Morning Joey, obviously you’re trying to end the season on a high at Blackpool on Sunday, but how much of your time is this week has been devoted to that and how much has been looking further ahead?
We’ve only had the guys in for the first day of training today. After the game at the weekend, it’s a case for me of getting this season gone into the ether of everything else.
It’s tough at the moment because you’ve got nothing to play for and thoughts naturally drift towards next season and moving the group out, really, clearing the place out and starting to build a proper football team out of the ashes of this team.
The difficulty is we’ve had two dead fixtures, dead rubbers to fulfil since the Pompey game. To keep the integrity of the competition you’ve obviously got to go out and pick the best team that you can to try to get a result and a performance, and all the while you’re assessing the options to take into the next campaign.
In your own mind, have you made those decisions in terms of those players you’ve got to make decisions on with who’s staying or going?
Yeah, I think we’re about 90 per cent there. We’ve had 45 games to assess the current personnel and, unless it’s the younger players who have furthered their cases over the past few games, from a senior standpoint we’re all well aware of what they can do and what they can offer.
The difficulty is we’ve got to get them back and get some of them into the kind of physical shape we believe we can get players into by doing a proper pre-season, and then you’ll start to find out what you’ve got under the hood, what they are capable of.
At this moment, the lads are down in the mentality side of it and from a physical standpoint we’ve got bodies going down left, right and centre because of the negligence of their pre-season. It’s the only way I can describe it. If you’re not fit for the start of the season then, after 46 games in a condensed COVID-ravaged year, you’re not going to be fit at the end of it.
It doesn’t get easier and that’s the reason in the last two weeks lads we’ve “Lads, see you Thursday or Friday” to save their energy tanks because we’ve got players injured who haven’t even played for us. It’s bizarre, it’s a bizarre moment.
What are the kind of things you’ve spent the last couple doing, is it scouting, is it setting up things behind the scenes for pre-season? Talk me through some of the stuff you have been up to.
The players haven’t been around because we’ve wanted them to fill their energy tanks and mentally switch off from what’s going on.
There’s no good me getting them on the training pitch and getting after them and putted that added intensity on them because there is nothing to play for. There’s absolutely nothing but pride and the integrity of pulling on the quarters for us and that’s really, really difficult.
From our point of view, recruitment and understanding the marketplace and what we can and can’t activate.
I think we’re close to doing three transfers that would certainly help us getting off the ground next season and help us be a side that’s going from a being a losing side to a competitive, winning side.
You’ve got to understand the marketplace. For us, it’s putting in those structures to make sure we can hit the ground running the moment this season ends and the moment that transfer window opens, because we need to act really, really quickly.
We’ve got no time to waste and we need to change this culture from a losing, relegated culture to a competitive, promotion-chasing culture.
Just making sure I’ve got the right end of the stick, that will be three new signings that, if they come off, you’re closing in on?
We’re down the line on those. Obviously, it’s tough at the minute because you can’t do them officially. It always makes you a bit nervous as a manager when you have an agreement or virtually reach an agreement with people and you can’t sign the paperwork or get it lodged because you never know if somebody swoops in and gazump you.
That can happen a lot of the time in football so you’ve got to keep things tightly to your chest until it’s absolutely certain.
That would be a great start to the season for me and the owner. The owner likes to get his business done early so we can work with the guys and from our perspective, to know that we’ve got the wheels of motion by attracting people to your club when you’re not in the greatest spot from a recruitment standpoint, I think it sends a message of what Rovers are going to be like next season by a couple of signings early in the window.
For us, it shows other players who we probably will delve into the market for at some point how serious we’re intending to be right out of the gate next season.
We’re going to have a big target on our back, certainly, and I think we have to be as prepared as quickly as we can for that. I don’t think it’s a case of allowing things to unfold because we’ve got to change the culture very quickly and from our perspective that’s players and staff.
We want to make sure when the new group come back through the gates for the first day of pre-season, that this does not feel like the same football club that they’re going to leave after the last game on Sunday.
