It seems that with every managerial departure over the last few years, there has always been the question as to whether we should look back to Danny Wilson, the architect of ‘the glory years’. As a mere three year old during his last reign, my only memories of his last tenure in the Oakwell dugout stretch to seeing my Uncle and Cousin make the weekly pilgrimage to the stadium to see the names that appear only in legend or on Sky’s Premier League Years, today. Despite having not been old enough to fully live ‘the Wilson era’, I cannot help but be filled with a sense of nostalgia around the time. Danny returns to the club having amassed a vast experience since then, with a 40% win rate, and over a thousand games under his belt. In spite of a couple of relegations, I feel that it is difficult to question his pedigree, even now. But circumstances are somewhat different now to his first tenure, though not polar opposite.
Danny comes to the club at what seems like a time of desperation. Amidst the expectations built up from David Flitcroft’s ‘Great Escape’, the events of this campaign come as somewhat unprecedented, given that very much the same squad showed what bordered on promotion form last season. In a way, I feel that Mr Wilson has a greater task on his hands than the one that met David Flitcroft, as he is very much the man that was approached (in public at least), and ultimately appointed, with the weight of expectation on his shoulders, in contrast to a fan base that was almost resigned to the drop following rejection from messieurs O’Driscoll and Butcher. Where the squad had been re-united last season, they have become divided again, and in some cases have been spread around the country in one of the most bizarre loan clear outs that has ever been seen.
So what has Danny inherited exactly? In his press conference, he alluded to the fact that we had seemed like ‘nearly men’ this term, with games being won and lost on fine margins - which is a viewpoint I would tend to agree with. I feel that, within this squad, there are certainly players capable of helping us to retain our championship status, though in other cases our acquisitions might have been more astute. It goes without saying that at this point in time, the likes of Dale Jennings and Lewin Nyatanga seem like wasted signings, whilst some of the loan signings made, such as Fox and Tudgay, have failed to pull their weight. I would argue that the team is missing leadership, belief, as well as a spark of magic. These seem like simple demands, though with a budget our size, they are without a doubt difficult players to find. I feel that the answer doesn’t lie in specific players or suggested acquisitions, but more in the squad’s make-up. I feel it is essential we trim the fat, and without paying over the odds or beyond our means, look to a smaller, high quality squad, with space to bring through the youngsters.
It is without a doubt that a half season’s worth of starts for the likes of Digby, Noble Lazarus, et al might come at a stretch, however I am certainly of the opinion that they are more than capable of being used as substitutes to make an impact, or to fill in for their more experienced counterparts. This is something that I believe Danny will be keen to do, and indeed achieved in his first tenure at Oakwell, as well as in his most recent post at Bramall Lane. All that remains is then to create the right mix of youth with experience, loans with our own players, as well as the right balance within the team. Ben Mansford claimed that Danny will be backed in the transfer window, but has the perfect opportunity now, with the quantity of games in absence of a loan or transfer window, to assess the squad in detail and make the acquisitions he deems necessary to keep us in the division.
But is Danny the long term appointment that the fan base having been crying out for? The non-disclosure of the length of Wilson’s contract is certainly interesting and in contrast to what we have become accustomed to at Oakwell, but is nonetheless a wise move I feel. Former Chairman, John Dennis, referred to an expectation earlier on Tuesday that his contract will span until the end of the season, however I believe that, should we be relegated, Wilson will remain the man trusted to turn around our fortunes, particularly with his past play-off exploits. This would seem a realistic expectation, as both Mansford and Wilson referred to the fact that we will be looking towards ‘a different profile of player’, therefore it seems that Wilson is genuinely Mansford’s choice for the role, especially given the expectation that we might ‘push-on’ next year if we remain in the division. The only question I feel that could be raised as to the ‘permanence’ of the appointment is that of the retention of the backroom staff. Would a fully-backed Wilson have been given the opportunity to bring in his own men? You’d think so, though this might simply be a case of money rather than belief, particularly since Flitcroft is expectedly still on the club’s payroll (possibly along with his predecessor, Keith Hill). Though the situation is not ideal, I don’t feel that in our circumstances, and at this stage we can complain with a staff that we are told remain committed to the club, indeed Wilson himself seemed satisfied with the retention of Mellon in particular. Instead, Wilson’s budget will go on what will ultimately, regardless of who is at the helm and coaching them, keep us up - the team, rather than compensating the skeletons in our closet.
So what now for the club, and most importantly the fans? In the first instance, I would urge everyone to get behind Wilson, who I am sure was not everyone’s first choice. I would then urge them to get behind this group of players, who will no doubt still be in limbo as to their position, particularly in the New Year. Will we stay up? It will certainly be tough, but I feel that with a new man, with fresh ideas, and a different approach to the past couple of regimes, we at least have a fighting chance. Instilling belief from the get go on Saturday will be key in picking up a few results before the New Year, ahead of our new manager’s much anticipated activity in the transfer market in January. Whatever happens, it is vital that we rid ourselves of the sacking culture that has plagued us as a club for years. Should we be relegated, it is key we stick with Wilson to build this club in the way suggested in my earlier post about short termism - and I feel that he is indeed the man to do that.
For now then, I’ll take the early opportunity to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, and hopefully a much happier New Year as far as the team is concerned. Please feel free to comment below or share your thoughts with me on Twitter: @MichaelRoach55. Also, look out for my programme notes in the Leeds programme this weekend, if you’re taking the trip to Elland Road.
Thanks for Reading.