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DOF: It was a tough month

David Holdsworth on the January transfer window

18 February 2022

With ins, outs, a renewed short-term deal and a first pro contract for a second-year scholar, January brought us 18 separate pieces of transfer or contract activity as manager Keith Millen looked to the important reshaping of his squad for the second half of the 2021/22 campaign.

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Closely involved every step of the way was director of football David Holdsworth, who confirmed once again that the winter window presents a number of different challenges, particularly as the days and weeks tick on.

“It was a very tough month, and that’s the way it is for a lot of clubs at all levels during this window,” he said. “You have targets and the expectation of the fans, and everybody connected with the club who wants to see new faces, and that’s magnified and multiplied if you’re at a club where results aren’t going your way, as is the case with us at the moment.

“Once the players have been identified who the manager thinks will help and improve the squad, the focus for me in my role is to try to get deals done, as the manager and his staff concentrate on the games they have to prepare for and play, at the same time as they also keep on top of the ever-changing and ongoing recruitment work that needs to be done.”

At the heart of any recruitment process is the initial identification of areas to be strengthened or changed, and of players suitable of filling the role.

“Keith had his list of options and individuals who he had identified, and he spoke to the board back in November to discuss what he wanted to do in terms of positions and profiles of players he wanted to recruit, if possible,” he explained.

“For transparency, each manager has the sole responsibility of identifying the players he desires, nobody interferes.

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“The board members were fine with that, and the manager worked with his staff to identify further and in more details specific targets prior to the window opening.

“That meeting was held at a time when results and performances hadn’t been what was needed, so he indicated that he wanted to add players who would improve things.

“It was discussed - and I feel this was just as important - that there were some players here who needed to go out so that we didn’t create an imbalance in the squad because of its size, in terms of it being too big.

“Keith had a clear view on how many players he wanted to have in his squad come the end of the window, and we did what we could to help with that.”

Another inevitable piece of fall-out from any transfer window are targets missed, some of which have been engaged in discussions for days, or even weeks.

“Keith and I had a lot of discussions about the focal point for the recruitment work we were about to do, and there were players we went for that we didn’t manage to get over the line,” he revealed.

“We made high levels of finance available and good offers for wages, and in some cases fees, because we wanted to get them here.

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“The overriding thing we found in this window was that some of the players we talked to didn’t want to come to League Two, because they wanted to play higher and felt they could either stay and fight for their place where they were, or that another opportunity at those levels above us would come along.

“That’s an indication of the quality of player Keith had identified and who we reached out to. We stayed patient with a couple, ready to offer an option should their plans not come to fruition, and it wasn’t until the last two days or so that players and their agents actually made their final decisions.

“I have to say that the people who made the best of the window were the agents because of the real scarcity of players who were available.

“That in turn meant that players and agents were able to ask for sums of money that simply weren’t practical or available to those of us in our division, and even to those in the division above.”

But with the club at the bottom end of the table, was there ever a temptation to push or go over the limit?

“We knew what we were prepared to do, and how far we would go, but in some cases it would have been a risk to the club to meet the demands we were getting,” he told us.

“My role is to make sure we get the best deal possible once a player is identified, and to make sure that we don’t do things that put the club at risk going forward.

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“That doesn’t mean we can’t offer very good deals, or that we can’t offer fees - as we saw with Tobi [Sho-Silva] - but it does mean that we can’t and won’t do deals that are bad for the club going forward. It would be wrong for us to do that.

“We think we’ve spent very well in this window, we’ve invested in players the manager feels will improve us, and that will always be the case. We’ll always do everything within our means to support the football team and staff.”

“All I can say is that it is extremely hard to entice a player who is currently in League One to come to the level below and believe me we tried,” he continued.

“When you’re in there and actually dealing with it as you try to get players to commit to Carlisle, you meet some real barriers.

“We went for some very high-profile players that Keith wanted and identified, and we were excited as we made first contact, and I think the fans would have been excited as well.

“We were patient, there was great hope that we would get them, but it came down to a desire to stay in League One. We have to respect that, and we have to accept it.”

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“When things fall through and you’ve worked hard on it, it’s extremely frustrating, and it doesn’t get any easier as you go through it in different transfer windows, I can assure you of that,” he continued.

“When you’re dealing with agents you’re asking for the truth of where you stand in terms of the chances that the player you’re after will come, and you have to go with whatever it is that you’re told.

“You’re not talking to the player and his representatives on a whim, you’re doing it because you want them at your club.

“As I say, there were players we spoke to, and I won’t deal in names, but in the end they wanted to stay at a higher levels.

“Yes, it is very frustrating when the work is done and it falls away, but it certainly wasn’t for the lack of effort.

“What you accept in a window is that you don’t always finalise every deal, and that’s why you work extremely hard to make sure that you have good options – not necessarily a top target, then a second, then a third, but a number of different players who will fit and who will improve things for you.”

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Looking to clarify, we wondered what the main factors were for players who decided to take other options.

“As Keith said, finances were a factor, but as I’ve explained, that’s down to some of the sums and numbers that were being thrown around,” he confirmed.

“As a club we cannot allow ourselves to be dragged into that type of deal, where we end up paying well over the odds and we put the club at risk.

“Another factor for January is that the senior players have their family to think about, and they tend to want long contracts that go beyond the end of the current season.

“That’s fine, but it involves a move where children are involved, it's a move during a window where they tend to want an amount of money to get them to even think about committing.

“Another reason, and it is a reason and not an excuse - and I know those of us who live and work in Carlisle hate to hear this - but location is a factor.

“When you’re asking players to make the move at this time of year the fact that we are where we are comes into it. That’s frustrating, but it is something that some players do consider.”

We’ll have more on the transfer window from David Holdsworth on the official site on Saturday morning.

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