“The style of play didn’t suit me,” said Sean Maguire in an interview this week, about his season with Carlisle United. With 30 defeats from 46 and unwanted club statistical records broken, searching for the player it did suit would perhaps not be the longest or most complicated quest in football history.

It’s beyond argument that the Blues, individually and collectively, in player and in system, did not nail down many answers other than the wrong ones in 2023/24. Yet one still wonders if it can or should all be dumped onto the style doorstep and left there to smoulder. Could it also be that…certain (many) players just weren’t good enough?

A different manager would no doubt have had United playing differently. Better? We cannot know. Would an alternative approach have tapped deeper into the frustratingly concealed talents of those who took the Blues to the foot of League One with 30 points from an available 138?

Again, perhaps. Blaming the system stacks up to a degree – nobody could claim United were fluent, or reliable, or particularly identifiable as an XI last season – but it doesn’t explain everything.

In Maguire’s case, and this is with respect to a player who always appeared a good and dedicated pro, and someone who has been through a great deal at family level, one cannot help but ask which system, what dynamic, would have been preferable in the end?

Would it have been the one advanced at Preston North End in 2018/19, which produced three Maguire goals from 27 appearances? Would the Lilywhites’ methods of 2019/20 have been preferable – those that yielded five goals from 45 games? Or maybe 2020/21’s tactics would have been a more snug fit, having returned four goals from 33 club outings? Alternatively, 2021/22’s schemes (two goals in 31 games)? Or 2022/23’s (none in 17, with Preston and Coventry City)?

The regrettable fact is that, for all his efforts and those attempted in the wider cause, 2023/24 was not a great deal far from par for Maguire in recent years. Two goals from 35 showings in a blue or fruit salad shirt was a country mile from what Carlisle needed, yet was that a case of a player hobbled through his being played out of position, or was it a more expected continuation of previous patterns?

Maguire, speaking to the Irish Independent this week, said his preference was to play as a number nine, or failing that, a ten. “But I was played right wing for a lot of the season just gone,” he added. “That doesn’t really suit me. I didn’t have that conversation with the manager before I signed and the style of play didn’t suit me.”

Again – United were by no means a tactical triumph in 2023/24, and there can be a certain sympathy with players who shuffle out of the failure with regrets. Yet was the “right wing” deployment really at massive odds with Maguire’s skill set given that, last October, he told the News & Star: “I played that role a couple of years at Preston, and probably the best spells I had at Preston were off the right wing, off a player like [Joe Garner]"?

It seems, then, more nuanced that simply implying that stubborn old Paul Simpson was trying so hard to shove square pegs into circular orifices that the splinters risked taking your eye out.

News and Star: Paul Simpson is facing a major rebuilding job in key areas of the United squadPaul Simpson is facing a major rebuilding job in key areas of the United squad (Image: Richard Parkes)

A manager cannot evade scrutiny for a season like United have just completed, and Simpson received an increasing amount of that from supporters as it went on. In this particular area the question lands on the signing of certain players as much as how they were fielded.

In other words, the hunch on Maguire’s experience and pedigree (which included Republic of Ireland caps) did not pay off, whatever other options were or were not available to United as they scrambled a strikeforce together on the eve of the campaign. And maybe that could have been foreseen, given the statistics mentioned above.

That signing, that scramble, occurred after a close-season when United had lost another player determined to pigeon-hole himself. Omari Patrick was perfectly within his rights to tell Carlisle he wanted to play as a winger and, if that was not on offer, he’d take his skills elsewhere.

He ended up at Sutton United in League Two and, 12 months later, is weighing up a season in the National League. Again – no relish is taken about this (and it ill behoves anyone at Carlisle to wallow in schadenfreude given the season we’ve just experienced) but one wonders if things might have been slightly better for the Blues had they been able to call on a shade more adaptability in League One: players with the will and ability to seek an impact in slightly variable roles, rather than those who either turn away from that prospect, or end up blaming it.

Again: it’s an unanswerable. But as Simpson and the Blues recruit for a new season it would certainly help if they can source some players who can, to a fair extent, impose themselves on a style, not need one tailored to their particular and narrow needs at all times.

They do not need jacks-of-all-trades but absolutely do need one or two who have the wherewithal to make their involvement count whatever the conditions, whatever the tactical shape, whatever the direction of the wind in a changeable and sometimes chaotic League Two.

As much as they must recover identity in how they play, they also have to have players a) with a certain track record, and b) leaders. Those who’ll take control of events, rather than be buffeted by them. There was not nearly enough of that last season, as we’re discovering the more we hear about it and the more people who depart the scene of something bad, gently leaving little portions of responsibility behind as they drive tracelessly away.