It must be that time of year again – a hot, sweaty evening down at hot, sweaty KM to grill our boss and make him even more hot and sweaty…
A decent enough turnout (over 100, probably more) turned out to see NA sit down and face plenty of people wishing to pick his brain. First things first – the main bar actually looks decent enough now it’s had its makeover.
At least it doesn’t feel like a working man’s club without the tin ashtrays any more. Nor does the floor have that dubious stickyness that perhaps shouldn’t be delved into any further.
Those who subscribe to Dons Player will be able to see this when Slav uploads it, so any inaccuracies in this report is down to my lousy writing. And my ADD.
Although four chairs were put out on stage, only NA and Ivor Heller sat on them (Bassey and NC were hiding at the back. Or propping up the bar…). We were introduced to a special guest in Stewart Castledine, presumably giving his old team mate moral support.
Then, excitably, the questions began…
What is our pre-season training regime? He felt that Peter Sweeney stitched him up earlier in the week by saying we hadn’t done much running. Actually, we had – just with the ball.
There’s a fair bit of sports science, lots of endurance work, that type of stuff. We have heart rate monitors which NC and Bassey look at and ensure that people aren’t pulling their weight.
It’s a lot of planning in stages, setting targets during the pre-season, tactical work and everything else that you would expect NA to be hot on.
He was asked about formations and tactics from last season. Stop sniggering. He mentioned things about playing 4-4-2 but next season we’ll be playing things like 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3, or other things that would make somebody who plays Football Manager jizz with delight.
Oh, and he said something about “overloads on the pitch”. No, I don’t know what they are either, but I’m sure they’re a good thing.
On Christian Jolley, he was on the fringes, a sub and low on confidence. He went to Newport, did well, and came back before we realised he was going to be on a free transfer at the end of the season.
Luton and FGR were also in for him, but he went back to South Wales and we got the money to strengthen in January. So all in all, a good move for everyone.
More on last season about the “disconnect between the defence, midfield and attack”. NA went back to something he said a lot about last season, namely fitness. If you lose the ball, you’ve got to be strong and fit enough to retrieve it, and we certainly weren’t.
Stuff like “playing a high line”, and “attacking to defence transitions” are other quotes, and I’m sure they make sense to your average pro footballer.
What would he have done differently last season? Not leave it until the last game of the season, for a start. Up until December, NA admitted that he expected too much from the squad, and could have handled post match conferences a little less bluntly.
I got the feeling that at the time, things must have been so bad and he was so fed up that it was unavoidable, and which makes his relief and enthusiasm for the next season so obvious. He won’t get another baptism of fire like that.
Still, he got over it, and by January things got a lot better, bar the last few games where we struggled.
One thing that was obvious last season was that he wanted a group of players rather than a team (remember the “it’s in the script” stuff?). And that was the basis for the next question, namely about how the new players settled in.
Obviously, he wasn’t going to say they all hated every minute, but he really seemed genuine about players wanting to be here. Surprisingly, he mentioned that when he went to Gills this week there wasn’t that vibe amongst our Kent opponents. Possible trouble at Priestfield next season?
There’s plenty of “banter” anyway, although having a happy group of players goes a long way…
No #9 on the squad list? Here’s why – that particular number is a certain “type” of striker, which we don’t have as of yet. Sheringham and Strutton aren’t bad strikers at all, far from it, but they’re not *that* sort of goalscorer.
Why do players squeeze up into one area of the pitch when the goalie is taking a goal kick? No, it’s not to do with lousy kicking, it’s because it makes it easier to predict where the ball is going to go, so you can plan on getting the second ball etc.
Of course, it could have been down to the quality of kicking, but I don’t think NA was quite so undiplomatic as that 😉
Anyway, we may not see so much of that next season, and we also may see players who have fitted into a criteria that we’ve stuck with. As he’s said in the press earlier this close season, we’ve been offered players that we don’t really want. But he’s not afraid to get in a young unknown if he thinks he’s good enough.
Framps, Benno and Fuller are all in line to be the new captain, which will be decided before the Torquay game. All three have been skippers in the past, anyway. And all three would do a damn good job.
Loans? Our boss admitted we certainly worked it to death last season, although 99% did a good job (presumably Darko was the 1%). We do intend to create an environment where loanees can come in and feel part of it.
He used Brennan Dickenson as an example, where he went to Chesterfield for a month and hated it because he never felt part of the squad. Whereas with us, he did. And it showed.
