Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Update From The Manager

John Ward has today revealed that contract talks continue with goalkeeper Steve Mildenhall and that he is hopeful he will still join us. Ward also explained that he is continuing to talk with John-Joe O'Toole's representatives in the hope of luring him to Rovers but concedes that the midfielder wants to play at the highest level he possibly can. There was also news on the assistant manager front... in that there is nothing to report. Nobody has been approached as yet - apparently.

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I think we've all been a little worried about the situation with Mildenhall. He seemed to thoroughly enjoy his time with us and struck up a tremendous rapport with supporters following his impressive displays in goal. His experience and quality is exactly what we have lacked for our goalkeepers in recent seasons and he is clearly the ideal man to fill the position permanently. It appears a good move for both parties because it allows Mildenhall to commute from his home in nearby Wiltshire so he can remain with his family during the week. As far as many of us were concerned we didn't envisage too many problems in sealing his signature.

But the longer we have gone without positive news the more likely it seemed he would reject the contract offered to him. Initially the question would have been 'why?' but with the goalkeeping situations at Swindon Town (is home club), Bristol City and Yeovil Town far from certain, Mildenhall could easily have received contact from them. City currently have no goalkeepers on their books following Tom Heaton's departure to Burnley and their release of Dean Gerken and Lewis Carey so an experienced goalkeeper will be exactly what they are looking for in their return to League One. Swindon have to cut their wage bill and it seems likely star player Wes Foderingham will be sold as a result, meaning their will be a number 1 required at the County Ground too. Factor in Yeovil and their need for Championship-standard goalies, especially if their highly-rated Marek Stech is sold, and you can see why Mildenhall may now have a fair few options. If this was the case would Rovers remain an appealing proposition?

Well, he would be guaranteed to play every game if he joined us and he is already well-liked by players, staff and fans alike. This would mean he would be received very positively indeed. He also knows he could be part of a club on the up with the ambitions we harbour for the coming season. The UWE Stadium is just 2 years away and the opportunity to become a club hero in his final years may be too good to turn down. Of course, we cannot compete with the standard of football the other clubs offer but I'm sure given Swindon's wage concerns we could compete with them and Yeovil financially. We probably couldn't match what City would be able to pay him but he runs the risk of becoming disliked by both Bristol clubs if he joins them and fails to deliver the goods. Ward has said we have made him a 'good offer' and the ball remains in Steve's court. I hope he decides his future lies with Bristol Rovers, undoubtedly with coaching attached in some future capacity, and that he signs in the next few days. It would be a giant stride forward if we could pull it off.

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In terms of the popular O'Toole, who helped transform our season upon joining in the new year, talks remain ongoing. He made it clear when questioned by the press after the final appearance of his loan spell that he wanted to play at a higher level than League Two. I can understand that. He's a very good footballer and if he was out of contract I could see why he would choose to join a club who played in League One. However, he still has a year left on his contract with Colchester United who have made it clear they would sell him to us. Sitting on their substitutes bench for the entirety of 2013-2014 wouldn't be an appealing prospect for the Irishman and other interested League One clubs, of which there are plenty, may be told by Colchester that he will not be sold to a divisional rival. This would clearly limit his options and lead him to selecting Rovers. It wouldn't be in ideal circumstances but it would at least be a positive move. He clearly really liked his spell with us and was delighted at the response he received from his team-mates and Gasheads. You could sense he felt appreciated for the first time in a long while. Hopefully this has a baring on his decision too.

There are plenty of permutations to the deal and nothing is decided as yet. The fact we remain in negotiations is a good thing because he has clearly not dismissed us out of hand. Having said that it does suggest he is trying to keep his options open for as long as possible and whilst this remains the case he may receive a better offer. Ward has worked with O'Toole at both Rovers and Colchester and this could be significant in his final decision. If Ward can persuade him to join the evolution then O'Toole could be in it for the long haul if we can earn promotion next season.

Disappointingly Ward did admit that he doesn't anticipate any big signings being made before pre-season training begins on June 20. This of course could be a cover-up for potential transfer dealings taking place but I had hoped to hear that he was closing in on other targets. He said earlier in May that we'd see a 'couple of new faces' over the summer (other than Mildenhall and O'Toole) so to be apparently no nearer to signing anybody is frustrating. Still, I trust Ward to be working as hard as he can to strengthen the squad and whatever he decides is for the best is good enough for me.

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He's certainly taking his time in appointing an assistant manager as he wants to get the decision absolutely 'right'. This is pivotal because it seems increasingly likely that whoever is brought in will be the long-term replacement to Ward as Rovers manager in the next couple of years. Today's interview saw Ward say he has not approached anybody as yet which could of course be because he wants to throw people off the scent. If, however, he is honest in his statement, it perhaps points at a coach who is currently employed. Who that may be remains to be seen but he has made it clear the criteria is they need to be experienced in the Football League. From what has been discussed online in recent days QPR coach and former Cheltenham Town boss Steve Cotterill could be the man we're waiting for. Geographically it would make sense as he has west country roots and was heavily linked with our managerial job after Ray Graydon left in 2004. He would be part of an ongoing project to get this club to League One and beyond and that could be appealing to Cotterill. His situation with QPR has not yet been resolved but he appears the popular choice at the moment and some people with 'sources' suggest there could be some substance to this. It will be a case of waiting for an official club announcement but it is certainly interesting to consider a manager of Steve's credentials and experience being brought in to assist John next year. With the manager's job then a dead-cert when Ward moves upstairs or retires it would seem we would be in very safe hands.

There's a lot to be discussed and finalised right now so for now at least we'll have to continue waiting. It's frustrating at this time of year but hopefully good things will come to those who wait...

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