The dust settles

And a somewhat surreal week draws to a close…

It’s probably because we do it so infrequently, but it’s always a weird time when your manager leaves the club. I guess that’s down to not knowing who is in permanent charge right now.

And it’s certainly going to be odd going up to Doncaster tomorrow, in the first game since NA left the club. That will become especially so the first time you look over to the management bench, and you realise he’s not there.

The reaction even now to his departure – especially after his LMA statement – has been pretty much what one would expect. A lot of sorrow, and perhaps even the odd bit of grieving, but the majority of even those who wanted him to stay have accepted his departure.

Of course, a couple haven’t. One thing social media does is show how many grown adults have the emotional age of a 12 year old – and one who has lost their Justin Bieber concert ticket at that.

Most of what I’ve wanted to say about our now ex-manager has been said, but a couple more thoughts off the top of my head. I wonder if he would have stayed on a bit longer if he didn’t see the post-game Harringey reaction?

I don’t doubt his mind was mostly made up anyway by then, and it was a case of when, not if he left. But seeing us win (albeit horribly) and then being told to “cuck off you funt” – or something like that – afterwards likely confirmed it to him.

The club weren’t going to sack him, and maybe he knew that? Especially if the powers-that-be were feeding him the line that those who wanted him out remained a small minority.

Those at that game this time last week would have known otherwise. The only surprise I had on hearing it was how widespread it was, and how there was very little pushback against it.

So he probably took Saturday to look at his financial options, have more than a few periods of self-reflection, and finally made the phone call to our CEO and told him that this time, he was going and not returning.

It’s a bit of a shame that it ended on an increasingly toxic note for him, but that is the real world of football for you.

I wonder if the Brentford job going to somebody else might have cemented doubts in his mind? If he was going to move up the managerial ladder, that would have been the perfect step for him.

He might have been an option for the Bees if we were top ten, doing OK form wise and whatnot, but when they appointed Thomas Frank this time last month, we already had 7 losses in 10 games.

His stock was falling even then, and they weren’t going to touch him.

It’s ironic that the man Frank replaced – Dean Smith – was the manager many thought NA would end up becoming. He may yet do, although at this stage that looks less likely. But even when we were doing better, nobody came in for our now departed manager.

Quite possibly, those within AFCW had a much higher opinion of his abilities than those outside the club. Especially as a Championship outfit in particular has a much wider pool of managers to pick from.

Why pick Neal Ardley when you can get somebody like Daniel Farke, or Chris Wilder, or even Thomas Frank? And if a second tier club wants to give a young manager a shot, there’s always somebody like Frank Lampard.

I don’t doubt NA will get another job, but if it’s in management it will likely be in L2. He has got a club promoted from that level, after all…

One other thought about this week is how there’s been nothing about Neil Cox. And perhaps this link from another forum partly explains why. Thinking back, while NA was beloved Cox wasn’t, and it appears many think he was a bit of a wanker.

Those alleged comments also highlighted in part why he and Ardley now have P45s on their desks. Funny how we had so much turnover in squads, and yet most of them were “not following instructions” and “kept being told what to do all the time”.

Purely a coincidence, I’m sure.

Anyway, Cox can now go and build up his sideline business. AFCW now moves on to tomorrow and beyond…

As we know, Bassey is in temporary charge, and that’s really what he should be. But getting in Steven Reid was a bit of a surprise, and it will be interesting to see how much of an impact he can have with this lot.

How different it could have been if NA had axed Cox (and/or Bassey) in the summer, and got in somebody like Reid instead. It might have shaken things up, and Ardley may still be in a job today, although equally his tenure may have been on its terminal decline anyway.

Whatever, that’s now academic. We start again tomorrow, and lest we forget that we’ve lost the last seven league games. Even a point will end up being regarded as a turning point.

Barcham is back, as are a couple of other players, and the best thing Bassey and Reid can do is simply tell the players to, well, play.

Just remove that bit of pressure off them. They’re enough in the spotlight as it is, and they almost start with a clean slate again.

