Yes, after an unexpected update from Orlando International Airport, your editor is back in SW19 Towers to do an update on the masses of things that have happened since my return.
Since we culled nine players, the silence of anything meaningful happening has been pretty deafening. I know we’ve needed the mental health break, but is it too quiet at the moment?
Or are we simply having to get used to the notion that NA is playing a game of poker, and is willing and ready to knuckle down and play the long game?
Here’s what we do know. We’re not getting Sully jnr, or Meades. To be honest, neither were a complete surprise – it’s always a danger when you’ve got players on loan, especially from bigger clubs, and they may not necessarily come to you permanently.
Meades going to the Kassam was a bit of an eyebrow raiser, but then we don’t know how much they’re paying him. NA hinted that he got an unbelievable offer elsewhere, and obviously Chris Wilder found a lot of money down the side of his sofa.
As for Sully jnr? Well, I wasn’t privy to his post match comments against Fleetwood, when he had a microphone shoved down his throat and was put on the spot – and his comments to other fans when in more private surroundings should have prepared you for him leaving. To be honest, I don’t blame him for going to Fratton Park, and he (and Meades) helped us stay up.
So, we’re basically in the same situation as we have been all close season so far – we need to rebuild, and I doubt we’re doing nothing.
To be honest, nobody is irreplaceable from last season. We’re still a month away from the first pre-season sessions, let alone games, and I find it difficult to believe that something won’t happen inbetween that time and today.
You might be having flashbacks to this time last year, when we culled a load of players and got in, well, Warren Cummings. But you get the feeling this time that NA knows what he wants, if not necessarily who he wants.
There’s a lot of talent out there, and just as importantly nobody bar Pompey are buying. Talks about budgets and how restrictive they are may be red herrings this time around, because there have been so many players released. Here’s a quick list of numbers that I could be bothered searching, from those who are (or were) in League Two. In no real order, and may have been updated :
AFCW – 9 released
Bury – 16 released, and are/were under a transfer embargo
Barnet – at least 8 released
Northampton – 7 released
Exeter – 6 released, and according to this may only sign one player
Fleetwood – 13 released
Chesterfield – 7 released
Oxford – 12 released
Hartlepool – 6 released
Daggers – 8 released
So that’s 92 players from that little bit of quick research alone. Add the good old PFA Transfer List, and that’s a lot (and I mean, a LOT) of unemployed talent out there. Mind you, it seems that quite a few are released because the clubs can’t or won’t pay their wages…
It’s a buyers market, and providing we’re shrewd and don’t panic-buy, we should be able to build a solid enough squad next season that will keep us comfortably in the division.
Our manager himself doesn’t seem overly concerned with how things are going. The OS states that he’s had three meetings with potential players, another one this week and then he’s on holiday.
His assumption is that it will be June, not this month, where things will start happening. The transfer window officially starts on the 1st July, but players are finding their contracts cancelled now, so they can still move.
So it looks like NA is playing the long, waiting game. Reading the club’s “old” OS (and you forget how poor it actually was) and we made the signings we did in June as well. One suspects this time around, we have actually done our homework rather than talking about how we have…
How good will we be at attracting players? Put it this way – if in January we were immensely shit but were able to permanently sign Benno, Pell and Sweeney, and were able to get Cork’s finest to sign up as we stayed up, then we’re obviously capable of repeating the same trick before the 3rd August.
Granted, you’d want to keep the likes of Meades, but this is actually quite standard for teams at this level. Our success (or failure) next season will depend on getting a sharp eye for scouting and spotting talent. And at least this time you’re confident the manager has a genuine ability of getting them in.
League Two is for the most part much of a muchness, nothing has yet convinced me otherwise, and whoever we get in just needs to be able to work within an effective system. Remember that a fair amount of our problems last season were down to us switching off late on because we were still so unfit.
And just puts into perspective how we really did fuck it up twelve months ago.
It has been pretty sedate generally. We haven’t even had any more pre-season friendlies announced, so presumably we’ve decided not to risk the horror of last time by not having any 😉 Tellingly, a lot of clubs have only announced two or three, so maybe belt tightening is happening in more ways than just the squads.
I assume that we’ll have at least one of Woking, Slutton, Millwall, Bournemouth or Dartford. And/or anyone else who we have dealt with this season, and/or anyone NA/NC would know. I especially want to play Woking, if only to get the horrible taste of the last PSF down there out of my system. Although on that basis, I think I want to go back to Eastbourne Borough…
As we all know, Strutton signed a new deal last week. Luke Moore hasn’t signed, and neither has KSL (although our favourite Cardiff nightclub frequenter is likely to put pen to paper). Again though, nobody is irreplaceable, and all it means if neither of those two sign up is that we simply have to scout two more players.
Obviously, we’d want some resemblance of a squad come the first pre-season training session, and being patient is not the same as dawdling, but we’re not going to get a rash of signings this next couple of weeks. Those who are planning their holidays should go now.
Perhaps the biggest story of the summer (behind the cull) thus far happened annoyingly on the very day I went away. Finally, we’re getting an under-21/development squad.
The gap between the under-18s and the first team has always been too big to bridge without a proper second string. Indeed, we got rid of what passed off for our second team this time last year – there wasn’t even a token reserve side.
