An update from Julian Winter
With the 2021-22 season now well underway I felt it was important to update our supporters on a number of topics.
Firstly, I would like to apologise for the delay in updating you all on matters within the club but as you are aware it has been a rather busy period since our 2020-21 season came to an end.
Defeat in the play-off final was obviously a disappointment for everyone connected to the club after such a tough season with matches being played behind closed doors due to the pandemic and the many challenges that it brought.
To be 90 minutes away from a place in the Premier League is a situation that all Championship clubs would probably have taken at the start of last season under the circumstances, and I’m proud of the efforts that everyone at the club undertook for us to try and achieve our goal.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be and we began to prepare for another season in the Championship.
As everyone is aware, it was a difficult summer for the club with uncertainty around the position of Steve Cooper as our head coach. As with players, it is important for a club to have discussions with a head coach if they have a year left on their contract which was the situation with Steve.
We didn’t want him to go into a new season without clarity for all parties, but it quickly became clear that we found ourselves in a situation where both the club and Steve thought it best to part ways. However, we were able to get ourselves in position where the club would be protected by compensation in the event that Steve found another job within a period of time, which has been reflected financially with his recent move to Nottingham Forest.
I’m acutely aware of the frustrations of supporters for how long this process took in terms of the end of last season and the start of pre-season, but it was a very complex situation. There was speculation in the media around Steve’s position and reported interest from other clubs, but we never received an approach from anywhere.
As with all things contractual, there are complexities and this was no different. However, once the situation developed we were able to amicably part ways and allow the club to press forward with the appointment of a new head coach, which is a key position for any football club and one that we wanted to ensure we got right.
With the appointment of Russell Martin, we feel that we have a head coach who is aligned with our overall vision and we were delighted to be able to bring him to the club from MK Dons, along with his backroom staff.
The timing of our appointment of Russell just six days before the season was due to start wasn’t ideal. As a result, that has meant that it will take time for him to implement his ideas without the benefit of a full pre-season in charge.
But the signs so far have been hugely encouraging and while haven’t got the wins that our performances have deserved in games, there has been clear progression since the first international break of the season which is evidence of quality time on the training pitch and the way in which Russell wants us to play moving forward.
Not only that, but the character and courage shown by the players to turn around a three-goal deficit at Luton last month highlighted the togetherness and spirit that Russell and his staff have fostered in a short space of time. It’s also very evident that Russell has brought a clear idea of how he wants the team to play, and that has been reflected in some very dominant performances.
There has also been a turnover of backroom staff since the end of last season, which has been another challenge that the club has faced. That is natural when one head coach departs and another comes in, and the club have placed on record its thanks to those members of staff who are no longer with us, particularly Alan Tate for the years of service he gave to the football club both on and off the field. All the new staff that have come in have really immersed themselves in the city and surrounding area, moving their families here in order to put down roots and settle into the club.
I was asked recently in an interview about the end of the transfer window and after some time to reflect, I feel as though we have come out of it in a stronger position then when we started. It is never easy when players leave after being on loan as we experienced this summer, but I feel the players we have brought in have shown real intent. We have used just two loan players in the form of Ethan Laird and Rhys Williams, while at the same time investing in the playing squad with seven permanent additions to the first-team. Under the guidance of Russell and his staff, we are building a squad with real hunger, desire and quality, which in time we hope will develop into something special.
Another season in the Championship and the end of our parachute payments means that once more we have to be pragmatic, sensible and, ultimately, as sustainable as we can be. But with seven permanent signings, including four players who cost a transfer fee in the form of Michael Obafemi, Kyle Joseph, Flynn Downes and Joel Piroe, shows investment in the squad and a sign of ambition and intent.
Russell is also someone who is very focused on creating a positive culture, both and off the pitch. He exudes positivity and a clear mindset on what he wants to achieve and that goes hand in hand with how the club is trying to foster a togetherness behind the scenes. We have a passionate group of staff at the stadium, Landore and Fairwood who work tirelessly to support our performance on the pitch and the way the club is perceived by both our own supporters and those from other clubs, as well as key stakeholders.
On deadline day we sold both Jamal Lowe and Connor Roberts, which in turn raised some questions with our supporters regarding the reported transfer fees we received for both players. We have made no secret of the fact that we are a trading club and ultimately we will sell players in order to bring in others and continually develop the squad and move the club forward. However, I am aware that we have had situations where players have reached the final year of their contracts and that is something that we will be addressing moving forward.