Finally from me, you say you’re 90 per cent there on decisions on players you’ve got to make decisions about. Are those conversations that you’re going to have on Monday and Tuesday next week? Are you trying to get in quickly and get it all done next week?
We have to get this game finished and the campaign line drawn under it before we deal in the early part of next season, but for me next season begins the moment the referee blows his whistle.
It’s already began in lots of ways in the background and I think that happened after the MK game on the Tuesday night.
If you watch The Last Dance with Michael Jordan and when do you want to start? For us, it’s already started and I think for the staff and the personnel that are going to be fortunate enough to be here, the season pretty starts the moment the referee blows his final whistle on Sunday.
I’ve said before, if they’re not right they will be clearly explained to on Monday or Tuesday. Some will be told “you’re no longer required, best of luck wherever you go”. Others will be told exactly what’s expected of them and then it’s a case of getting them back in the building and hopefully they understand the process that we have to follow.
There’s a lot of hard work that has to be done to change this culture around.
Morning Joey, obviously it’s hard to build yourself up for a game like this at the weekend, but some bits and pieces on team news if I may. Anssi, Luke McCormick and Pablo didn’t play last time out. Are you going to wrap Anssi in cotton wool now and has Luke played his last game for the club?
I don’t know where Luke’s at, I hope he’s got a chance. He feels a bit better, the foot and toe feel a bit better the last couple of days. We’re hoping to have Macca.
Pablo had quite a bad migraine, that’s what he missed the game with. He was struck down at about 11am on Saturday morning which just exacerbated the fact we had Macca out and obviously Ed (Upson) was suspended.
I’ve found Ed’s done a weight session on Saturday and tweaked his hamstring and looks like he’s going to miss the game on Sunday. He’s probably played his last game for the club and it’s a disappointing way for him to go out with the sending off. He’d have been keen to get on the pitch and put that right, but he’s got a tweak and he’s going to miss the game.
Alfie Kilgour done his hamstring in the game on Saturday and he’s going to miss the game, so that’s his season done and dusted.
That’s about it. Brandon just had a kick, a dead leg, and I think he’s alright.
We’ll have a team to go there and it will probably be a lot younger. I’m debating whether to play young Jed Ward in goal. He’s only 17 but one for the future.
Obviously Joe did superbly in the Crewe game and made a couple of good saves and he’s been a good lad and done well on loan for the club, but he goes back to his parent club after this game some I’m tempted to put young Jed in. We think he’s going to be a really good prospect.
For me, you go to Blackpool, a side who are third in the division, and I know they’ve sealed the play-off spot and you want to give the youngsters a chance and some experience. Sunday’s game may well be an opportunity to do that.
Against Crewe, I was tempted to do it but when I got the two injuries I didn’t want to throw the kid in as a baptism of fire in the midst of a side that had changed a lot in the past 24 hours due to three players being injured from Friday’s training finishing to the game kicking off on Saturday.
When it rains it pours. The club chaplain texted me yesterday and once this season’s over I’m definitely going to get him in to exorcise the dressing rooms and the pitch because there’s definitely been a bad spirit around this place this season.
The great thing is you see the season ticket sales going well and the optimism from the fans. If this is what they’re like in a bad moment and a period where the club’s really struggling then I can’t wait to be involved with them when it’s on the up and going well.
They’ve been superb. I went and met a group of them and had a chat with them and they could have handled it in a different way but they were absolutely outstanding with me and I think they understand what we’re trying to do and how we’re going to do it. A few of them could even have a laugh about it, which was nice, and as I say in the midst of a chaotic, disastrous season, to see their passion and their never-say-die spirit for their football club gives me enormous confidence and belief in what we’re going to build here.
For me, it’s a tough spot at the minute. It must be for the players. You’re down, it’s over, you’re going to drop out of the division and some lads are going to have find employment.
Some lads are going to have to work harder in the summer to give a better account of themselves next season, and I’m hoping on Sunday they can at least give a good version of themselves and make it as competitive as they can.