Not a total one, of course, and we can guess the reaction if we shit the bed again tomorrow. But should that happen, it won’t be the manager this time getting the bricks thrown at him.

I’m going to keep an open mind on how good/shit our squad is, certainly until January. August suggested it wasn’t too bad, after all, and we are still in November – not March.

We’ve removed at least 50% of the problem this week, and we will need to see how much these players respond to a new way of training and tactics. They could still be fucked, but then January is only six weeks or so away…

It’s almost been forgotten that we’re away to either Morecambe or Halifax in the FAC. Helpfully, BT have moved it to a 1230pm kickoff on the Saturday, but we are getting free coaches.

And it’s a very nice token of appreciation, from a club that is quite poor in giving supporters little “thank you” gestures. A little thing like that does go a long way, especially when it’s previously dished out crap like 80%Gate.

As far as draws go, we could have had better ones I guess. Why it’s been moved for the telly I don’t know, maybe they’re expecting us to keep our amazing run in this season’s competition going.

I doubt if the new guy will be appointed by then, or at the very least will be taking charge (though they’ll need to be in place for Rochdale the week after). But this will be an interesting time for the club’s decision makers as much as anyone.

It’s the most important task they’ll have faced in a long while, at least football-wise. A task they probably didn’t want to face, or at least deal with for a couple more weeks at least.

But as they say in Ireland, we wouldn’t start from here. And like a number of clubs this week who have also axed their bosses** we have to make that decision.

** – NA might have done the club a favour with his timing, because it’s just the right time to get a new manager in who will have *some* games before January. If we’d left it later, we could have been in real trouble – especially if the intention was to keep NA in place for January because it was getting too close to make the change…

To put it bluntly – we’re about to find out how much they’ve learned from six years ago.

The first thing the powers-that-be must realise is that AFCW badly – badly – needs an upgrade. Leaving aside the last seven league games, the scouting and recruitment needs an overhaul for starters.

By accident or design, it’s got the perfect opportunity to put in at least some root-and-branch reform.

While the amount we pay will restrict some of how much we get done, we are starting to pay more and more higher-end four figure sums per week – and with longer deals on the horizon too.

That’s quite a departure for AFCW, which has always preferred shorter contracts. It’s a different and potentially more costly direction, and the next boss should reflect that reality.

If the club went for an Ardley mark 2 like Jason Euell (ie no experience of managing adults, ex-Wimbledon connections trumping everything else), then all it will prove is that we’ve learned nothing since sacking TB six years ago.

This isn’t the time to be sentimental, and having starry-eyed dreams about an ex-Wimbledon legend leading us out at NPL – which I’m in no doubt a few will still want. We’re in trouble, and there’s no guarantee we’ll be even in the EFL when it’s built.

So, who do we need? Actually, the question isn’t so much “who”, but “what”, because it’s a skills set rather than a beauty contest.

Firstly, at least from now until December – we need somebody who can get inside the heads of these players from the off. Mentally, they’re on the floor, so somebody giving them new instructions and motivation may give them a lift.

That’s the first step, but the most important factor comes in just over a month or so’s time – the contacts book.

We will need surgery in January anyway, although the extent will be down to how much the new guy gets out of this current lot within a month. But this is where they will need to call in favours, and have the gravitas to persuade the right players to come here.

Certain players will readily sign for certain managers (and vice versa, of course), and we now need to be a lot more attractive to future squad members.

This is even more vital at AFCW than at many (most?) other clubs, because we can’t splash the cash. Instead, we have to use a lot more cunning, and a lot more of the contacts book than we have done before.

Think of how TB in particular was able to use all the people he knew in non-league to get us back into L2. And how NA was able to use those he had built up in L2 to win us promotion at Wombley.

L1 may not be significantly “better” than L2, but we’re in a division where they’re smarter. More astute. We’re neither right now, there’s still a degree of naivety about and it’s almost mandatory we get somebody in who really knows this division.

Obviously, an attacking style of play is much more preferable than the negative crap we’ve seen too often in the past couple of years. Though being hard to beat is the main priority right now.

