As the January 2021 transfer window comes to a close (in February, just to add another hint of daftness to these already crazy times) we caught up with director of football David Holdsworth to get his thoughts on this latest round of activity.
“I think it’s been an extremely successful window due to the work that was done in the summer, and then the way we prepared heading towards this one,” he said. “In fact, it’s been hugely successful and that’s currently being reflected in the results and the performances we’re seeing.
“It also comes from having done the bulk of what we needed to do early with Cedwyn Scott, Ozzy Zanzala, Morgan Feeney and Ethan Walker all tied up. All four of them add to the squad, they’re exciting and they bring different attributes.
“Chris [Beech] and I spoke a lot about traits and characteristics leading into this season, and we can go back as far as last February – which seems forever ago now – when I sat down with the first team and academy staff and we talked about what we wanted to create at this football club.
“Our manager has a vision, I have a vision, and the club has a vision, and all of those things are aligned at the moment. That’s reflected in the fact that Chris and Gav [Skelton] extended their deals, and a number of players who could have gone elsewhere have chosen to stay.
“They’re all happy with what we’re doing, and they all want to be part of trying to achieve it with us going forward.”
Looking back 12-months ago to a transfer window that brought 16 different transactions, in and out, we wondered how much his job changed over that period.
“That was a really challenging window but it was necessary, because we were in a difficult place,” he commented. “That was when the ball started rolling towards where we are at the moment, with the signings of players who have become such a big part of the dressing room we have now.
“We’d already sorted the situation with Aaron, who has become our vice-captain and is developing into a real leader and a great player. Nick Anderton joined us, now our club captain, and deservedly so, because he leads by example with his character and determination.
“Lewis Alessandra is showing how important he is, with goals, experience and know-how and, if you think back, we managed to sign Omari with about 6 seconds left to spare! And what a signing he’s turned out to be.
“Callum Guy is another, he’s settled in to show us what he can do and he’s picking up nominations and team of the week appearances after every game.
“These are all examples of players the manager identified, who we recruited well, within the boundaries of our finances and remit, and who have helped to push this club on because of who and how they are. That comes down to getting your recruitment right.”
“Into the summer and it’s again about finding the right people who are hungry and who want to be here,” he continued. “To a man they’ve enhanced the dressing room and, if they’ve been asked to step up, they’ve stepped up. Chris can trust them, they trust what he’s telling them, and the competition for places that breeds is second to none.
“Of course when you have a group like that it tends to bring results, which it has, and that then tends to bring outside interest. We’ve accepted that, we’ve acknowledged it, but we’ve also listened to our fans.
“They’ve been on social media asking us not to let certain players go, and we’ve heard and respected their opinions. That’s why I’ve done everything I can to keep the group together, because I know the manager is very happy with what he has at his disposal.
“I very much do this the London way – on a need-to-know basis. We want to keep things confidential if we can, so I won’t name names, and I’m sure the fans will understand that.
“There has been some strong interest in some of our players, and deservedly so, but we’re in no situation where we need to panic. I haven’t had to take it on to others from the conversations I’ve had, because I respect my manager’s wishes that he didn’t feel the need to upset the group in that way.
“Look, when players like Rhys Bennett and Josh Kayode are turning down the chance to go higher up the ladder, something is right. Those two pieces of business are up there with the best we’ve done, if I’m being honest.
“Other defenders are learning from Rhys every day, and I actually hope we can keep him again, and then again, because he’s another who brings excellent leadership qualities and a cool head.
“With JJ, he’s at the other end of the scale. He’s learning, but he’s getting better and better. We felt this was the best place for him to continue that improvement, and it’s a great example of the good feeling around the place that he agreed with that assessment.”
But was this a quiet deadline day, or had the club tried to make anything else happen.
“To be honest with the fans, I can assure them that the aim was to get to 11pm with the players they asked us to keep still here, and we’ve done that,” he said. “We’ve ignored some very strong interest, and we’re really happy to have done it this way.
“That’s that side of it, and with incomings – yes, we lodged an interest in one player last night, and continued conversations through today, and if you’re releasing this interview after we’ve been successful and we’ve announced him, that’s brilliant.
“If it goes out with no more work having been done, that’s also brilliant, because we really are happy with the squad we’ve already put together. They’ve won games, they’ve battled, they’ve pulled together and they’ve got the most important people of all believing in us again – and that’s our supporters.”
Having played and managed in dressing rooms over the years, we wondered if he’d seen anything like the positive energy and team spirit currently on show at Brunton Park.
“I was very loyal as a player, I had 15 years at Watford and I was very proud to captain them, and sometimes you just get a feeling,” he told us. “I like winning, and when you have a dressing room that competes, but also stands together, it’s formidable.
“I saw it at Watford through some great years, again at Sheffield United and with Birmingham City, and I’m seeing it again here.
“We joke about the relationship Rhys has with Chris, but I had that with some of my managers and it makes a huge difference. When you know your gaffer believes in you, it’s worth an extra 15% and possibly another seven or eight wins that you wouldn’t otherwise get.
“And let’s remember he has that relationship with all of them. They’ve bought into him, and it’s so important. We’ve spoken about the identity, the DNA, whatever you want to call it, but Chris is putting it in place and others are responding.
“There are no guarantees, but it gives us a chance, and these next 24 fixtures are an opportunity for us to see if we can make it count. That challenge will be faced whether we have games called off for weather, for Covid, as we have again this Saturday, or whatever this crazy period throws up at us.
“We can guarantee to our supporters that these lads and their manager will be giving it their all, and that’s a good place for us to be at.”