AMBITION is the path to success. Persistence is the vehicle you arrive in. It took right up to the transfer window deadline but Neal Ardley has nailed his man in an extraordinary piece of wheeling and dealing to bring in 150+ league goalscorer Gary Alexander, shipped out leading scorer Byron Harrison, given a chance to a youngster convicted of assaulting two women and in an unexpected twist may yet end up with the final jigsaw piece in signing experienced defender Alan Bennett.
AFC Wimbledon had their first titillating experience of transfer deadline day with fast-moving late night developments right up to the 11pm shut-off time. After appearing rebuffed in his efforts during the last day to round off a good month’s activity in the January window Ardley broke through with the announcement inside the final hour that Crawley Town journeyman Alexander had joined in the relegation fight.
— AFC Wimbledon (@AFCWimbledon) January 31, 2013
Alexander, who’s scored 151 goals in 464 appearances with seven Football League clubs, will bolster the Dons forward line along with Jack Midson in the search for goals to try and keep Wimbledon afloat in League Two.
Ardley has been trying to get 33-year-old Alexander to Kingsmeadow and was delighted to get his man, even if he had to off-load the enigmatic Harrison to League Two rivals Cheltenham Town.
“I played with Gary at Millwall and I know what a good player he is. He has had a bit of a lean spell at Crawley, but that has not detracted from his overall play. With his goals record and the character I know he is, everything added up to make it the right decision to bring him to Wimbledon,” Ardley said.
Club chief executive Erik Samuelson gave this insight: “Neal has been on Gary’s trail for about five weeks and he has worked incredibly hard to make this signing happen. I am delighted for him that this has come off.”
@gazalex29 is a great signing for Afc Wimbledon. He's a real handful and will always score goals at that level. Top bloke too!
— Chris Perry (@ChrisPezPerry) January 31, 2013
Transfer dealings are incredibly complex. There are winners and losers. There will be those who think Byron Harrison was not given the due respect and recognition for his nine goals in 27 appearances while his on-field hang-dog demeanour divided opinions.
But the departure of Harrison, signed in the 2012 transfer window by Terry Brown, is another indication that Ardley is assembling his own squad in a bid to prevent the club from tumbling out of the Football League.
“Byron has been brilliant for us,” Ardley said. “There was interest from Cheltenham earlier in the season, but Byron wanted to stay and prove people wrong by scoring goals at Wimbledon. He has been hit by a back injury lately, but he has all the attributes to be a top striker. I would have had no problems with Byron staying if it never worked out with Cheltenham, but he has met with them and it appears to be the right move for him.”
Cheltenham manager Mark Yates has been dogged in his pursuit of Harrison. And it seems Yates may be instrumental in the possible move of much-respected Robins skipper Alan Bennett to Wimbledon.
After strong rumours linking the experienced Irish centre half to the Dons, no move materialised on deadline day, much to the dismay of Dons fans, looking forward to a strong leader at the back to shore up the holes in the defence in the run-in to the end of the season.
I'm a CTFC player, Ive skippered the team for 70+ games in a good period for the club. I'm not ready to leave. Interest was flattering #coyr
— Alan Bennett (@ABenno15) January 31, 2013
But no sooner had Bennett tweeted that then came reports out of the Gloucestershire spa town that the skipper had left the club by “mutual consent”, heightening speculation that he would indeed head to Wimbledon following the the Robins’ signing of Byron Harrison.
“He rang me at 10pm this evening asking whether a deal could be done on the remaining period left on his contract and he leaves with my blessing and thanks,” Yates told the CTFC web-site.
Then this appeared on Bennett’s Twitter account.
Very emotional to be leaving ctfc..thanks to everybody who has made my time here very special. I hope I'll be remembered fondly. #thanks
— Alan Bennett (@ABenno15) February 1, 2013
It remains to be seen if Wimbledon can still get Bennett after the closing of the transfer window deadline. It’s possible that the change in circumstances with the Dons getting an “undisclosed” fee for Harrison might make it financially possible to get Bennett across the line, red tape permitting. It is understood that Bennett owns a house in SW London. It just adds to all the intrigue on a remarkable transfer deadline day.
The late night developments relegated the day’s earlier announcements with Jon Meades and Will Antwi now to stay for the rest of the season along with experienced goalkeeper Neil Sullivan.
There was also the small matter of the signing of French-born winger Kevin Sainte-Luce, who had his contract terminated by Cardiff City this month after assaulting two women in a city nightclub and narrowly avoiding going to jail.
So why did Ardley, who coached the 19-year-old during his time as Cardiff City’s Academy Manager, decide to give Sainte-Luce a second chance at Wimbledon, and risk a possible backlash from the fans?
“Kevin got in a bit of trouble at Cardiff, but having brought him over from France and coached him for three years, I know what he did was totally out of character. While I do not condone what he did, I felt that Kevin deserved a second chance. If he fulfils the football potential I know he has got then he will excite the fans,” he said.
For his part Sainte-Luce said: “I am so sorry for what I did at Cardiff and it was the first time that I had ever been in trouble with the police. Neal knows me well from Cardiff and I am thankful for this opportunity. I just want to become a better footballer now at Wimbledon and show the fans what I can do.”
It is to be hoped that the youngster will repay Ardley’s faith, the trusting gaffer has stuck his neck out for him, but the odds are against Sainte-Luce given the scrutiny he will come under from the fans and the media of his behaviour and memories of how things didn’t work in the past at the club for troubled Andre Blackman and attitude-tainted MC Harvey and Kieran Djilali.
And talking of Djilali, his second chance at Wimbledon came to an end on deadline day when he was released along with the little-seen Ryan Hervel and defender Callum McNaughton, recently on loan to co-tenants Kingstonians. But there was no word on any loan deal for former first choice goalkeeper and now shunned Seb Brown.
During the January transfer window, the club signed five players — Peter Sweeney, Chris Hussey, Harry Pell, Kevin Sainte-Luce and Gary Alexander — extended the loans/stays of Paul McCallum, Toby Ajala, Jon Meades, Will Antwi and Neil Sullivan, offloaded Christian Jolley and Byron Harrison, both for fees, and released Kieran Djilali, Ryan Hervel and Callum McNaughton. The Neal Ardley revolution is in full swing.
The transfer window has closed — the possibility of now free-agent Bennett still joining notwithstanding — so how will this all affect Wimbledon’s chances of staying in League Two this season? The WDSA poll is about to close, here’s your chance to have your vote..