I don’t know what team Blackpool will pick, because they’ve got a play-off semi-final to come and I don’t know which way they’re going to go, but you don’t finish third in the division if you don’t have a strong squad. Whichever way they go they’re going to be really strong and competitive and, as I say, hopefully we can finish with a good result because it’s horrible losing games of football.
Yesterday an interview with Martyn Starnes was published. In that, he discussed recruitment and the lack of goals in the squad and his concerns over physicality. I thought I’d ask what you’re actually looking for in terms of a striker. What kind of player are you looking for beyond the goals, are you looking for a veteran target man or something else?
I think we have to take people who are proven. I wasn’t here when they’d recruited for the last couple of windows.
It seems there was a lot of people aware of what they needed, including many, many fans and yourselves. It didn’t quite happen.
We have to bring in people who we know can do a job. The experiment of taking non-league lads or lads who haven’t got a proven track record has failed disastrously. It really has.
Sometimes it feels like people are playing computer games like Championship Manager or Football Manager.
You’ve got to take people you know can do the job and do the job under pressure, do the job when the stadium is full or do the job when the your fans are getting on your back because you haven’t played well and you’ve gone behind. People who can withstand that intensity and still deliver a performance.
We want professional people and I don’t care how old they are or where they come from. All I care about is they are fit for purpose and that they can do the job required of them as professional footballers.
I think after a couple of transfer windows, a team starts to reflect the manager and the coaching staff.
We won’t solve everything in this summer window, it’s just not doable, but we can certainly make a good fist of it and that’s why we’re so keen to get a few done early and set the tone for what we’re going to be about because I know the target we’re going to have on our back and the expectation.
We have to take players who can handle that adequately.
You’ve spoken about the structural reviews you’ve wanted to do and have been doing. Do you envisage any changes to your coaching and support staff over the summer.
Yeah, for sure. There’s lots of things that you’ve inherited that you’ve had to go with because you can’t really change things when you’re going Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday.
It was relentless when we first came in and you have to be careful not to meddle with it and mess with it even though you know looking at it that it’s not effective and it’s not efficient.
We knew there would be a settling in process and you need to allow people time to showcase what they can do, their strengths and weaknesses.
After 12-14-week period we’re able to evaluate that having worked with people.
Obviously we have a natural option to change because we’re moving into a training ground and I think that is an opportunity to draw a line under what has been a chaotic year for the world and certainly a chaotic year for the football club.
I think you have an opportunity to build a new era, a new phase of Rovers out of the demotion of divisions and finally getting a training ground that is owned by the club and a place where Bristol Rovers 2.0 can come out of and start to the quarters and Gasheads proud.
Finally, you’ve made no secret of the fact you want to keep Luke Leahy at the club. How are negotiations with Luke going?
He still hasn’t signed yet, so we’re hoping to get that over the line.
That contract side of it is not what I do, my job is to coach the players and give recommendations. I haven’t really meddled in that and I was told it was getting done.
Myself and Wael, we’ve spoken about the figures involved and we’re both in agreement, so it’s a case of Luke and his agent and the people at the club in that space.
I think we’re not a million miles away, but also in our game if it’s not signed you are a million miles away. There’s lots of times you get gazumped.
Luke’s been superb and he’s captained the team since I came in. He’s been a really good leader in the dressing room.
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I think that will get resolved, but for me if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I only want people here that want to be here and we’re going to build a really good football team next year and the people are here are here.
I only want players who want to pull the quarters on, get their hands dirty and understand the task that we’ve got in front of us.
I’m hopeful, really hopeful that Luke gets done, but, at this moment in time as I sit here today, it isn’t signed.
I’m not going to give up hope. It’s about 95 per cent of the way there from what I’m hearing, but that other five per cent is a long, long distance in football terms. We’ve just got to hope that gets done.
After the Luke one, the next phase of the recruitment arm, we suggest players and it’s over to other people at the club to get the contracts and I think Martyn is well on with that now and down the line with Luke’s agent.
Hopefully we can get that tied up before the end of the season.