And I’d definitely have somebody who doesn’t have to rely on Steven Sylvester as often as NA did. One of the things we should be asking any potential new manager is how self-motivated he is.

Sports psychologists are worth their weight, but we need somebody who only requires one once in a while, or just to give something different (in fact, somebody who doesn’t need one will be even better).

NA’s lack of experience at managing adults showed too often here, and I doubt the sports shrink was cheap.

Oh, and perhaps as importantly as everything else – a bit of luck as well. A small word, that can go a long, long way.

So, what don’t we need? I’m not sure we “need” a big name, not that we’ll get a famous one anyway. Somebody like Ian Holloway is a busted flush as a manager, and some of the other names are bandied about for the sake of discussion.

As said above, we certainly do not need another managerial novice. If we were comfortably mid-table, then maybe take the punt on one, but experience is vital at this club now.

And like a lot of our fans have said this week – nobody with ex-Wimbledon connections, if at all possible. AFCW comes across as quite insular over that sort of thing, as though a manager has to “get us” rather than being any good.

I doubt if I’m alone, but I’m fed up of the romantic option now, the “he’s one of us” approach. NA too often got a free pass because of it, and look where we’ve ended up today.

We are not that insecure, that we have to have somebody we can identify with. Terry Brown had no previous connections with us, and he remains the best manager of the AFCW era.

The only two ex-Wimbledon types who would have anything more to offer us are Wally Downes and Steve Cotterill. And that’s assuming both have even applied, let alone get shortlisted.

Cotterill does have a reputation of being quite tough on players who don’t pull their weight. Downes would be the link-to-old-Plough-Lane candidate, and there’d be no question of “identity”, but I question how much effect he would have beyond that.

If either of those two took charge, I wouldn’t be 100% unhappy. But they’re the only two with connections we should give the time of day to. Luke Garrard? Not experienced enough. Euell? See above.

Ainsworth? Why would he leave Wycombe? Sanchez? A choice of sentiment and emotion, and nothing more. Anyone else? Only if we’re not being serious about the rest of this season.

It’s going to be a tough decision for the powers-that-be, because they too are now under scrutiny. Their own reputation for competence has taken a bit of a battering recently, as they’ve come across as unresponsive to our plight.

I don’t doubt Ardley departing hurts them, probably on a personal level too. But they must get over that and start doing the ugly side of making decisions at a L1 football club.

Their next appointment is likely to be somebody who will treat the position as a job. They won’t (or shouldn’t) be as emotionally attached as NA was, and that’s definitely not a bad thing.

Sure, they can grow fond of AFCW, but like 99% of people employed in professional football, they’ll be an employee and nothing beyond that.

The club may also have to get used to the fact that their new appointment may not stay around for longer than 3/4 years. The days of sticking with a boss for 6+ years may now be over.

AFCW may not wish to be a hire-them-and-fire-them type club, which is fair enough, but it’s gone the other way and let the last two managers go on well beyond their use-by date.

Just as the harsh realities of professional football are forcing us to pay players more, with longer contracts, so could the length of time we keep a manager in place from now on.

These days, managers last about 36-48 months. It’s not ethical, but football isn’t an ethical business – the majority of those in football management know how precarious the job is.

Our previous (current?) loyalty to managers may be down to our lack of nous as much as us not wanting to be a knee-jerk outfit. Anyone we interview may welcome a six-year run in the job, but they’re not going to expect it.

Actually, this could be quite an interesting time for the powers-that-be, because they’ll be interviewing people who will know a lot more about professional football than they do.

Which is why the only one with any actual football admin experience outside AFCW, namely Joe Palmer, should be involved in the interview process. He may not make the final decision, but it’s not just on the field where we’re lacking a pro football background.

There will be the inevitable speculation about who we’re after, ditto any leaks of who is supposedly on the shortlist. It’s going to be fun speculating anyway, and we haven’t had much fun at AFCW for a while.

I just hope the club hasn’t had to wade through a lot of CVs by saddoes who play Football Manager, and think they’re funny by applying for the job…