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Waltership Downes

So, the final initiation ceremony for our new boss has now happened – the Meet The Manager shindig…

It was a cold KM Wednesday night before Xmas, but more than a few of us turned up to hear our new managerial team speak. And we all commendably avoided the party in the back bar.

I have to be honest, I’ve skipped the last two that NA did, primarily because I simply got bored listening to him. That and the KM bars were horrible in the height of summer.

This, on the other hand, was an intriguing evening ahead. Sure, we know about WD’s past with Wimbledon, his coaching CV and his occasional faux pas with social media, but what did we really know about what to expect…?

Anyway, at just past 19h45, both he, Glyn Hodges and Ivor Heller walked on stage. WD himself was disturbingly wearing some Alan Pardew-esque rimmed glasses, though thankfully no dodgy suit this time.

You should know the normal format by now – the floor asked the question, and both manager/assistant manager answered. This was the first time WD and GH had done anything like this, and I wonder what they really expected.

After the (very brief) intro, we got straight down to it. As the microphone was grabbed for the first time, the first question of the night came out. Which was – what do we do about contract lengths?

No, I didn’t quite expect that either, but WD did give the stock answer that while AFCW was more open than most clubs, the more personal/commercial side of things would remain private.

The next question was more of what I expected, and cut straight to the chase – what are the top three things that need doing immediately? According to our new manager, the first has already been done. Basically, stop the run of losing.

He thought that both Bassey and Reid did a good job in steadying the ship, and he also felt that we deserved to beat Rochdale.

Secondly, the idea was simply to be harder to beat. Start from the back, that kind of thing. After all, if you don’t let in goals…

Thirdly, and this can’t be done until January 1st, add (and maybe subtract) from the squad. And that includes loanees, some of whom may depart next month.

This led onto the next question – is there a budget in January? There is, and the quote I wrote down was “there’s room for some movement”. There’s obviously monetary constraints, and as we were to find out later on he doesn’t believe in purchasing for purchasing’s sake.

But perhaps tellingly, he felt we could fill eight or even nine places in the squad.

It was about now that GH spoke for the first time, and the impression I immediately got was how eloquent he sounded. You can see why the likes of Stoke had him coaching the u23s. Anyway, although this wasn’t earth shattering he does want to improve the players we’ve got first.

What about the mentality issues? We’ve been lucky because the run of defeats has at least been partly stopped (my stat : our last three games have been W1 L1 D1). Anyway, WD saw the Brizzle Rovers game, and he saw that this was a team that quickly needed something doing to it.

He thinks he has come in at the right time to do something, the rot has been stopped and the mood has changed. It’s a matter of very small margins.

GH chipped in at this point, and reckons that a couple of wins will do wonders for the confidence.

Some bad news – Piggy will be out for about three to four weeks. The better news is that we will be looking for a striker next month.

A question about fitness arose. We’re not in a position – yet – where we can outrun other teams, but we are not significantly less fit than other sides. GH commented that we tired late on against Rochdale, but the intention is to get them to “play smarter”.

What he meant by that was, if we retain the ball, we can rest more rather than having to constantly chase it. But it was a case of giving it everything regardless, and I got the feeling both WD/GH are getting that already.

Actually, a thought hit me by this stage – WD was a bit more subdued (or was he being more careful during a public event?). But as pointed out by an SW19 reader, GH played as much a part in this, whereas previously NA was doing most of the talking and Neil Cox usually played a bit part.

Next question was about our approach. GH stated that it was a matter of no ambiguity – get as much info as possible to the players, but there must be clarity and one message the same throughout.

WD felt that we are quite lucky with the upcoming fixtures, because there’s no long away games for us this month, which will cut down on fatigue. Although the next six weeks are planned out already.

What about the amount of training? When WD first caught sight of the previous training schedule, he wasn’t too happy that Sunday and Wednesday were guaranteed days off. Although there’s some issue with KCL over this, he does want to mix it up some more.

A lot more of that will be classroom work, sending information to the players’ phones etc. The reason for that is attention spans – when WD (and GH) were trainees, it was constantly drummed into them on the training ground, but that doesn’t happen now.

GH talked about “periodisation”, or building up training so we’re at peak fitness for the match. Usual sports science stuff, although it did seem to have more of a purpose to it rather than just using it for its own sake.

What are the hopes for survival? WD saw that we weren’t losing every game 3-1 or 4-0, and every game he’s watched he could do something with (from memory, he mentioned the lack of defending at set pieces).

It was at this point that the first – and only – Powerpoint presentation came up. I know we’ve had this at MTM before, but this time it was actually understandable.

