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(Almost) one week on

Admit it, you’re only now starting to recover…

The week after a major game that goes the right way is always like this – you’re still buzzing (or whatever the equivalent was last week) for a few days, then reality hits again but it deflates/lets you down slowly.

And you sit back and reflect on what we went through.

A lot of us – hell, the vast majority of us – have been waiting a long, long time for this week to arrive. Which is why it’s all felt a little bit anti-climatic so far. There’s been no massive cull, no line of failed and underachieving scrotes who have been lined up on the training ground and ordered to beg for their FL lives.

Instead, it’s been pretty quiet. Too quiet? I guess it’s something we’ve got to get used to – all we know is that Benno has joined up and the players are going to Vegas.

I’ve no idea whether the two are related, although if nothing else happens before they get on that plane it’s almost like a new signing. Our back line has looked a bit more solid since he came in and organised things. and obviously NA has “sold” enough of what he plans for the future to him.

We don’t really know who else is going to come in, and more interestingly we haven’t got rid of anyone yet. You could have expected the fringe players at least to be given their P45s, but at the time of writing this they’re still on that plane.

Other teams like York have already got the meat cleaver out, and given that we ourselves need to do it, it does seem unusual. But is it? It’s less than a week since the season ended, the players returned on Tuesday, and chances are we won’t find out much until the players return.

We may also be getting the first glimpse into how NA really does things, when he’s not constantly bailing water. Somebody on the WDSA review today suggested he was “scientific”, and that’s how his approach seems to be.

While I don’t doubt a lot of these players will be elsewhere come the new season, most likely in non-league, we could see something akin to one-in-one-out. Namely, before we get shot of a player we make sure we can replace him almost immediately.

Obviously, if we have to wait until the contracts expire, then we can do that. We have three months, and pre-season training doesn’t start until near the end of June. We do have time on our side, even if our supporters may not have patience.

The worse that can happen is that we simply keep the bulk of the squad. We’ll struggle again but at least we won’t have the debacle of last season – lest we forget, TB culled god knows how many players almost immediately. Then he found that he ran very short of options very quickly, and basically lost all his bargaining chips when negotiating with the likes of Cummings.
How NA will deal with transfers remains to be seen, but you sense with signing Benno that this all got worked out some while ago. And I don’t doubt that he’s read what’s happened to Sully jnr and Mambo this week too.

 

Whether they sign or whether they don’t, we do have options right now, rather than leave ourselves open to panicky decisions. They may not be the options you want, but at least we still have a squad right now.

 

And now I’ve said this, no doubt we’ll get the list of eight culled players on the OS by the end of today.

 

This will be one of the most important – and fascinating – close seasons, because it will be totally different to what we’ve experienced for a good long while. A drip-drip effect will be something we’ll have to get used to, and NA is certainly a product of modern football thinking.

 

The grapevine suggests that Jason Moriaty won’t be digging out his passport next week, and instead will be going on a sports science course. That little bit of professionalism creeping in again, eh?
But then, he’s going to be playing a major part in things, by the sounds of it. Have you noticed how in January we didn’t sign players who were injury prone? OK, with the amount of games we ended up playing in such a short space of time, some did carry knocks in the end (GA had an ankle problem at the end), but you could more or less rely on them.

 

One assumes that’s down to properly scouting them before making a move, and you have to assume Moriaty is involved in that. As he’s likely to be in future signings. I shudder to think how many times we became weaker as a squad because somebody like MMK or Toks just couldn’t maintain their fitness.

 

When your squad is limited in its budget, you have to get your scouting right – and that includes them not being crocks. That’s something our former manager gambled on too much, and it seems our current manager has the opposite idea.

 

Put it this way – I will be very disappointed if we end up signing the next Warren Cummings this close season.

 

One thing is certain is that this is a dangerous time for the club. While we expect a lot more “professionalism” – and we’re likely to get it – we do still have to go out and do it. NA is now under a lot of pressure to move his side of the club to the next level, and failure really isn’t an option.

 

Can you imagine the fallout if we fuck it up again this pre-season? And that’s quite possible, when you consider that NA is still a rookie and this will be his first time doing anything like this.

 

Granted, the initial signs give some optimism but this will be our third season as a Football League club in the AFCW era – and it will be our last one if we don’t properly improve.

 

Any real planning and professionalism will likely see us all right, but there’s still a lot that can go wrong. One hopes that’s in the back of our mind.

 

One thing that became very apparent this week is how much we need to learn from the demise of Aldershot and Barnet. The problems down in Hampshire are all too well known now, but both sides have given us a valuable lesson.

 

You simply have to plan properly. You cannot do what Barnet do and gear your club up to finish 22nd each season, because eventually you will go down. Likewise, as a club Aldershot were apparently all over the shop in their organisation and it’s no real surprise they’re in admin.

 

AFCW pretty much based its FL survival plan by seeing how teams like Aldershot and Barnet survived, and they now have to rip it up and start again. The days of the basket case sides keeping clubs in the FL are gone, and clubs who you thought could never go down are suddenly in trouble.

 

This week also saw a reality check for Exeter, and what happens to them will make some people in the DT boardroom shuffle their buttocks. After all, the Grecians are seen as the blueprint for us, and if they’re now questioning whether their MO will affect their Football League status…

 

What is clear is that the Football League trapdoor will not be forgiving to clubs who don’t properly adapt to an ever-changing League Two. York have had to shed players, Torquay have gone from being playoff contenders in 2011/12 to almost going out of the League themselves.

 

Accrington have lost their manager and may struggle. Dagenham may finally find life post-Still too much to deal with. We know about Exeter, and there will be other clubs who we don’t know about.

 

For us, the need to improve is vital, because if we don’t we could be in a worse state than most if not all of these clubs. We don’t have an established Academy, our revenue streams are, ahem, underdeveloped. Too many people still think and act as though they’re in the Conference South.

 

But if we do improve, if we do kick on, and we do move up to the next level, we can take advantage of other clubs’ problems. The hardest thing for us may simply be the initial reaction to change (as said in the last missive, AFCW is a reactive club and not a pro-active one) – overcome that hurdle and things may alter quite quickly.

 

You think of how much NA in particular has changed things – what he’s done may be standard practice at most other clubs, but it feels like we’ve just discovered fire. When things are ripe for change, it’s often surprisingly easy to do it, because what is/was currently there is so weak and ineffective that it’s easy to tear apart.

 

What NA has changed may be more effectively simply because what was there before was so crap. A lot of the other clubs mentioned may have problems that are more ingrained, a certain way of doing things for the last 10/20/30 years that just aren’t adaptable these days.

 

We’re in a very unique situation where we’ve still got a relatively clean slate, organisational wise. If and when we rebuild the Academy it will be taking over something that has never produced the players it should have. It has a lot to grow into, but get the right people in (those who know modern football and modern youth development) and they will have pretty much carte blanche.

 

Within reason.

 

It won’t be dealing with something that used to develop players, with some too-well-established trains of thought – simply because there’s not actually much deeply ingrained at AFCW as an organisation.

 

The big issue this close season and for the next year or two is to make those initial leaps of faith into proper Football League professionalism across the club. There will be some initial resistance and that will be the hardest thing of all to overcome. But do that and who knows…?

 

In other words, the biggest enemy we face remains ourselves.

 

Anyway, while we wait news of signings, we get to play Charlton on the 17th July. I wonder if we do end up signing Sully jnr and/or Mambo whether they’ll remember who they’re playing for…?

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