george francomb
George Francomb … one of the outstanding loans last season who has committed full-time to the Dons

IT is natural at this time of the year for fans to speculate on our transfer targets and our ability to lure big names to Kingsmeadow.  Rumour is rife, but understandably most of the rumours are based on the wish lists of fans rather than the hard economic reality of a small club who have just avoided relegation to the Conference by the skin of their teeth, writes WINDLESHAM DON. 

The truth is that Wimbledon’s budget was in the bottom 3 or 4 in League 2 last season and that will not change for the forthcoming campaign.

As the close season signings roll in and with it an indication of Neal Ardley’s squad-building strategy, it may be instructive to contrast the factors involved in permanent and loan signings, as I believe they are quite different.

For permanent signings the Club will need to satisfy the player’s agent as well as the player himself in a number of areas – primarily basic wages, bonuses and length of contract.  A secondary consideration is likely to be the prospects for promotion and/or cup success.

Unfortunately, as a destination Wimbledon must score very poorly on all of these factors – our budget is low, we cannot risk issuing long-term contracts and recent evidence would suggest that the Club is unlikely to be winning trophies or achieving promotion in the near future.

Thus, practically, Wimbledon are going to be very low down the pecking order for permanent signings relative to our peers in League 2.  This means we are only liable to be an attractive destination for young non-league players aspiring to a league career, players released or rejected by larger clubs, or those coming to the end of their careers.

For loan signings, however, the factors involved are very different.  Generally there will be two types of player available for loans: those who are squad members at a higher level club and who need match practice and promising youngsters from Premiership and Championship academies who their parent clubs believe need experience of competitive football.

For these players, a destination club will need to satisfy very different criteria.  Primarily, there will need to be some assurance that the player will be in the starting XI, as match practice is key for the loaning club.  Finance will generally be of lesser importance, as the loaning club is already obliged to pay the player’s wages and they are only expecting a proportion back from the destination club.

For young players from Premiership or Championship academies there are further factors involved in being an ideal destination for a loan.  In no particular order these will include:

·         Location – A destination club within reasonable proximity to the parent club would be advantageous;

·         Atmosphere – The parent club want their youngster to be exposed to a reasonable size of crowd and good atmosphere to see how they cope under pressure.  However, they would also probably like a degree of sympathy for home players so that confidence is not damaged;

·         Coaching – An assurance that their player will receive a reasonable standard of coaching and care whilst with the destination club.

In my opinion Wimbledon should be rated quite highly when considered as a loan destination: finances not a factor (tick), guaranteed first team experience (tick), good atmosphere (tick) sympathetic crowd (tick), good level of coaching (tick).

jon meades mobbed on final day
Jon Meades .. highly successful loan but now at Oxford.
terry burton
Former Dons manager Terry Burton .. one of Ardley’s many contacts in the game

As far as location is concerned, we are in a prime spot to receive youngsters from any London or South East club.  This season we have the added bonus of two of our rivals for loan signings, Barnet and Aldershot, being relegated to the Conference.  This factor should not be ignored, as it is likely that when identifying recipient clubs for loans, Premier and Championship clubs will target a specific standard of football to which they wish to expose their youngsters.  We are now in a stronger position to receive talented youngsters.

 Thus, despite our weak position as a destination for permanent signings, as illustrated already by the loss of targets Jon Meades to Oxford and John Sullivan to Portsmouth, prospects should not be seen as gloomy.

 Neal Ardley picked up some quality loan signings last term and this was for a club fighting against relegation for the entire season.  There is no reason why we cannot pick up a set of youngsters at least as good as John Sullivan, Jon Meades, Toby Ajala, Brennan Dickenson and Paul McCallum, especially if we start the season better than last.

 Of course, some of our fans may maintain a romantic notion about our attraction as a destination for permanent signings and object to the recruitment of too many loanees.

But the reality is that the football world has changed since the advent of the Premier League and now money (and generally only money) talks.  All clubs at our level utilise the loan system and we have to ensure that we recruit the best possible set of loanees.

Wimbledon banners
Big plus for loan appeal … the Dons fans

Football League rules allow teams to name five loan players on the team sheet and I believe we would be foolish not to take advantage of this.  Signing players on loan has the added advantage that they can be returned to their parent club if injured or not performing – the likes of Warren Cummings must be grateful that this option isn’t available to contracted players!

If we can recruit a core set of permanent signings (and frankly it should not be difficult to improve on Terry Brown’s efforts from this time last year) and supplement these with some talented long term loans then there is no reason why the forthcoming season should not be far more comfortable than the one just gone.

 UPDATE: Neal Ardley is making some terrific signings so far … George Francomb, Andy Frampton, Barry Fuller and Ross Worner and is in the mix for a couple of others.