Why appointing Wally Downes would be a mistake for AFC Wimbledon

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 20 November 2018, 09:33

Wally Downes is the overwhelming odds-on favourite to be the next AFC Wimbledon manager, but Gabriel Sutton believes the club should be more open-minded about appointing a boss without an obvious historic connection to the club.

Here’s why.

Firstly, it should be said that AFC Wimbledon’s rise has been one of English football’s most inspiring stories this century.

Supporters wanted a club that kept the heart and soul of the one they had loved and, through hard work, commitment, togetherness and people power, they achieved that – the Wombles have risen from the bottom of the non-league pyramid into the third-tier.

This incredible progress was powered by a collective desire to represent and bring justice to the original Wimbledon.

There is reason to think however, that what has been motivational fuel for the club hitherto this point could now start to become a burden.

For example, Neal Ardley has been a huge part of the club’s rise within the EFL and for that reason, many board members felt it right that he would be the man to lead them back to Plough Lane - which they see as their spiritual home - when they leave Kingsmeadow in 2020.

That loyalty though meant the board overlooked a return of 58 goals in Ardley’s last 69 league matches in charge and a run of 12 league defeats in 14 – it took an unconvincing FA Cup win at eighth-tier Haringey before they acted on the need for change.

Had they made their decision following the 2-0 loss at Bristol Rovers, after which Ardley was seemingly struggling to cope with the emotional pressure of the situation, the new manager would have inherited a side just one point off safety.

Having delayed the decision, they now need approximately 35 points from their last 28 games to stay up; form akin to midtable Southend.

 

The club feels a responsibility to fight for a cause that extends beyond the field itself, which can sometimes detract from the footballing aspect.

We are seeing evidence of that with the rumoured appointment of Wally Downes, the current overwhelming odds-on favourite to replace Ardley. The former midfielder is cited as being the main instigator of the Crazy Gang spirit at Wimbledon, a huge influential figure behind the club’s rise throughout the 1980s.

Downes though has had no success as a manager: in fact, his only experience as a number 1 came with Brentford and that ended back in 2004.

If the board were to bring the 57-year-old in as manager, it would be clear that they are looking purely for a figurehead to galvanize the fanbase and that legendary status from playing days is of paramount importance.

This is a slightly insular policy because, by looking for people who already buy into the ingrained ethos of the club, they are rejecting the possibility that somebody with no prior connection to Wimbledon might view them from a slightly different lens and thus bring fresh ideas.

 

Plus, while the West Londoners do not have a brilliant squad at League One level, they are not without ability.

19-year-old right-back Toby Sibbick is a bright, young talent who came through the academy like midfielder Anthony Hartigan, who has shown creative potential at 18.

Enigmatic winger Mitch Pinnock has been in positive form of late while Joe Pigott has scored six goals in all forms; a respectable return, considering the style of play.

Were Wimbledon brave enough to appoint a more progressive tactician, all these players would be more likely to thrive and command a higher sell-on value, helping the club reduce the budgetary gulf between themselves and their competitors.

The challenge of modern football is to adapt, evolve and move with the times to stay competitive: if the original Wimbledon existed now, that’s most likely what they would try to do.

AFC Wimbledon would therefore provide the truest and best representation of the extinct club by following their own path, rather than make an appointment that would allow themselves to be limited by their identity.

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