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Meet The Manager, 2016 edition


A little bit later than previous years, but at least it proves the summer is over…

So, the first MTM of League One, hopefully one of many for a while to come. Who would ask what? What would NA say? And was anyone going ask one of those shit questions about who would win in a fight…?

Well, read on. Firstly, Sky Sports were there interviewing people (they did keep asking people about the Franchise game, which got treated with the rolled eyes to the ceiling, as seems the case as per usual).

Ivor did his usual pre-game spiel, then entered the man who seemed happier than most at Wembley on that fateful Bank Holiday Monday in May.

Sometimes, you got a bit of a pre-amble, last season as we all know it was effectively a sales pitch for the new and wonderful tactics that got scrapped at half time at Crawley.

This time, no messing – it was straight on with the questions. The first one being about Ryan Sweeney – “blimey, that was quick” said NA.

The OS has something about it, although it was felt it was the right time for everyone – he might not be so sought after this time next year, his contract will be up, and when you’re that age and a PL side if after you, your head is pretty much turned by then.

Although the figure of £250k isn’t quite right, it sounded like there were plenty of add-ons that will make us hope he does fulfil his potential and not end up on loan at Leyton Orient in a couple of years…

What about the new loan system, where you can only do them before a window and have them inbetween August and January or May?

We’d known about this for some time, and obviously having a youth setup will come into play much more here, although we can loan out players to non-league.

The exception here is goalkeeping, where you can get an emergency loan – although you have to prove that there are no fit first team shotstoppers (NA did seem to make a little comment about “knowing what constitutes a first team goalkeeper”), and you can only loan them for seven days but with extensions as and when necessary.

No mention of Ben Wilson at this stage, which was probably just as well.

What was the change between the first half of the season and the second half? Our manager seemed to skate over that particular little clusterfuck of St. Evenage, although he said that when it came to the stats – we weren’t actually far off.

Halfway during 2015/16, he met somebody from Coral (the bookies, who have masses of data for obvious reasons), and they said that we had a great chance of promotion because of said stats.

Our problem – at least, the one he stated – was that we conceded too often from set-pieces. Oh, and he also believed the Cartier watch he gave every player for Xmas helped improved form…

OK, that was a bit of a joke, but part of our 2016 success was down to us being able to improve the side for once. Losing a Matt Tubbs or Michael Smith didn’t happen this time around, and instead we got in Roos and Charles.

Speaking of new blood – Tyrone Barnett. Basically, when a player leaves a club through mutual consent, he’s not going to remain out of work for long.

We agreed to sign him four days in advance, but it’s down to the taxman basically as to why things don’t get officially confirmed. Anyway, it seems like we signed him on Monday, had the photoshoot on Tuesday and decided to make it a big story with that “advanced talks” OS update…

Predictions for this season? Really optimistic, looking to build on the momentum, although it’s hard to gauge who is going to do what in L1.

We’re likely to be attack minded, to have a go and the aim is basically to overachieve. No mention of staying up one place above the drop zone, although that’s not a bad attitude to have.

Oh, and we’re after having a couple of cup runs. Hell, we’re due just one…

Is NA happy with the squad? It seems that we’re one defender short, Meades is struggling for Saturday, although it appears we have the wages to get at least somebody on loan.

Thoughts on the JPT rebrand? Or Checkatrade Cup as it’s now known as? Yes, really. NA put his hands over his face in a mock emoji, and described it as a shambles.

It seemed like they planned to base it all around the B-teams of the very big clubs, without actually asking them beforehand. He seemed to think that playing Spurs at WHL in it would have made it more interesting, but otherwise felt like it was a big balls up.

One thing he did say was that the prize money was better, and on that score it was worth having a go in it. Oh, and he was glad we only have the away game at Newport.

Somebody asked about goal-line technology in L1, for some reason, to which David Charles (standing at the back) basically poured copious amounts of cold water over it.

What about the KM pitch – does it affect the way we play? Yes it did, which is why players seemed to prefer games on the road. He mentioned how Barcham doesn’t do so well on it.

As for style, the players like a target man to play off, though he would like us to mix it up a bit.

NA described the question of signing up players as “stage by stage”, mentioning he would be speaking with Lyle Taylor and his agent on Monday. Unsure if he seemed confident or not, although he did expand further later on…

Ryan Clarke was looked at and narrowed down on the shortlist when it was clear Roos was out of our reach. NA wants him to “rollock our defenders”, and obviously to be commanding in the box.

Poleon is our Azeez for this season, albeit better technically. Whelpdale is very good in the air, Parrett was bought as a 14 year from QPR by Spurs for £1m, and NA felt he lost his way until last season.

Barnett appeared to be going to Southend until the Shrimpers looked elsewhere. He saw him for the first time in training and said he was incredible – he ran Charles and Robbo ragged.

Kelly? He wanted a young CB, and our former St Mirren man doesn’t seem to make bad decisions on the field.

Our young players got asked about, and NA said they had to be exceptional if they were to start at this stage of the campaign – “they still have a lot to learn” was the quote.

