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Erik the Viking

So, farewell Erik Samuelson

Sometimes, change happens far too late. Other times, it happens a bit too quickly. And then there’s the one that happens at the right time but still comes as a bit of a surprise.

It wasn’t a secret that our soon-to-be-ex-CEO wanted to enjoy retirement sooner rather than later. Barring the one final hurdle with NPL, his time was practically done at AFCW.

Even so, this will raise more than a few eyebrows – why not at the end of the season? Why not wait until the first spade goes into the NPL soil? Indeed, why not until NPL itself opens?

Only one person can answer that, although as somebody pointed out within an hour of the announcement – it’s the start of a new tax year. Which considering his financial background would be somewhat fitting…

I assume the idea is to get his replacement in by the end of the season, to start work on 2019/20 (the close season is apparently one of the busiest times of the year for a football club). Especially if they’ll be taking over a club in L2.

There will be plenty of gushing tributes paid, and yes – it will be mostly deserved. In the early days, AFCW could have easily fallen into its own pit of over-sentimentality, and his influence put in a professionalism that some argue is still lacking elsewhere today.

I shudder to think of what financial problems we could have caused ourselves without him (and others) having that corporate finance background.

We were lucky that he a) had enough time to devote himself to something that was a full time position even back then, and b) was prepared to work for the proverbial one guinea.

Not only that, but we also needed somebody who could handle things like going to AGMs, or award ceremonies, or going into various boardrooms across the country.

Would NPL have happened without him? Perhaps, but it probably wouldn’t have been quite so bullet-proof as it turned out to be. You only have to see some blunders that other similar projects throw up to see how well we’ve carried this out thus far.

His departure will be a bit of a culture shock to many, who have been so used to his presence since 2002. But while the timing may not be the most logical, it’s also for the best that he’s stepping down now.

AFCW is changing, and the Erik Samuelson era represents what the club was, rather than what it will be in the next five years and beyond.

The FC Business article he did earlier this year should explain at least some of his thinking. He’s been involved in one way, shape or form since 2002, and that’s a very long time full stop.

And this is at a club that started in the (almost literal) back waters of English football, has gone from amateurism to professionalism, from non-league to the EFL and now L1.

That’s some legacy to have, and one that is being closed off at the right time – before things start getting sour.

Which they have been. His judgement got called into question a lot more over the last couple of years, with some justification, and that might have gone some way towards yesterday’s announcement.

The most obvious example was standing behind the failing NA regime for so long that it may still have big repercussions beyond the end of this season – and with a tin ear approach to any and all criticism.

There was 80%Gate, rumours that he was (ahem) lukewarm about employing Walter, and when he had to issue a followup on the OS about an (ill-judged) Times interview post-WHU, one wonders if that was the final straw.

But why not stick around for the new stadium? You’ll have to ask him that, but his work on that is more or less done now – he simply doesn’t need to be involved with it any more.

As said in that FC Business link above, that will need a new vision which ES isn’t going to deliver. I don’t doubt he’ll be front and centre of the symbolic first-spade-in-the-ground photos, but it’s time to hand that particular torch over now.

As in general. AFCW is changing, the last DT election results should tell you that. There’s a desire for a new direction, and one suspects ES has seen the writing on that particular wall.

While we’re on cliches, this particular chapter is now closing, and his departure is going to be more fundamental than perhaps we realise.

Not only is it somebody highly influential (perhaps too influential) retiring, but it’s also a generational change that’s now likely to happen.

Let’s be blunt here – a lot of the club’s movers and shakers are getting old. You only have to look at photos of Yellow and Blue Club gatherings, or even DT meetings, to see that.

Somebody I know recently described AFCW as being more akin to an old-fashioned Dining Club rather than a professional football outfit, and I can see what they mean.

Even the whole “one guinea” tagline goes over the head of anyone under 55 years old, and the club has never been one for younger people.

ES represented that influential demographic more than anyone, and I don’t doubt those very people will be the ones most uncomfortable by his departure.

But change is inevitable, and just like NPL will change the club’s DNA forever, his replacement will also have a deep seated effect.

Whoever that will be, they will be highly influential in the way AFCW does things – indeed, given the history of supporting Wimbledon there’s usually been a central figure who seems to be the cultural lynchpin.

The OS piece mentions succession planning, and one suspects that it’s at a pretty advanced stage. Though it’s a decision I bet may wish they could have put off as long as possible.

The question is, who? Joe Palmer seems an obvious choice, even if few people recognise him and even fewer can state what he actually does as COO.

If he did become the CEO, would his current position cease to exist? Possibly, there’s scope for restructuring off-field, not least the FCB, and now is not a bad time to do that.

Somebody else? I can see a couple of people being unhappy if they’re put in without so much of a public recruitment process. Though ultimately that’s not so relevant if we get the right person in.

The replacement for Erik Samuelson will need to have fresh ideas, the ability to push the club in a new direction and – dare I say it – be a bit more modern.

The new CEO may well treat it like a “job”, although I don’t think that will be a bad thing. AFCW needs to look towards the next sixteen years, and like NA going we’ll soon realise how much we needed the change.

Still, that’s for the future. It will be strange not to see ES about making the decisions any more. I don’t doubt he’ll have a warm seat set aside for him, and despite the growing criticism of him in the last couple of years his legacy is safe.

We really wouldn’t be where we are without him, or at least to the stage we are now.

Whether he’ll write the book that has been mooted I don’t know, it will make interesting reading if it does. I’m just glad he never came out with a Hammam-esque “my children”…