Managing Expectations

It’s the consistent message coming out of the club, and a vital idea we have to grasp. In a time of great excitement, we need to manage our expectations.

In the Zoom meeting for WST members, Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney talked about considerably elevating our status. I’m really happy to hear that our potential owners are ambitious, but part of my satisfaction is based on the way they expressed their ambition. They seem to be realistic about the fact that building up a club likes ours will be a long term process.

After the takeover goes through, their most important first job will be to ensure that the fans don’t get immediately carried away. Success can’t be guaranteed, even if you enjoy a cash windfall. Look at Forest Green: they had the wherewithal to outspend the rest of the division, but it took them a few years to go up.

The system of having just one automatic promotion place makes the National League unbelievably difficult to climb out of. Forest Green discovered that as they regularly faltered in the play-offs, which of course are something of a lottery.

It would be unrealistic to expect our fortunes to be immediately transformed. For a start, we are talking about the sort of sums which will obviously make a genuine difference to the club, but are not astronomical. 

If I’m doing my calculations correctly, we’d budget for more than £2million to come into the club each season through ticket sales. Admittedly, we wouldn’t expect to make much more, and the thought of doubling our main source of income is clearly a transformative one. But we won’t be buying Messi any time soon. Well, not until he’s available for a free transfer next Summer!

I wouldn’t want to see star names arriving anyway. I’ve seen lots of excitable talk of “statement signings”. Is that what this takeover is about? Reynolds and McElhenney talked about growing the club in their presentation, not splashing out to grab headlines.

Fans at our level love it when their club buys a player they’ve heard of, but that sort of signing is generally a disappointment. A big name drops down the divisions because they can’t play at the level they want to, not because they’re at the top of their game. 

Dean Saunders: Friend of the Stars

Look at the list of celebrity signings Dean Saunders made when he first came to the club. He worked thoroughly through his contact book, but the strike rate for this sort of signings was poor.

He brought in Matt Jansen, who lasted two games and then decided to pack it in; Christian Gyan, a player who had won the Dutch league and the Europa League and been a cult hero at Feyenoord, was nowhere near that standard when he came to us; and Andrew Crofts, who did pretty well to be fair, but certainly didn’t have the impact you’d expect.

Christian Gyan….one day he’d get to play at Workington

He also delivered a long list of players with Premier League experience who were suffering the effects of age and injury. Patrick Suffo was a class act, but a knee condition rendered him almost immobile; John Curtis was unable to stay healthy, and Glen Little, a wonderful presence at the club and a sublime talent, was only able to start 4 league games in his time with us.

Frank Sinclair and Marvin Andrews, to be fair, did decent jobs for us as well, but Andrews disappeared abruptly and Sinclair certainly wasn’t at the level he had been. 

Frank Sinclair: Not bad, but not great

In those early days, the best players Saunders brought in were quality young players who were hungry to have their first chance at success, like Ryan Flynn, Ritchie De Laet and Joe Allen, although sadly the latter two had their stays cut short by injury. It was when Saunders started to sign players who were probably more suited to League Two than the National League that we challenged for the title.

If I was overseeing the transfer policy of a National League club which had suddenly come into money, I’d be looking at good quality League One and Two players who would be able to elevate key areas of the team. There’s real depth to the current squad, and plenty of players capable of playing at the top end of our division and beyond. Bringing in swathes on new players, ready for the first team, will merely lead to friction in the squad and a bloated wage bill.

Saunders discovered this after his first overhaul of the squad, as numerous Brian Little favourites found themselves frozen out of the squad and training with the youth team. We don’t want that to happen, and it sounds like McElhenney and Reynolds don’t either.

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