As a manager, did he expect it to turn out the way it did? He felt in his first season that it was destiny that we would stay up. Obviously he’s still buzzing over winning at Wembley but you should never expect success. Which brought out the applause…

What are the differences between League One and League Two? More football is played at our level, which suits our manager fine.

A question was asked about us being 2-0 down at t’Stanley in the playoff semi, although I forget what it actually was. Anyway, at half time NA made the point that our opponents had played so many games in the second half of the season that it would eventually catch up with them.

When we went two goals behind, it was a test of the mentality, and thankfully we scored within seven minutes of them going two goals ahead.

Oh, and if you need any more reasons to want to get Darius Charles’ name tattooed on your love truncheon, here’s another one. At 2-0, he was going up to the t’Stanley players and getting in their face – something like “Now we’re going to get going”. When we scored, he went up to ours and said “see, they’ve gone”.

At extra time, in the huddle thing they have, NA was going to say his stuff and Charles popped up and gave the motivation pep-talk instead. One that appeared very much to be on steroids.

Sometimes, as a manager you just have to know when to step back and say nothing. And this from a player who had only been here seven weeks previously…

The half-time break was welcome, although it wasn’t nearly as stifling as previous MTMs. I’m not sure if there were less people, or whether there was simply more seating that made it more comfortable. Though apparently the bar ran out of beer quite early.

We returned, and it was a live Facebook thingy, where NA gave a very passionate speech about playing at PL and why everyone should sign the letter to Khan if they haven’t done so.

And yes, go here and do it you haven’t already. That’s an order.

There were a couple of questions on NPL, such as leading us out there – unsurprisingly it would be very emotional, ditto the two years before then if we finally get the go-ahead.

The live broadcast ended then, and a question from somebody relating to an upcoming marriage, and how NA’s missus helps him.

It did get a little bit touchy-feely, and felt more like a marriage guidance session than a MTM full of blokes who love football. I blame fluoride in the water, myself.

Anyway, NA said that nobody is perfect, and everyone should grow to love each others’ imperfections. She was in tears at Wembley, which led to applause and a chant of “Mrs Ardley”.

What of his own future? He hasn’t been approached this past season, though Gills were keen on him the campaign before – though he wasn’t interested.

As for length of contract, there’s basically no such thing. It’s all to do with severance payments in case it goes belly-up.

Should he leave, it would either be because of a massive opportunity elsewhere, or – and I found this bit intriguing – if he felt the club was standing still and not looking to progress.

NA is clearly ambitious, and one suspects he expects the club itself to follow suit.

He was asked about England in the Euros, and while he felt the players were good enough the pressure on them was so great that when they were 2-1 down to Iceland, the players could only think of what people at home were saying about them.

Somebody asked the obligatory stupid question about managing Barcelona. I forget the answer.

What of the fabled sports psychologist, one Steven Sylvester? NA and Erik talked about who our boss went to when he needed help, and this is where he came in.

After looking at his training sessions, team talks etc, he felt that Ardley was trying to do everything and should learn to take a step back. Which does seem to tie in with our sizzling form, when his approach seemed to be to do less, but do it better.

As an aside, I wonder if this is some of the reason why Alan Reeves is now as much part of the first team set-up as the u21s? Shame nobody asked him about Mr Own Goal’s contribution to our recent success, it would have been interesting to hear.

NA admitted that he changed a lot if not most of his approach in the three weeks since that advice. It appears that Middlesex CC takes up most of Sylvester’s time these days, but he and NA still speak regularly.

Is the squad strong enough? We have three keepers, maybe a little light in defence – although Meades, Francombe and even Nightingale can play at RB if Fuller manages to finally run his legs off.

Midfield seems fine, and having five strikers instead of the four we have is unmanageable. It was better to have a nucleus of 16-18 first team players then supplement the rest with yoof.

A question about teams that fall over a lot and opposition benches that act like somebody has shagged their grandmother (OK, not those exact words) came up. Again, Sylvester came up here, suggesting that the approach of the likes of Martin Allen hinders their team.

NA himself feels that he has to block out all negativity and just focus on how to get his team to win.

A mention of the Facebook “reach” (whatever that is), and it was 189,000. That’s genuinely impressive, though how many were actually paying attention to what was said…

LT and Jake Reeves had derisory offers from Bradford. I mentioned earlier about discussions re: our striker, and it seems that while there’s a lot of interest, they’re waiting to see how he starts the season.

So it appears that we might have him until January, regardless of whether he signs a new deal or not.

Neither Clarke or Shea were singled out as the #1 choice, though we spent the pre-season looking at videos  of the friendlies, etc. NA doesn’t like to announce the team without telling those who aren’t playing beforehand. He didn’t like it as a player, and he wasn’t going to continue likewise as a manager.

The 95 rule changes about shirt pulling and whatnot will be discussed with transgressing players at board level, Ardley seemed to think that a couple may get done unfairly. This may cause a problem for Taylor, who likes to answer back apparently…

Parrett is not a replacement for Bulman, who is a walking miracle – he has so much energy he even does handstands behind the players when NA is doing talks.

