So Where Has Saunders Left Us?

The off-field developments today are much more important than what has happened in the manager’s office, but putting them to one side for a moment,  what are the ramifications of Dean Saunders’ departure? Will it derail the promotion push or just be another dramatic moment in a memorable campaign?

There’s no doubt Saunders has done a fine job over the last year, reshaping his squad into one undoubtedly good enough to cope in League Two. Whether that makes him irreplaceable is a very different matter though. He’s done well, but that doesn’t make him unique, and a good appointment could give the squad a boost rather than damage them.

As Doncaster manager it seems unlikely he’ll cherry-pick our squad for players; a leap of three divisions would be a pretty fanciful one for any player and there are extentuating circumstances to stop a couple of the possible candidates anyway; is Chris Maxwell, a player who will surely play at that level at some point, about to jump ship with Saunders after what happened over the last fortnight, for example? Perhaps the most feasible departee is Nat Knight-Percival, whose reinvention as a centre back almost makes him a new player, his potential in that position yet to be fully explored.

Whether there will be unrest among certain players is a different matter. In all clubs, some players become close to their manager; that’s inevitable. When Glen Little talked after the Southport game of the ease with which he communicated with Saunders, you could see how the manager built bonds, particularly with the more experienced players. He also pulled off significant coups in attracting the likes of Dean Keates to the club; it’ll be interesting to see if how much attachment they felt to him personally.

On the other hand, no manager’s irreplaceable. A fresh pair of eyes often brings a valuable new perspective, and we all know that a new hand on the tiller can offer an immediate boost to results. Having said that, we often see that improvement in results because a club’s struggling when it appoints a new boss; here we have a club which is flying high and needs to maintain its standards, not get a swift boost.

Of course, with the ownership issues unresolved, there’s also a serious chance that the club will remain in a potentially costly limbo for the next few weeks, the board waiting for new owners to appoint rather than do it themselves. And should the trust succeed in completing the takeover, no doubt they’d be in no position to appoint swiftly themselves, as they’d want to conduct the process in a professional manner and would surely have to appoint the professionals required to actually run the club first. Andy Morrell had better prepare himself for the possibility of a lengthy shift as caretaker, and we’d better prepare ourselves for not having a key first team player available all the time as player-managers tend to spend a diminishing amount of time on the pitch.

In a way what worries me most, on the playing side at least, is that Saunders developed a very particular style of play which impressed me. By building up from the back and drawing opponents on, we’ve become a formidable side. I doubt a new boss will look to do that, and we run the risk of losing something important as a result. It’s a style of play it took Saunders to create, building a squad which could finally play the way he wanted. Dismantling that style could guarantee that his departure is a costly one after all.

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