The prickly subject of finance came up, and NA was a bit clever when negotiating with Bournemouth over getting Meades – basically, we said we had a cheaper option and we got Meades for the same money.
We do emphasis the need to do our homework on this sort of things, and other aspects of signing players, which we’ll come to a bit later.
For now, what about Seb? Again, nothing you didn’t know. He was low on confidence, which he didn’t pick up at Woking. But he’s got the opportunity to fight his way back or to earn himself a place away from the club. Oh, and he’s got a slight back injury at the moment, which means he can’t train.
More on loans. We prefer signing players permanently, as a lot of clubs don’t like season-long deals : if they’re decent, they want them back in January.
There was talk about “gelling”, and NA reckoned that with the right recruitment it tends to happen quite quickly (which one supposes is a factor in making our squad a “unit”).
What did he think of League Two? An eye-opener, basically. He thanked Bassey a lot for the brain picking, and will be giving the players a target this season that will be quite high.
Those who think that 20 isn’t going to be big enough for the squad may be surprised at the answer our manager gave – it’s something a lot of sides are trying to go for. Pompey and Oxford are aiming for 20 themselves, albeit with better quality in certain positions. And obviously hoping they all remain fit.
On a related note, we’re sticking with three centre backs, as you start with two and tend to have one on the bench anyway. And there is the loan system in case we need it.
Ardley reckons that Fleetwood, Chesterfield (with one of their players on Â£3k+ a week, according to an agent he spoke to) and Pompey will be up there. But he believes that a team that works hard, is fit and is worth more than the sum of its parts can do well enough.
What about Jim Fenlon? A great young talent, but is still in the early stages of his development and had a prolapsed disk last season. Definitely one for the future.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, nobody has come in for any of ours (at least, that’s what is stated in public) – even Jack Midson. But NA wasn’t surprised by any rumours linking him away.
Speaking of breaks, this was where half time came (the first Q&A session lasted 45 minutes – it proved how intense and interesting it was because it felt a lot shorter), and by god did we need the fresh air…..
With everyone suitably refreshed, the second half began. NA got to re-start with the speech he made at one of the end-of-season dos about playing Franchise. Off the pitch, we showed we were a different class (and I know that’s often telling the gallery what they want to hear, but when it comes to them it’s blatantly obvious).
But not only did we come out with massive credit, we also found ourselves taking phone calls from plenty of League One outfits. We must have done something right as they asked how we set ourselves up against them. It must have been effective, as their form plummeted.
So, we got a nice cheque out of the whole circus, we improved our standing immensely, and we fucked up their form in the process. Even their win was jammy…
Onto nicer subjects – how does NA sell the club to a player? He meets them face to face, sometimes at the training ground but equally away from the club. The meetings are for about an hour, where we sell the philosophy as to what we’re trying to do.
But we also go into such meetings knowing about the players themselves. Are their wives six months pregnant? If so, we ensure we’re responsive to that need. Additionally, we tell the players about how the fans don’t get on your back providing you’re giving 100% – that’s not the case at many clubs…
What does NA think about football agents? He seemed to think they’re a necessary evil, but he really got angry with the ones he had to deal with at Cardiff – there were 14 and 15 year olds with agents.
Indeed, one agent blew out a deal with a player we were going to sign. We were keen, the player was keen, but the agent wanted his bit of cash too. So we said that we’d pay the player less and he could pay his agent from his own money. Which didn’t go down well.
Anyway, the best agents are the ones who know that they’ll get their money further down the line, with a big money move or improved contract. It was interesting hearing NA say these things, as he’s one of the first bunch of Premier League era players who have become managers. And have most certainly dealt with agents as players.
The thorny subject about Warren Cummings. Basically, he knows he hasn’t set the place alight, and it seems that if there’s a way out for all parties to agree on, it will be taken. But he is taking training, he is working hard and who knows? But then, it’s not his fault he was signed to begin with.
Will we see a Vinny Jones on Steve McMahon type tactics? Or indeed, the same tackle on Steve Clarke during the WFC v Chelsea semi final in the 1990s? Where one of our players got booked after 20 seconds?
And yes, it was NA who made the tackle.
It turns out that he was pretty nervous before the game, so REMBE said to him to make his mark early on. As the Chelsea players were surrounding the ref after Ardley’s lunge, REMBE shook his head and sighed “not like that”…
We might see something like that from Fuller. So be warned.
There’s no target for bringing the reserves through (as in, we must have one a year type thing). We tend to go more for SE based players, as while you can put youngsters up in digs from outside getting more experienced pros is more difficult – they want more money to cover the rent.
