Saunders comes out fighting
Doncaster Rovers manager Dean Saunders may be rocking on the ropes following his side’s relegation to League One, but he is refusing to throw in the towel. Here, the former Liverpool and Welsh international striker pulls no punches as he reveals how he plans to inject some tough love into his bid for an immediate Championship return.
Saunders, whose winning mentality as a player came almost as second nature, has not enjoyed being on the wrong end of results since replacing Sean O’Driscoll midway through September. But a sign of a good fighter is not how many times he gets knocked down, but how often he gets up. And that fighting spirit was clear for all to see as he promises a pre-season shake-up.
“I know what’s needed”, he said. “I see them in training every day. You have to have some pride. You can’t get knocked off the ball and think that’s alright, you can’t lose a tackle and think that’s OK, you have got to have some steel in you and a bit of aggression. I mean controlled aggression, I don’t mean running around kicking lumps out of people, just some pride. If someone knocked me off the ball they wouldn’t do it again.
“My boy Callum plays at Crewe. He’s 16 and I have never seen him lose his temper. I don’t think I ever played with a player who never lost his temper, not who was any good. We have a lot of footballers here, too many are the same.
“I’ve got 12 players left in contract and that adds up to £1 million over the budget for next season, so work that one out. Some of those are going to have to leave. I’ve got to speak to a few of them, but I have to sit and wait to see who leaves and who stays. Clubs will come in for some of them and if, for example, a central midfielder leaves, I’ll need a new midfielder. I have told the players they are going to have to give me a bit of time. Most of the players have taken pay cuts, including me. We get relegated and wages go down.”
While Saunders faces an uncertain few weeks waiting to see who stays and who goes, he is in no doubt about the type of players he will be targeting. He added: “I know the characters we need and that’s the most important thing. I’ve got to sign four or five players. We need players who, when our football’s not working, ensure we don’t get bullied and can help us compete with anybody. We need players who, when the wind’s blowing the wrong way, or the pitch is bad, we can still win. At the moment we are losing too many challenges around the pitch.
“I will try and get the best type of characters into the club and hopefully enjoy watching a game for a change because I cannot accept the way we lost to Ipswich – we were bullied and we need more MEN on the pitch. We need to be a stronger outfit but without losing the football. We need people who are going to want to go out on the pitch and want to win or want to do whatever it takes to win.
“If it’s a football match, I will beat you at that, if it’s a running race I am fitter than you and if it’s a physical scrap I will beat you at that because I am more determined than you – the players have to have those three things. If you only have one of those, then you are in trouble.
“It’s going to be a tough summer, but I know how to do it. I’ve done it before.”
Opportunity knocks for relegated Rovers
Relegation sometimes can be the best thing to happen to a club. The change of manager and use of their ‘footballing experiment’ with agent Willie McKay has led to the team, which captured the footballing nation with their incredible rise from non-league to the Championship, losing their identity.
This is now a great opportunity for Rovers to rediscover themselves and to use the example set by their near neighbours Sheffield United.
The Blades had suffered a similar fate to Rovers, with the change of manager and change in football style not enough to prevent them from dropping through the Championship trapdoor.
However, relegation acted as a wake-up call to their chairman Kevin McCabe and United now have a new way of playing and look set to bounce back at the first attempt.
Sometimes, adversity can bring out the best in you and relegation could help John Ryan refocus on the first team after the mistakes of this year. He has shown he is a shrewd operator who has worked wonders so far in his time at the helm. He can get Rovers heading in the right direction once again.
Relegation is not the end of the world for Rovers – it could just be the start of something new.
Would the real Donny Rovers please stand up?
Doncaster Rovers are facing up to their most important pre-season for many years.
If they get it wrong, the club, which captured everyone's hearts with their remarkable rise from non-league to the Championship, face spiralling back down the leagues to where this romantic journey first began.
The 'footballing experiment' with agent Willie Mckay has been much-maligned, but this is not to blame for their relegation. The decision by chairman John Ryan to seek the services of the well-known agent was inspired - they just used it wrong.
Rovers signed several players who Mckay had access to on loan but paid only £2,000 a week towards their wage. These players were unwanted by their clubs and were deliberately sent to Rovers to put themselves in the shop window in a bid to instigate a move away.
In return, Donny would, hopefully, get the services of a quality player who would otherwise be out of their range to help them in their bid to avoid the drop. Mckay has performed a similar role to that of a director of football, using his contacts and vast portfolio of players to work with the manager and identify new targets.
For clubs such as Doncaster, who have little money, it is a good idea in principle. With the need to maximise your playing budget and streamline the first team playing squad becoming all the more greater, it is better for clubs to pay the wage of a player to play for someone else and attract interest than to sit in the reserves.
But where Doncaster went wrong was the frequency in which they used this system. They brought far too many of these players in and lost their identity.
Name me a manager who would sign El Hadji Diouf in a relegation battle?
The likes of Coppinger and Hayter et al knew what it meant to play for Doncaster Rovers, but Chimbonda, Diouf, Beye etc were here to play for themselves. The reason why they went to West Ham and got a draw was because Upton Park was the shop window - that's where they get their move. Millwall at home in midweek for a hearts-on-the-line relegation scrap does not have the same appeal.
What Doncaster did so well in previous seasons was the fact they had a brand of football and a set of players who had been at the Keepmoat for a while. The club mattered to them and they knew what it meant to wear the shirt. The squad only needed tweaking, but too many luxury players came in and, as a result, they lost the spine of their side.
Donny have now lost everything they had built and the principles that had laid the foundation for their Championship journey.
It's back to the drawing board, otherwise it could be back to where they started.