There are a lot of games upcoming in the next seven weeks, so keeping them fresh is of utmost importance. Everyone has to fight for their places.

The comments about the Wembley build-up were eye-opening, and maybe explained why we didn’t freeze. It was planned with a thirty day schedule, and when we got into the final we had twelve days to prepare.

So, how many days did we train for? Wait for it – four.

Basically, we didn’t want to make it feel like the season was a slog. While we spent the Saturday and Sunday beforehand going through the game, we gave the players a couple of days off after t’Stanley.

There’s the usual fitness thing, and we worked them hard when we did take formal training, but it seems that we planned it very well indeed.

NA felt we’d win on the morning of the game – that wasn’t bravado, but just a feeling of focus. We had six players who had played at Wembley, five of whom did so in playoffs (Plymouth had one).

Such was our focus on that day, that when Robbo was asked by NA over something, he said “we’re not going to lose” in a matter-of-fact manner.

Part of that seemed to be us doing the whole Wembley tourist thing on the Wednesday beforehand. We did the selfies, and the fuck-me-we’re-playing-here stuff before re-focusing for the next few days.

Plymouth came to the game all suited up, doing it all on the day, while we turned up in tracksuits instead. Darius went onto the pitch, saw the Pilgrims enjoying their day out and said “we’ve won”.

Such was the confidence that Callum Kennedy commented on the coach going into the game “the Plymouth fans have got a long way to come to lose”.

As for his own approach on the day, he felt he didn’t have to do much – as though he was the calmest man at Wembley. When we went 1-0 up, he felt we’d won, which is something many supporters felt as well (though we didn’t admit it to ourselves until much later).

His daughter did complain that he played it too cool, although that was down to the usual post-game handshakes and letting the players enjoy the trophy lifting.

For him, the big moment came when he got the trophy, stood in front of about 20k of us and celebrated. At least on the day, that is.

One little factoid was that he booked to take the six day holiday he could fit in with his family to Dubai that evening at around 2215.

I’m not sure if he was joking when he said he was going to put four up front on 75 minutes as he had a plane to catch, though he did admit everything started sinking in when he was on the beach a couple of days later.

He watched it on his iPad in the shade, and admitted he felt a tear to the eye, which apparently didn’t engender much sympathy from the locals… 😉

The last few questions came up. Somebody had to ask about Bobby Zamora, perhaps the biggest WUM of a transfer rumour going. You could almost feel NA’s annoyance when he dismissed it in a short and sharp shrift.

There was a bit of a rambling question about having the smallest pitch in the division, and our home form. Our aim this campaign is to remove the anxiety, which being the underdogs this season may lift a bit.

If we’re 0-0 at home to, say, Portsmouth after 60 minutes then people think we’re playing well. If it’s the same against Daggers, then the angst sets in (and not just from fans either – players do it as well).

Was anyone responsible for the penalty at Wembley? Normally LT takes them, but he was off the field, and while he didn’t think much of it at the time he was a bit disappointed with Akinfenwa’s actions over it.

Which, incidentally, was out of character because he was considered one of the most helpful players around. And besides, he rediscovered his mojo for the playoffs.

Some bit about systems where I switched off listening (though we seem to prefer a 4-4-2). A marked contrast to last season, you’ll be pleased to know.

Reeves’ goal against York has yet to be replicated on the training ground, though he’s a clean striker of the ball.

The usual question about the strongest and weakest sides came up. NA felt that York would go down last season, as the feedback from the new boss there suggested they had massive issues.

This time round, Sheffield United should be up there, while he had a sneaking suspicion for Swindon to struggle. He wasn’t sure who would do what, although he did suggest that the top six wouldn’t be the “big” clubs as Bolton/Charlton had a lot of rebuilding to do.

Oh, and he reckoned Pompey for League Two. And while he can’t bet because he’s in football, if that happens then a percentage of your winnings should be sent to the Ardley household…

If there was one thing he wants, what is it? A good pitch, basically. Which is something he’s often mentioned to the board, and may be one of the reasons why the Open Training Session got cancelled.

Otherwise, he’s content with where we are, he expects some poor spells and it won’t all be plain sailing next season.

One thing to make football better? On the field, players to treat refs like they do in rugby (though I haven’t the heart to mention here that according to one top rugger player, if they could get away with it they’d do exactly the same as footballers).

And off it, the fans to act like rugby fans. Make your own quip here.

The last question was about what players needed working on during the season. I think it was, I tuned out a bit, but I retuned in again to see the standing ovation for the guy that got us to League One despite SW19’s reservations 😉

NA seemed relaxed, and I think it was better by having just him up there rather than Cox and Bassey with him. I’m not surprised that more wasn’t made of the St. Evenage debacle in December, as I’m not sure much would have been said of it beyond “it was the worst weekend of my life”.

Quite a few said afterwards that this was the best MTM of the lot, and while promotion can obviously do that, I think there’s more of a maturity around these days.

I got the feeling Ardley is looking forward to the challenge of L1, and he might find it more to his liking than some of the, ahem, brutalist approach of L2.

Oh, and nobody even bothered to mention Franchise…