That said, there’s a big pool of players in the South East, so it’s not so much of an issue.
We had twelve applicants for the physio job, three or four stood out, and the one we did get in was somebody with a proper football background. NA obviously got on well with him – he’s young, dynamic, doing his Masters and can talk so much the meeting lasted an hour longer than intended.
NA wasn’t happy with Gills and Scunthorpe prematurely announcing the signings of Framps and Kennedy respectively. Indeed, we asked Scunny not to point out that we were in for him, which they subsequently did two hours later.
Basically, we seem noble (or old fashioned) enough to not want the player’s thunder stolen, and do it through our channels rather than hearing it from BBC local radio. Though one suspects we’re on a losing wicket on that score.
How many targets did we go for, and how many did we get? Obviously NA is a big fan of the Ian Holloway school of quips, because he said about aiming our targets high – “it’s like Coxy in a nightclub – we’ve had a lot of knockbacks”.
I hope NC’s wife didn’t hear that.
We missed out on 99% of them mainly because they wanted League One football – which obviously tells you the caliber of who we went for. It sounds that neither the money not being AFCW was so much of a factor as simply not offering higher division football, which if that’s true is reassuring to hear.
Percentage wise, we’ve missed out on 50%, but we’ve got 8 players in with a 50% success rate. That’s not bad going.
Who does NA take advice from? He singled out Terry Burton, who he can have a long chat with at any time. He saw and spoke to Roberto Martinez at an LMA shindig (and the new Everton boss knew all about our plight against Fleetwood), and of course Harry – who was more than keen to give him encouragement during the really shit times.
On playing Millwall in the COC, it may be a case where both managers get booed – Lomas because he’s ex-WHU, and Ardley because they remembered how he played for them. He believes we have to catch them cold, but it’s perfectly possible to win.
There could be more pre-season friendlies, one or maybe even two, but they won’t be spectacular ones. It all depends on how much more playing time the squad needs. It did seem an acceptance that five is maybe too few.
Erik grabbed the mike and asked NA about the three targets he regretted missing. The first was Danny Hylton, the second was Akinfenwa (a lovely guy who was very drawn to us before Martin Allen came a-calling), and thirdly Ricky Holmes.
But he was most disappointed to miss out on Jon Meades, who saw his contract cancelled in or around the time we played Fleetwood. Before we had a chance to draw breath and plan to sign him, Oxford came in with a very good offer and he’s now wearing somebody else’s yellow and blue shirt next season.
He was asked about the Macclesfield stunt about paying Â£20k to play 10 minutes – actually, he didn’t know about it, but thought if we ever did that it would make a mockery of what we’ve achieved and would set us back as a club.
Nobody followed up with what he would do about managing such a player, although that’s probably just as well.
Your editor got somebody else (OK, it was occasional SW19 contributor Jampot) to ask about what criteria is required for the new development coach. Like so many other things, we didn’t know whether we could have one until after Fleetwood, so we couldn’t have planned for that back then.
The reason why we’re now doing interviews is something I expect none of us would have thought of – we want to see the applicants actually coach. It’s difficult to do that in the close season, and only now they’re back in pre-season can we do the hands-on coaching that will make us decide.
Somebody afterwards made the point that as NA himself was put through a very rigourous interview process with tactics boards from Harry, it stands to reason that NA would do it himself. And it makes sense too – Ardley is going to need to work directly with the development coach and obviously wants to see that it’s being done “his” way.
Anyway, we had 40 applicants, of which we narrowed down to seven. There were four interviews on Monday, two on Wednesday and one today (Friday). They will get shortlisted further and then we see how good they are when they have to coach people not old enough to drink alcohol in the US.
They’re an excellent standard, too.
How does WFC compare to AFCW? Pretty well, though NA admitted that as a player, you are pretty much self-centred and you don’t take it all in. He realises the importance as a manager of the AFCW “thing”, although he does often get asked not to repeat last season…
What is his style about dealing with the dressing room after a defeat? Sometimes, he goes in all guns blazing while other times he’s more measured. He took the rap for Port Vale, and after we were gubbed 4-0 at t’Stanley he decided to go for the group hug approach and immediately focus on the Morecambe game the following Saturday.
It was so successful that in his own words, we turned up to that game and played shit for the first 30 minutes.
You might have heard of the stories about Callum Kennedy failing at medical at Oxford. By the sounds of it, it really was personal terms and that Oxford moved the goalposts.
