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Neal Ardley. Neal Ardley. Neal Ardley.

Repeat until voice conks out.

So, welcome the former WFC right winger as our new manager. A man we all know, at least as a player, and somebody who may have past connections but at the same time doesn’t seem the panicky nostalgia choice (a la Jason Euell).

Those who were hoping or expecting – or talking themselves up to believe – that it was going to be an Andy Scott type figure in charge are going to be slightly disappointed in his appointment. A hero in the yellow-and-blue, certainly, but surely somebody with no management or L2 experience?

Having sat in both the press conference and the MTM with him yesterday, I’m not sure that’s going to be so much of an issue.

First things first – it is a gamble, and quite a big one. All managerial appointments are (ditto sackings), and I can’t deny I wish he had a few more actual games under his belt. But your editor has sat in enough post-match interviews with managers to get a “feel” about a boss, and once he finds his flying wings, you get the sense that NA will be all right with us.

He certainly spoke eloquently , as like most players and coaches these days have media training, but more importantly he seemed assured in what he was saying. This is a guy who has done the UEFA Pro licence in the same class as Roberto Martinez, and at £7k to do it he ought to have a good background in it (for the record, the Pro licence concentrates more on the practical management side of things).

He was good at answering the questions from both press and supporters, without lapsing into cliche-o-rama, and in the MTM thing, when he started to relax a bit more it appeared we were listening to how NA really is. A strong character (and backed up by Neil Cox, with Bassey in the wings), obviously intelligent, but also somebody who knows he has to prove himself with results.

The first impressions of him were good, and you can see why he persuaded the board and Harry in the interviews, so I think we can allow ourselves to be cautiously optimistic about his appointment.

The question is, of course, why after all the talk of experience have we gone for somebody who is 40 years old and with no actual management background? Quite a few reasons, as it goes. Firstly, there is the budget thing, and a manager who demands high wages and a high budget wasn’t going to get through the door. That’s pretty bloody obvious, and may be why out of 40 candidates, most of them didn’t get that far.

Secondly, as was quite apparent yesterday, NA/NC seem to “fit in”. You didn’t feel uncomfortable with them sitting there and being in charge, in a way that I did with TB and SC from February 2012 onwards. Some will question the Old Boys mentality of that, and there will be no argument from SW19 on that score, but when a complete outsider like Cox already feels like he’s fitted in less than a day into the job, that’s 25% of your battle won right there.

Thirdly, and this might explain the club’s thinking over this – timing. If this was March, and we had about 10 games to save our season, we wouldn’t have picked NA. We would have gone for the emergency glass option, get in somebody who would know how to get us out of trouble – or even put in Bassey for the duration, with suitable backup – keep the League place and start again in the summer.

At the moment, it’s mid-October. Despite our lousy start, I expect us to stay up – not hope, but expect. While there’s clearly issues with the fragile mentality of some players, even SB’s cameo as caretaker manager proved what happens when you instill a little bit of pragmatism. NA knows he has to get results and keep us in the division, and if you believe that under-coaching has been the cause a lot of our problems this past year, a more “professional” approach on the training ground should see us safe.

But his appointment seems to be as much one with an eye on next year’s close season as keeping us up this campaign. Cast your minds back to the pre-season we had a couple of months ago – which seems a lifetime away now, even if we’re still feeling the effects of it now – and you’ll realise why the club has picked NA.

Had we picked somebody like, say, Lee Bradbury, he would have likely gone within 2 to 2.5 years. That’s the lifespan of a L2 manager, in a lot of cases, and the club believes we’re better off having four good years out of a manager who may not have the initial experience but is intelligent enough to grow into the role.

As anyone at the club will tell you, changing managers is a lot of hassle and upheaval, and you avoid the short term appointments if you can. Even in the upcoming January window, and close season, NA will have known what direction to take the club, who to discard and who to keep, together with much more knowledge of L2, and we can start doing the rebuilding job we should have done last summer.

I speak as though I expect us to survive and for NA to be here come the end of the season. And I am – my attitude is that if by March we’re still in massive trouble, he’ll be gone. We’ve lost that taboo of being sentimental to the manager, and we will be a lot harder on him now than we were with the previous incumbent.

