Around the time of our friendly last season against Arsenal reserves/youths, a few commentators, pointing out the similarity in playing styles between the two teams, labelled the Dons as ‘the Arsenal of the Conference’. It seems the Dons recent transfer policy has taken this a little too far, having also spent the summer selling off the cream of last seasons squad.
Had we forgotten our time in the top flight, where selling off talent effectively bankrolled our survival? I have to admit an element of personal naivety… I was under the impression we would have a price for each of our players, which would bear no resemblance to what the market or any common sense valuation might price them at – they were our players, if you want to take them, you have to pay our price.
If not, the player would stay, perhaps run down their contract, maybe go off and sulk, but either way would see out that contract. There would be an element of discretion if a young player was given the opportunity to improve themselves at a much higher level, or a new otherwise succesful signing just failed to settle. Most importantly, I presumed we would NEVER sell one of our players to a rival in our own division. How naive of me…
Ahh, the realities of football never fail to disturb and depress in equal measures. In reality we can’t have more than a general policy relating to outbound transfers. Lets give an example, imagine if Kedwell had been informed he wouldn’t be allowed to join a club in the same division, and presuming he was at least aware of some Gillingham interest before the end of last season – without wishing to question the guys professionalism, how would that have affected his motivation going into the playoffs (let alone stepping up to take the penalty that won us promotion)?
Unfortunately we are simply the victims of the clubs present circumstances. We find ourselves back in the Football League well ahead of schedule, and in no position to be anything more than divisional makeweights for a couple of seasons at least. From the players perspective, ignoring the emotional tug of playing for your local team, Kedwell is looking at his final chance of earning a bit of money out of his career, the sort of cash Wimbledon just cannot afford to pay at the moment.
Is this a decent deal for both teams? Sure there are risks involved in any transfer, but there are potential positives and negatives for both sides. The question Dons fans were asking was whether Kedwell would make the transition to scoring goals in League Two… I don’t believe it would have been too much of an issue had he stayed at the Dons. He wouldn’t have been as prolific as he was in the Conference, but depending on how the team performed he would have scored 10-15 goals and that would have been more than respectable.
Unquestionably League Two is a different level to the Conference. Yet the bottleneck two up-two down means while Oxford or Bristol Rovers have more quality than Luton or Fleetwood, and the likes of Barnet or Macclesfield are better teams than Hayes or Southport, those sides at the top of the Conference would significantly increase the standard of the division if overnight someone swapped them with those treading water at the bottom. In other words, this won’t be a different planet as far as leading lights in the division below are concerned, and Kedwell falls into that category.
A much bigger risk for Keds is the transfer itself. He might have looked isolated at times last season, he might have moaned about how much work he was required to do, but at its counter attacking best the Dons 4-3-3 was pretty much built around Kedwell. Will he fit at Gillingham, if he is employed in a traditional striking partnership will they click?
As far as a replacement for Kedwell is concerned, well there is a theory that such is the difficulty in bringing in a like for like replacement, then don’t waste resources trying. For now having a bit of money in the kitty and picking up a few alternative options such as Midson or Ademeno, perhaps taking a look at one or two on trial and not worrying too much might not be a bad position to be in. Browns recruitment, despite largely being positive, has at times been questioned, and I have suggested in the past he tended to get it right in the summer, more miss than hit during January.
For that reason I’ll amend my previous observation, Brown gets it right when he has the time to weigh up his options, only when under pressure has he disappointed (Hudson and Broughton examples from last season). Given that, we might find if he is prepared to wait, eventually the right man will come along, yet this largely depends on how the Dons start the season… while I don’t think any of us are seriously worried about relegation, but a few home defeats could see early supporter optimism slip away, our ambition should be to fill the ground (at least for Saturday matches), poor form could scupper that somewhat.
Brown has already said he won’t replace Gregory, and immediately I agree with this. We already have quality in midfield, but more importantly depth. It could be suggested Porters arrival had a lot do with a presumption someone might come in with a bid for him we couldn’t refuse, they would have been more than aware of the interest in him from the volume of scouts alone. Despite this, losing Gregory has further devalued the squad, and like Kedwell he is the sort of player you just don’t replace overnight.
Again, the club had their arms twisted a little on this one. Gregory might have stated he was happy at the club, and I believe him… he seems to have a decent amount of self belief, and would have been aware if this deal had broken down, there were other suitors watching him (and will continue to monitor him at Bournemouth), the deal would have happened eventually.
Unlike Kedwell this move was more about career progression. Despite our lightening progress so far, the AFC Wimbledon project has always been long-term. Bournemouth’s current status as a League One challenger can change and change quickly – just look at Swindon to see how a season of promise can unravel twelve months later. But even presuming they do stay there or there abouts, it’s going to take the Dons years to reach that point… and that won’t just be on the field progress – we need that new stadium, which even the most optimistic of projections suggests won’t be seen until Gregory reaches the autumn of his career.
More importantly, it’s a fantastic advert for our club. Brown has set us up as the sort of club at talented young player can put themselves in the shop window, we will ask for adequate compensation should a larger club come in, but beyond that we won’t stand in their way. Like I said the other day, if you start forcing people to see out their contract, besides never getting compensated for player departures we will have great difficulty getting promising players to sign them in the first place.
As for the compensation we did receive, the fees remain undisclosed, and beyond our natural voyeuristic desire to know the full ins and outs I don’t think there is a great deal of value in publicising them. I can certainly understand why Gillingham and Bournemouth wouldn’t want people to find out, at least immediately, a fee of any sort in the current climate puts pressure on a signing. For us it’s a little but different, we can guess the club will immediately have found the coffers boosted by the sum of six figures – for what its worth I would guess £50,000 for Kedwell and £70,000 for Gregory, with potential bonuses for the latter based on appearances and future Bournemouth success.
Either way, the last couple of weeks have been unsatisfactory as far as Dons fans are concerned. Two key players left, we find we have to contest a highly annoying League Cup playoff, which itself had a knock on effect on our preseason schedule… yet as a bare minimum our current squad is still decent, mid-table at best, but filled with youthful, technically proficient footballers, with the sort of pace that would scare anyone.
As promised I’ll be taking a closer look at the squad over the next week or so, before next Saturday sees the resumption of football at Kingsmeadow. In a months time, we would have fulfilled our first competitive fixture and be eyeing up the visit of Bristol Rovers, all of a sudden a miserable summer will be put in perspective.