How do we deal with set pieces? Firstly, we do rehearsal earlier in the week. Then, we show them an animated presentation of where players need to be etc. If they forget that, they get given printouts.

On gameday (I think) they get given laminated cards with specific roles and responsibilities. But while WD says he’s ultimately responsible as a manager – players themselves are equally culpable.

There’s a mantra he used – “My man will not score”, referring to how we defend.

As somebody pointed out during the interval, it’s a bit like New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick who instilled the whole “Do your job” mentality. It’s quite simple as a concept, but so effective if you can get it right.

Although GH did point out that perhaps fans should also watch the animation as well, so they can relay it to the players from behind the goal…

There was a bit about the goalie throwing the ball out that I missed, but I did catch the question that the world and his wife needed to know – yes, we are going to leave someone up at corners. You’re defending it twice if you don’t…

We’re looking at maybe returning some loanees during next month, although they are on season-long deals. I guess they’ve already seen what most of us watching already know.

A question about responsibility came with a reply that I didn’t expect but was interesting – previously, a manager could drop a player for no reason. But now, he can point to a players’ particular stats and justify it that way.

Oh, and WD doesn’t like players taking 35-yard shots.

GH mentioned about players making mistakes – basically, telling them not to worry about making them (a contrast to the previous regime, seemingly). Everyone makes them after all, and we wouldn’t nail them to the floor for making them.

But just don’t keep making the same one, or they will be dropped.

When asked about a points target, WD simply said “win the next game”, although 53 was a good benchmark. He has told the players they can get good results over Christmas however.

The youth? Four or five of them train with us, which WD felt was better than playing in games that aren’t competitive enough (he doesn’t think much of the current league system for u23s).

Who does what between WD and GH? Mitcham’s finest Welshman does the more technical side of things, while Walter does team related stuff. Both can switch roles though – he’s not like Harry Redknapp who can turn up ten minutes before a game and simply tell the players to, well, play.

Kaja is back off his loan spell, and WD emphasised that he wanted younger, vibrant players (though if an old head is available, so much the better). He doesn’t want nine or ten “finished articles”, not that we’d get them anyway, but wants to focus on development.

It was this time that we all took a fifteen minute break, and that first half seemed to go pretty quickly. It felt enlightening without being bogged down with minutiae which could be quite dull to listen to.

Anyway, after the refreshment/slash, everyone took their seats again (no Pardew glasses this time), and the next question came. Which was – what have they learned from other managers? The simple answer was that they learned from everyone (GH singled out Denis Smith at Stoke, including the support staff and recruitment).

Somebody commented that there was a bit of a subdued atmosphere, both at this MTM and in games generally (personally, I think that’s down to people being worn down with the horrific grind that this club has become – and that won’t change overnight).

WD reckoned there wasn’t enough energy about, which is why he (re)emphasised getting on the front foot and giving people something to shout about. Tellingly, he said we’re not a club known for our slow play…

Changes to recruitment policy? We’re looking at a head of recruitment, and it seems that GH is the go-to man on this one. We have one or two people in mind, to which WD made the first proper gag of the night – “I’ll tweet it later”.

Cue laughter. And lots of it.

It seems they’ve identified this issue already, and we need a succession plan. The HoR bit, not WD being let loose on Twitter again.

What made WD come to Wimbledon? Well, he started off by saying he played in West London, but the questioner was referring to being the AFCW manager. As much as WD enjoyed India, and having to take a different route in football, he didn’t even need to think about it once the role was up for grabs.

GH didn’t have a second thought either, though he was out of work.

Both have enjoyed the two weeks they’ve been here so far, and while I don’t doubt it’s a challenge – they seem up for it.

The next question began “… on social media”. Here we go, I thought. Except it went on – “…there’s been discussion about your lack of recent management experience”.

As a quick aside here – I think WD was expecting questions about his occasionally idiotic tweets, but it really does seem like it was last week’s outrage. If you could even call it that.

Anyway, back to the question. Although this is only WD’s second job as a manager, he doesn’t have the “beaten up” attitude of a manager who goes from job to job (slight nod to Russell Slade there?). He has enthusiasm, and he knows he can pick the phone up to any other manager in the league.

The individual who asked the question said “I had a tenner on Kevin Nolan”. To which WD replied “So did I…”.

It turned out that this was the first time WD had ever done an interview like this (he was nervous apparently), as Uncle Ron Noades gave him the job at Brentford.

GH was asked about Pinnock, and he reckoned that he might play in the centre some more. Indeed, with Piggot’s injury we might see him as a number ten.

A Christmas Party for the players? Basically, win against Charlton and the players will get one. He set a four-point target in the next two games, the second of which is at the Valley. Though had WD been here earlier, it probably wouldn’t have happened. After all, it’s not a good look to have one when you’re struggling.