We’ve had to learn that lesson the hard way, but learnt it we have. Or at least should have done.

By the time you read this, NA will have taken his first training session. And if he can win round the players as quickly as he won around the supporters at MTM, that’s job #1 done. It’s not like the players will have much of an excuse any more – their mate SB is still there, their own performances haven’t been good enough this season for them to argue the toss back, and NA/NC will already be looking at their contact books if they don’t like what they see.

As ever with a new boss, the players have a clean slate and a new chance to prove themselves. Some will be invigorated, others will simply fall by the wayside and be at Sutton United by February. One suspects SB has already passed along a secret list to NA and certain players are doomed anyway.

OK, that won’t be a help in the short term, but all we need to do between now and January/the end of the season is enough.

And while it won’t do our collective mindsets any good, just finishing above the relegation zone will be “enough” this season – though obviously being comfortably mid table would be a lot better.

Indeed, Ardley’s big challenge this season is to deal with the mentality he’s inherited – it’s a losing one which has lost direction. ES practically admitted as much in the opening comments of the press conference that there was an enthusiasm gap.

Our new gaffer has convinced two very important parties already, the supporters and the board of directors, but now he has the hardest task of the lot – the squad. It could simply be a case of what WDSA calls the circuit-breaker. The new regime is going to be different anyway, with a fresh voice in the changing room, but even things like the assistant manager actually turning up for training* is going to be a difference.

* – and I know it’s no longer relevant, and it’s all in the past, and I know I should move on from it, but I still get really, really, REALLY pissed off when I think about what arrangement we had before with SC. Maybe we’ll now start to read and hear stories coming out about what life was really like up until recently, especially if we’re improving…

If we start work on even something like our conditioning – properly – that’s going to start improving our players and gain their trust and get them more on-board. Neutrals have suggested we’re not as fit as we should be, and just merely look conditioned. And may help explain why we constantly struggle against sides like Rochdale and Stanley.

One thing that does work in the favour of NA is that he’s spent all his career in the Football League – he doesn’t have any sort of non-league mentality whatsoever. He wouldn’t even entertain the thought of NC only turning up at the end of training sessions.

He may not have the managerial experience of L2, but he has a FL mentality throughout his DNA. Ditto Neil Cox, who I think might have already driven away shaking his head at some of the things he’s been told we used to do. As we found out yesterday, NA has hundreds of contacts and NC has thousands of them. Don’t think they won’t use them – they may have done already…

Whatever happens, there’s a lot for him to be getting on with. If he can stop making our players worse when they come to us, that would be an improvement (no pun intended). Can you honestly say the likes of Jack Midson or Seb Brown have progressed upwards like perhaps they should have recently?

Should Angus MacDonald have been recalled by Reading as soon as he did (translated: we were using him so poorly that the Royals simply had to rescue him)? Should the likes of Chris Bush, Fraser Franks, James Mulley and Ryan Jackson have been discarded almost in a blink of an eye? I’m not saying they would have made the step up to being FL players, but it did seem they didn’t get enough of a chance…

The point here is that NA needs to start building players into a unit and not constantly chop and change them – which to be fair, he appears that he wants to do. As a club, we need to start getting the best out of what we do have at our disposal – we just can’t simply keep shedding so many players like we have been doing any more.

When we get a player, use him properly. Build him up. Don’t hold him back. Don’t make him do things he can’t do, and work on the things he can. Christ, notice how Byron has started finding the net a bit more now the management team who didn’t know what to do with him have gone.

As an Academy bod, Ardley would at least be aware of the need for development. While his priority is to keep us up, he also has to use what we develop to their maximum potential. It won’t always happen, but I want to feel the likes of Jim Fenlon, Huw Johnson and Frankie Merrifield have had a lot of support.

Obviously, this goes further, like our ability to scout players properly. We’ll be continued to get told how low our budget is, which is why we absolutely have to start nailing down our scouting properly. Can we afford any more Warren Cummings/MMK type signings now? Dare I suggest even Pim has fallen into that category?

