It’s almost universally agreed by football managers at all levels that the end-of-season player meetings day is one of the toughest in the calendar, with the good news of contract offers always counter-balanced by the unenviable task of telling sone of the group that their future is elsewhere.
“It’s one of those things when you take on a managerial role that you have to do,” manager Paul Simpson said. “You have to make tough decisions and have some tough conversations.
“Some of those conversations were difficult today, it’s never nice to give people bad news, but I believe the best way to do it is to just be honest. The feeling I’ve got is that not many of them were surprised that they’ve been released.”
“I think the biggest surprise is probably the Mark Howard one,” he added. “When I spoke to him I told him it was probably the toughest one for me to make.
“I see today as the start of the future, this is where it all starts. We’re looking to improve the squad and make it a really youthful, athletic group of players.
“As much as Mark has been excellent for us in terms of shot-stopping and keeping us in games, I’m just looking to improve that area as well.
“When I stood up at the start of the awards last night I spoke about it being a strange feeling to celebrate finishing 20th in the league.
“I think when the goalkeeper gets a clean sweep of awards it tells you that we haven’t done very well. That’s not being disrespectful in any way to Mark, or the goalkeeper’s union, if you’re a successful team your goalkeeper shouldn’t be winning awards.
“I think that’s a reflection of where we are. Mark has been very professional with the way he’s gone about it and the way he handled it today, even though he was obviously disappointed.
“We’ve made an offer to Magnus to keep him at the club because I see there being a really good goalkeeper that we can develop. I think he’s lost his way a little bit this season but I see him as being somebody we can develop for years to come.”
Speaking more about the reasoning behind the decisions, he told us: “All of the decisions have been made with the future of the club in mind, there’s nothing personal in any of them at all.
“They’ve all been really good blokes to work with. Some have had more opportunities than others and I’ve taken a view that we have to change and strengthen the group.
“Clearing the decks sounds really disrespectful, but I’m clearing spaces in the squad to give us an opportunity to go out and bring players in who are bigger, better and more athletic to try and take the club forward.
“I genuinely wish all of them who are moving on the very best in their careers. The only thing on my mind is moving forward. The challenge for us all is to make this football club better. If I have to make difficult decisions that people on the outside are surprised by, then that’s what I have to do.”
A slight difference with one of the released players is an invitation to midfielder Jamie Devitt to return in pre-season, should he wish to do so.
“Dev is a fantastic character and personality around the dressing room,” he said. “I like what I’ve seen of him as a character, but I think we only scratched the surface on what he can do for the team.
“I don’t think he was ever fully fit, we did it the wrong way around really and put him in the team to get fit rather than him being fit to come into the team.
“We were in a situation where we needed experience and I knew what he could add for us. He’s had real bad luck with this other injury he’s picked up.
“He was disappointed because he thought he could be involved at Bradford, but he’d had one training session where he was the spare man in everything we did.
“There was no way I could chuck him in, it would have been my heart rather than my head doing it. I’ve invited Jamie to come back in for pre-season training so he can show us he can get himself fit and be an effective member of the squad.”
In the recent past those players who have been offered contracts have, on occasion, deferred their decisions until well into pre-season, and on or two occasions even beyond that.
“For the players we’ve offered contracts to, they’ve got until the end of this month to make their decisions,” he confirmed. “I think that’s more than enough time to consider their options.
“If they make their decision that they want longer than that then the offer will go, and it’s up to them what they do from there.
“I’ve made offers because I genuinely would like to keep them here, I’m not doing it on a whim, I think they’re players that can help take us forward.
“I hope they agree to stay but we’ll wait and see on that. Once it gets to the end of this month, if they’ve said it’s not a yes then the contract offer will be taken away.
“It may come back again further down the line, but the likelihood is that it will be on less terms than they’ve been offered so far. I really hope they agree to stay because I want them as part of the group to take us forward.”
As for those already under contract, he commented: “All of the lads who are under contract have been told that I expect a hell of a lot more from them next year.
“They’ll be given a programme to work to and when they come back for pre-season I expect them to be in a really good place.
“Next season, we have to be fitter and more dynamic. I don’t want to see the running stats that I’ve been seeing, we need to be so much better than we are.
“The challenge for us as staff, and that includes Jamie [Roper] who is stepping up, is to make a group of players physically stronger and physically and mentally more robust and ready to deal with the challenge of a long League Two season.
“One thing I’ve said to all of the players is that when we come back I’m hoping we’ve got a minimum of six, but maybe even more new faces in the group.
“I want competition for places and I want them all to be fighting. During the 15 games of this season I think we’ve probably had maybe 12 starters, and I’ve considered the rest as finishers.
“I want a group of maybe 18 outfield starters who are all going to be pushing each other to be playing in that team. If we do that then we’ve got a chance of having a much better season.
“In terms of getting new players in, it’s difficult to say when that might start happening. I want agreements in place as soon as we possibly can. I want to know we’ve got x, y and z coming in for the first day of pre-season. I promise the fans that as soon as there’s any information, we’ll tell you.”
One player out of contract who is sorted is popular defender Morgan Feeney, who had his club option triggered this morning.
“We’ve triggered the option in Morgan’s contract and he’s the sort of character we need inside the club,” the manager said. “He wears his heart on his sleeve and gives everything for the cause.
“He’s still got things he needs to improve on and he knows that, and he’s prepared to do that. I would actually like to extend his contract even further and give him that bit of security, that’s his decision on whether he wants to talk about that.
“I want him to know he’s going to be a valuable part of the squad, but I’ve told him I would like to bring at least one centre half in, so he’s going to have to show me he deserves to start.”
With a lot of business concluded today, he also confirmed that this weekend will be the first in a while where he’ll be completely switching off.
“I’ll be taking my football head off this weekend because I’ve got a lovely wedding event to go to down south,” he told us. “I’ve got quite a bit to do this week in terms of planning and recruitment.
“What I want to do when I go to this wedding is put last season to bed and start thinking about next season and making sure everything is in place.
“I know when I go away on holiday I’ll still be working and Jacqui understands that, but I feel as though I’m in a really good place.
“I’ve found a house up here and I’ve sold my house in Derbyshire, so it’s full steam ahead to get ready for next season.”
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