Funnily enough, back then we claimed we weren’t going to have an under-21 setup because we couldn’t get into an under-21 league, and we’d have to sign players from the u18s if we did, which is why we didn’t do it. Oh, and it meant it would increase the budget.
Twelve months later….
Let’s be blunt here. Our Academy and ability to develop our own has been crap. It’s never properly been looked at, until now, and there’s always been that impression we had one simply because Wimbledon FC had one.
Whenever I saw it in the past, even through Senior Cup games, very few players looked capable of stepping up to whatever level the first team were at. How many players can you think of who actually came through our youth system? Fenlon, Seb Brown and Hussey at a push, andn IIRC the latter two were developed elsewhere. And I’m not so sure about our left/right back…
I shudder to think how much talent we simply tossed aside because we didn’t boost it up to anywhere near the level it should have been. How many players were a season or two away but were needed immediately? Indeed, perhaps the club and manager showed their true feelings on it when it was willing to jettison it this time last year…
Anyway, this whole (re?)establishment of the u21 setup has NA’s fingerprints all over it, and I’m in no doubt that it’s come about mainly because of his background in academy work. One would need plenty of pennies for his thoughts of various aspects of last season, but you’d need a mortgage worth of pound coins for his views on our development system.
He spoke at length yesterday on what he’s expecting from the youngsters, and it’s obvious he’s got a plan. And not just some list of aspirations, although that’s mentioned too, but the youngsters he’s already taken on have been told they’ll be with the first team for a little while and have been told what level of fitness to be at.
So there’s been some thought process involved, some implementation of a plan, some idea. I’m really trying hard not to be snarky, but it really does feel we’ve discovered the concept of fire.
Like the first team, we’re likely to add to our u21s as pre-season progresses. If first team players from elsewhere are unemployed – you can bet those in academies across the land are being axed too.
Make no mistake, this is an embryonic u21 setup. It will have some pretty big teething problems, we will get tonked quite a few times. It won’t suddenly turn a load of youngsters with barely dropped balls into the next Jack Midson overnight. Most of those in it won’t make it to the first team.
But we need to ensure that we catch the ones that can.
The appointment of the development coach is as important as any first team player we sign, simply because it’s something we have to get right. We are going to need somebody who knows what they’re doing, not only in identifying them but pushing them to legitimate first teamers.
I would place experience in setting up and getting running an u21 setup at the top of the list. If we have to find a bit more in the budget to get him, so be it, because that experience and knowledge will be invaluable.
It would be very easy for the club to put in a well-known ex-Wimbledon face because he’s, well, ex-Wimbledon. Which at times I think is the sole criteria why somebody ever comes in. We need to get away from that full stop, and if we do find Marcus GayleÂ par example as the guy for the role, it has to be because he’s good at that and not because he wore the blue-with-yellow-trim.
(speaking of MG, he was a big loss to the club when he effectively found his position no longer existed. The infamous Facebook update he did last year did hint he was released for non-footballing (ie political) reasons, and makes you wonder what the hell went on in the 2012 close season. Amongst so many other things…)
Does NA have somebody in mind? We’ll see in due course, but the need to develop our youngsters properly so they’re League Two standard is paramount. Think of some of the times last year when we had to bring in yet another loanee because we’d ran out of players. And think of how much better it would be to put a promising youngster who we’ve brought up through the ranks.
The most popular player in the upcoming years will be the first legitimate through-the-ranks one, who starts grabbing attention from the outside world. Most of us have grown up with the notion that Wimbledon has always had to sell to survive, and in the last ten years we’ve lost that ability.
Maybe Hussey is the exception to that rule, although it’s very telling there’s been nobody like that since. Fenlon may be the next one, but it’s still a very sparse list – and one that is a bit too sparse for it to be just unfortunate.
But it is better late than never, and most certainly welcome. At least the likes of Huw Johnson and Frankie Merrifield have the chance to properly develop now, rather than wondering when they’ll be thrown out of the club for not being worldbeaters immediately.
Could this setup mean a reprieve for somebody like Seb? Unfortunately for him, his supposed wages of Â£1500 p/w might force him out of the club, unless he’s prepared to take a substantial wage cut. Goalkeepers more than any other position are the easiest to fill, and he may be more dispensable than most.
For those who have been on the fringes, and will continue to be, they have another chance without being sent out on loan (which is a sure sign with us that they’re on their way out). Some, if not most, won’t take that opportunity, but it’s better for them to fail rather than for us to decide they’ve failed before proving it…
Finally, news this morning is that we’re advertising for a new physio. And it’s certainly not the bloke with a magic sponge and half time oranges they’re after. That’s some pretty intense job criteria, but physiotherapy is something that has become ever more sophisticated – and important – in modern football.
Admittedly, I didn’t know we had a sports science department, although it was noteworthy that our players have been less injury prone since October. It certainly proves how the game at this level has changed, even within the lifetime of AFCW, and keeping your players free from un-necessary damage is important at lower level sides like ourselves.
It appears that Jason Moriaty plays much more of an active role in the examination of potential signings these days, which considering how signing injury prone players never properly works out is vital. Granted, players can and do get injured in games or in training, and that’s the unavoidable risk, but that’s part of the higher standards of scouting we now need to do.
They may only be small steps, but it does appear that the close season is finally starting to push the club in a more professional direction. Christ, we’re almost in danger of looking like a Football League club…