friendly matches he's been involved in, scoring two goals in the Didcot Town friendly and another in Oxford's final match of the American tour against Seacoast United.
Deane Smalley came through the youth ranks at Oldham Athletic, making his debut for the Latics in 2007, and breaking into the first team in his second season as a professional. However, Smalley struggled for League 1 goals in his 105 appearances for Oldham and made a short term loan move to Rochdale in September 2010, but made just three appearances during his month at the club before being loaned out again to League 2 Chesterfield.
At Chesterfield he rejoined former Oldham boss John Sheridan and was an instant hit, scoring 12 goals in 28 league appearances and helping Chesterfield win the League 2 title, at the same time making a name for himself as a dangerous striker and earning particular attention from Chris Wilder who went to see him play on “half a dozen occasions” during the 2010-11 season.
Chesterfield were understandably keen to sign him permanently for the coming campaign in League 1, while Oldham also offered him a contract extension, but instead it was Oxford who pulled off the signing, with the hope that Smalley will be the man to deliver the 10 or 15 extra goals that were missing last season.
Scottish-born Peter Leven was probably the most surprising signing of the summer, choosing to drop down a division after leaving MK Dons when most expected him to join a Championship club.
He began his career with boyhood club Rangers but his development was interrupted by a cruciate ligament injury, which required reconstructive surgery. He fought back from what could have been a career-ending injury and signed for Kilmarnock in 2004, however, despite playing 65 times for Killie, he struggled to establish himself in the SPL and in 2007 moved south of the border to Chesterfield.
Leven was an ever-present in the Chesterfield side throughout the 2007-08 season and was named captain, but after the Spireites failed to win promotion he moved on to League 1, signing for MK Dons. He became an important player in Milton Keynes as well, twice helping them reach the League One playoffs and picking up the Football Writers' Player of the Year award last season, but he rejected the new contract offered to him at the end of season after failing to agree a suitable deal.
Soon after, having been in negotiations with a number of clubs from League One and the Championship, he surprisingly chose to sign for Oxford. He stated his desire to win a first promotion of his career as a major factor in his decision to drop down to League 2 with Oxford and a player of his ability should be able to bring some much-needed composure and creativity to a midfield that was at times overwhelmed last season. Finally, after strengthening the defensive and attacking options, he will bolster the midfield, which had been looking decidedly lightweight prior to his signing. One question mark hanging over his head is a lingering foot injury from last season which has so far seen him miss all of Oxford's preseason matches, however the hope is that he will be fit for the start of the season.