We’ll still need experience in our ranks, of course, but I’d rather we would make one good one rather than two injury-prone/not-so-good ones. While youth development will remain a priority, you really don’t win anything with kids…

Speaking of winning things – how about the mentality of getting a good cup run or two together coming back?  We were built as a side to get up the divisions at the expense of cup runs (think Workington and Woking in the FAT), and that we’ve done. But now we not only need to survive but to start making a bit of money with them.

It’s obviously too late for the JPT and the COC this season, but the FAC is still the springboard, and we all know how much of a lift going to somewhere like Birmingham City or even Wigan in the third round of the FA Cup would be. Let alone how much we would dine out on it if we’d actually won.

(for the record, NC wants to go to Watford and win, and NA wants to do the same at Cardiff…)

Above all else, NA needs to be both competent (duh) but confident too. Which he certainly sounded in his initial interviews. A manager who doesn’t sound confident in his own abilities just puts that lack of belief down to the players – and let’s be honest here, we’ve had far too much of that recently.

Instead of being “hopeful” that signings work, we need more of the “this signing will work” attitude. One sounds like we really didn’t have a lot of confidence in who we signed and what we intended to do with them – and as Bassey’s short reign proved, just a little bit of self-belief and pragmatism can go a long way…

Still, that’s all for the upcoming games ahead. NA may be starting from a low base, and there will be some element of “he’s just WFC” but the best way to get people onside is to win games and make us look competent. If you’re winning games and looking convincing at it, nobody can argue against you.

One other thing that grabbed me about our new management team in the last 24 hours, perhaps more in the press conference than the MTM – they are clearly a part of the modern footballer generation.

NA himself said in the press conference that the mentality of footballers has changed in the time he was playing for Watford, let alone WFC. This co-incidentally may suggest why some of our supporters are struggling to re-adjust to what the Football League is now and not what it was in 2002.

All the while we’ve been in the backwaters of various non-league fiefdoms, tactics and players in the FL have become more sophisticated. Fitness is better. Clubs in League Two don’t go down the boozer so much, they too get sports psychologists in (including a certain club who has just had three weeks of interviews for a new boss and who had one in during that process……).

NA/NC may be a kick up the arse for the squad, but also for the club too. It appears we didn’t “wing it” when it came to the selection process, which in the past we may have done. That’s what knowledge of a significantly different footballing culture does, and we have made a step upwards with this appointment.

One cannot help but note that in post-match press conferences in the FL, the managers are getting younger, and more “with it”. There are still plenty of old-style managers about, like Barnsley’s Keith Hill, but they’re not so prevailent as they once were. Nowadays, you’re seeing the likes of Gus Poyet and Dougie Freedman in press conferences, speaking articulately without lapsing into Mike Bassett-esque cliche.

Lower down, in our division alone, you have Paul Tisdale at Exeter who is 39 years old. Fleetwood’s Micky Mellon is 40, the same age as our new gaffer. The manager of our opponents on Saturday, Mark Yates, is only two years older than NA. Dean Holdsworth at 43 is a comparative veteran. And Rob Page, who Ardley beat out, is 38 and is likely to be a manager himself at some point.

So you’re now starting to see more and more players who you remember five/ten years ago playing becoming bosses, all with varying degrees of success but all who learnt to play in the era of foreign imports and vastly different approaches to training and conditioning. An “old style” manager may find it harder and harder to get into clubs at our level – especially if somebody like NA starts becoming successful.

And as NA said yesterday to the press, you cannot recreate the Crazy Gang era, that so many of our fans want to bring back. There will never be another Harry Bassett type manager and period like that, because even the teams in L2 would suss you out quickly. We can create our own new era, but those who want to go back to 1981 should simply return their season ticket now. It ain’t going to happen, at least in the way you want it to.

Still, we hope he fulfills that potential with us, and we can write the next chapter of AFCW under him. Preferably a productive one that sees us become a bona fide League Two outfit and one that is making the next stage upwards. No pressure, or anything 😉

I just hope he doesn’t read what SW19 used to write about him during his playing days…