Kennedy did have a hamstring injury, but it was a grade 1 type, which put him out for 4/5 weeks but no longer. In effect, he couldn’t get back in the team, but according to NC who knows the Scunny assistant, they wanted to keep him but his wife had just had a kid and wanted to move back to London.
For those wondering why we sometimes had all eleven players in the box at opposition corners – it all depends on whether the opposition have loads of big brutes. NA mentioned a theory that Malky Mackay has about corners, and it’s this – when the opposition has one, only one team will score from them and it ain’t going to be you.
What of putting the GK as the #2 keeper? NA thinks the second goalie can be a waste of money, especially if it’s just a cheap keeper who isn’t that special. A veiled dig at Ruiz?
Any views on his relationship with the new Newcastle Director of Football? He hasn’t spoken to him since he left WFC, not that he would remember his name anyway, and it didn’t seem likely that he would get any players on loan from Tyneside. In other words, you get the feeling he didn’t particularly like OGEM…
What was his favourite game from last season? Surprisingly, he didn’t mention Southend (one of the very few games where everything properly clicked) but Fleetwood. At least, when we won it.
He had mixed emotions about Gillingham, because we pulled off a major coup by drawing there but still ended up in the bottom two afterwards. But the game against the Cod Army was the one that stuck in his mind – he mentioned his 15 year old daughter sitting near him (there with Mrs Ardley and their 10 year old daughter) jumped over the barrier after the game and sung how we were staying up.
And she still wondered what her old man did for a living.
Brennan Dickenson? Great prospect, but not the #9 type we need – if we sign him, somebody has to play out of position. But it did seem we would be open to getting him back at some point if it worked out.
As ever with these type of things, towards the end the questions lost their intensity – we have about nine players from Kent and plenty of car pools. And Erik and Ivor Heller were both in the Wimbledon Royal Box on Tuesday.
Did he love being a manager? Eventually, yes. He loved the pressure, although he admitted to being terrified 30 minutes before Fleetwood, when he was on his own and realising that all his hard work could still ultimately count for nowt.
Midson practices penalties, to the point that he often hears the groundsman yelling at him to finish late on Friday afternoons. At least he scored the one that matters. Apparently, Charlie Sheringham can take decent ones too…
We also got an idea of our training schedule. Previously, they came in at 0915 and often meant players got stuck in traffic – therefore having no breakfast and suffering the after effects of being stuck in a car for a long while.
Now? They come in at 10am, those who get there early have a breakfast buffet. Half an hour is spent with Moriaty before training starts at 11am. When that’s over, some (many?) often stay behind, play darts and sometimes don’t leave before 3pm. Which does back up the earlier comments about making players want to be there.
NA did believe that tight-knittedness helped us get through the last ten games. Not to mention improving their ability to appear on Bullseye if it ever returns.
Players who fancy free kicks tend to take them, although there are a few of the training ground ones that we may see. Providing the players remember how to do them during a game, that is.
Somebody asked about Danny Kedwell, and NA did seem to leave the door open a little here – he’s high up on any list we would have, but did cast doubt about us getting him.
He didn’t seem so enthusiastic about the rumour about Rene Howe – we did look at him earlier in the close season, but we considered his wages and (tellingly) his attitude and demeanour and looked elsewhere.
Gary Alexander also got mentioned, although he did say that his contract with Crawley was still up in the air.
The inevitable “light hearted” question came up. Who would win in a fight between Neil Cox and Simon Bassey? NC would win any drinking competition, while Bassey would be asleep. Although according to our impromptu chief scout, after Fleetwood we were all hugging each other…
Finally, the Monza game. NA was keen on a pre-season tour, as it helps get the players away and focused. It turns out that our Italian opponents have three Italy u20 players, and one other player is allegedly worth â‚¬3m to â‚¬5m.
And you thought it would be a nice stroll against a load of tank reversers.
We’re taking a fair few players who played in the original Anglo-Italian cup final as well, for the nostalgia trip, but hopefully without the kicking. And while it appears we’ve made a little contribution to going, it’s only a little one.
It was a fitting question to end a genuinely invigorating Meet The Manager. Thoughts? NA is clearly media trained, as somebody from his era should be. But he’s certainly thoughtful and articulate in his responses, including some difficult questions, and he has a plan.
It’s hard to think that he’s not even one year into his senior management career, but you can see why the club took a gamble on him. You could be forgiven for thinking he’s been doing this for about 3/4 years.
Though as the photos you’ll see will show, he’s still a long way off getting a decent dress sense…