More on the head of recruitment. Although the board make the ultimate decision, GH says you need a database of players – not only how good they are, but their temperament etc. He said Brighton u23s on Monday, and saw four players who could go on that database.

It’s not just how good they are, but who their agent is, and – “is he a boozer, or a gambler?” WD chipped in – “get him on the staff”.

By this time, I think things had loosened up, and while both of them will be judged on results, it’s good that we have somebody who can at least laugh at themselves and defuse any tension that may build up.

One of the big issues under NA was how things got uptight, and left to fester. It’s early days under WD/GH but I got the impression already that they wouldn’t let things get that far.

We’ve looked at two French guys, apparently, and it seems that we’ll be looking abroad for players who aren’t obviously on everyone else’s radar. Maybe India…?

Another question about Saturday. Well, it was about the Disco Boat on the Thames being planned (presumably an invitation), although WD wasn’t so keen on 150 of our fans going missing.

More seriously, perhaps, both WD and GH were at Pompey v Charlton, and admitted that we’ve got our work cut out a bit on Saturday.

Xav Wiggins (who is behind the WAWF) asked a question on that very subject, like what can people do to help, and WD suggested off the top of his head that maybe sponsoring the analyst side of things, with equipment etc.

Something tangible, rather than just buying another player.

GH said similar along those lines, and you get the impression that WAWF could make more of an impact by going for that kind of thing. Plus, unlike a player, anyone giving wouldn’t feel so ripped off by contributing to something like that.

How will both approach life on the touchline? WD is emphasising discipline (though I won’t repeat the dialogue about facing Steve Evans…), and even told GH to stop remonstrating with the fourth official on Saturday.

It was probably no coincidence that Hodger expressed a wish to see us beat Fleetwood and draw Cardiff in the fourth round of the FAC

First impressions upon arriving at AFCW? The biggest issue was morale – NA looked beaten up, as whatever he was doing wasn’t working.

The club at this level seems to be stuttering, and he feels the big task is to move it up to that next level.

A question about contracts that to be honest I didn’t pay that much attention to, although GH feels we should be offering three year deals with an option in our favour. I also didn’t pay too much attention to beating the first man, although WD thinks that it’s a lost art.

Whether our new boss was genuinely confused at the next question about Alan Reeves being an observer during the game or not I don’t know, but the conversation between him and GH suggests these two get along very well.

Oh, and for those asking about the suit worn on Saturday – our new manager thinks every individual in that position should be wearing one.

A mention about WD offering his services at the Alex in Wimbledon on Xmas Day was noted, and whether he and GH were prepared for the workload of being a football manager. Walter pointed out he used to haul a fruit-and-veg cart before training at WFC, so he was used to hard work.

Both seemed fully aware that being in football management/coaching is effectively a seven-day job. Especially when it comes to watching upcoming opponents yourself – while there’s enough in scouting reports, sometimes you see things that nobody else picks up on.

Role for Bassey? He’s now a first team coach, although there’s opportunities for everyone everywhere.

Again, WD was keen to point out he’s not one for the sake of change, and that he still wants to get as much out of the squad as possible (although his comments earlier about sending loanees back may hide what he really thinks of some of them).

The final question was about the lack of confidence, and WD made mention of the reaction after Doncaster. He seemed saddened that fans felt the need to resort to the booing – not because they shouldn’t do it, but things got that far to begin with.

Places like SW19 have mentioned “disconnect” too often in the past few years, and our new manager made that very same remark. He hoped people did see the second half against Rochdale though, and GH was hopeful the fans too could play their part.

That was the last question, and the final comment came from Wally : let’s make it really difficult for teams to come to KM, which got the biggest applause of the night.

All in all, it was an interesting evening. I think everyone knows we’re in shit, and while I don’t think WD was going to throw anyone under the bus, I think he knows he’s got a challenge ahead.

But I also got the feeling that he’s relishing it. If we do go down, he won’t get most of the blame – but if we don’t, that’s a lot of kudos heading his way.

And both he and GH give the impression they know what they’re doing. Keeping it simple, in other words.

I was a little bit surprised no mention of NPL was made, and TBH I’d rather see Walter and Hodger lead us out there as they have a genuine connection to the old place. It might have also been interesting listening to WD’s thoughts on coaching in India too.

But it’s today that matters, and maybe we are going back to basics a bit. But right now that’s probably what we need. Money constraints notwithstanding, both do seem to have carte-blanche to change things. They may well be the two most powerful people anywhere in the club right now.

As said previously, it may work and it may not. But it suddenly feels a bit more fun again…