WHATEVER the dramatic circumstances which led to the captain of Bolton Wanderers suddenly departing the club 14 games into a new season for non-league football, it may comes as some solace to supporters that the job of replacing him was already well underway.

Succession planning has not been a luxury many recent managers have been able to afford as the club lived hand to mouth, window to window, for the majority of their post-Premier League existence.

But well before Friday’s bombshell dropped and Sarcevic packed his bags to play for Stockport County, preparations were being made for recruitment in January that could easily have seen him eased out of the picture by the end of the current campaign.

The 29-year-old was out of contract next summer and, in all likelihood, would have left the UniBol after two years wearing the skipper’s armband.

Evatt kept faith with many of the players who had helped him escape League Two at the first time of asking but he and technical performance director Chris Markham were already plotting the next stage of the team’s development, with the hope Championship football can become a reality in the near future.

Whether there was a flashpoint which accelerated Sarcevic’s departure remains to be seen, and Evatt will have his chance to put the record straight when he speaks after this afternoon’s game against Gillingham.

But the fact a reference was made instantly to “strengthening the squad in January” when the club released its statement on Friday afternoon confirming the move spoke volumes.

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Wanderers may have banked on promotion momentum keeping them in contention for a top six spot this season but there is no room for sentiment, and talk around the club had persisted since the summer that the number 10 position was one they were looking to upgrade.

Sarcevic was signed as a promotion winner with Fleetwood and Plymouth at League Two level and a strong character tasked with uniting a freshly-built squad.

He provided a voice of refreshing honesty prior to Christmas when discussing the team’s poor form and how some of the summer signings simply had not been up to the required standard to challenge at the top end of the table.

January additions like MJ Williams, Kieran Lee, Dapo Afolayan and Declan John added the quality that had been lacking, and Wanderers were able to surge up the table to claim third spot.

Sarcevic suffered injury issues in the New Year, however, and started just seven of Bolton’s final 22 games. He scored what proved to be the winning goal in victory against Cambridge United at the UniBol and also got the party started in the final-day win at Crawley, but because of the slow start his win percentage as a Bolton player stands at just 38.63 per cent over 46 league appearances, compared to 60.86 in the 23 games he spent out of the starting line-up.

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Captaining Bolton Wanderers was clearly a source of pride for the Mancunian, but his relationship with the club’s support was changeable. At times, the armband seemed to weigh heavy, even during a good start to the current campaign.

Just a few weeks ago, Evatt felt compelled to defend his captain and striker Eoin Doyle from criticism, which had largely stemmed from social media.

His words had come a surprise to some, including Sarcevic, and it was suggested in some quarters that addressing a minority of online critics could have a destabilising effect on form.

Sarcevic scored against his former side Shrewsbury on October 2 but since then the Whites have suffered three successive defeats, each without scoring a goal.

With injuries biting hard in the build-up to last weekend’s local derby with Wigan, the midfielder admitted he had played against the Latics with an ankle injury. And just a few days later he was dropped to the bench at Plymouth – coming on as a second-half substitute for Kieran Lee.

It has been well documented that emotion was high in the Bolton dressing room at Home Park, and MJ Williams disclosed on Thursday that there had been a meeting between the players in the team hotel to discuss the recent poor run.

Rumours began to surface early on Friday morning that there had been a flashpoint between Evatt and Sarcevic, which quickly evolved into a breaking story about his exit to Stockport.

Evatt and the club declined the opportunity to address detail in the build-up to the Gillingham game but the severity of the ‘disagreement’ over Sarcevic being dropped has been played down by a few good sources behind the scenes.

Was this just a parting of the ways? Or even one that happened ahead of schedule?

The speed at which the situation played out, coupled with Sarcevic’s own Instagram comments about football being “brutal” and “out of your control” suggests decisive action was taken on the club’s behalf, rather than that of the player.

But the best indicator of whether a bigger problem is afoot will come with the reaction of the rest of the squad, now led by Ricardo Santos, in today’s game against Gillingham.

Regardless of the motive, the decision to axe a player who had played in every league game this season with nine weeks left until the transfer window is one which will take a great deal of explanation if form continues to dwindle.

Was this a move backed by the squad? We should have a better idea by Saturday evening.

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