West­ley

The Football League Paper - - FRONT PAGE - Gra­ham West­ley

The end of the foot­ball sea­son brings to an end a roller-coaster ride of emo­tion. Ev­ery­body feels it to dif­fer­ing de­grees. The highs and the lows. But fans, chair­men, di­rec­tors, man­agers, play­ers, fam­i­lies... ev­ery­body feels foot­ball to some de­gree. As a man­ager, you sit in the mid­dle of it all, ar­guably feel­ing it more than any­body, know­ing that your job is to al­low nei­ther tri­umph nor dis­as­ter to gain a grip. It is up to you to main­tain a healthy bal­ance for ev­ery­body along­side you on the jour­ney.

At the end of a sea­son, there is time for re­flec­tion, for re­joic­ing or for com­mis­er­at­ing, but one way or the other it is a time for plan­ning, pre­par­ing and for look­ing for­wards.

Per­son­ally, 2013-14 was a test of en­durance for me. I have to be hon­est and say that los­ing in the 2008-09 Con­fer­ence play-offs hurt me a ton more than this sea­son’s rel­e­ga­tion be­cause my play­ers de­served pro­mo­tion in 2008-09 and didn’t get it. My feel­ing for them and our fans was in­ter­twined with my own dis­ap­point­ment back then.Whereas this sea­son, we got what we earned. I did not feel hard done by. Our fans tried hard and were so so loyal. But our team didn’t do enough to learn, im­prove and win.

I in­her­ited a squad that was los­ing in April 2013. And I didn’t take long to work out why; the cul­ture was wrong. The last 12 months have in­volved en­dur­ing dif­fi­cult be­hav­iour, try­ing my heart out to per­suade change, fight­ing to cre­ate small im­prove­ments, be­ing stuck with con­tracted play­ers who didn’t want to change or move; it was tough. I had just to bat­tle along. Dig deep for small gains. Then mo­ti­vate my­self to go again. Know­ing that at the end of the sea­son the power would shift and I could change what needed chang­ing. And here we are. A step back. But some­times you have to do that to move for­wards.

I am lucky, if that is the word, that the fans at Steve­nage, the board at Steve­nage and the chair­man at Steve­nage have be­lief in me. They have lis­tened to my con­stant in­ter­pre­ta­tion of things and trusted my judge­ments. A dif­fer­ent club with less strate­gic nous may well have de­cided that a man­age­rial change was the an­swer. But not Steve­nage. Un­like the 12 Pre­mier League Clubs (60 per cent) that have changed man­ager this sea­son, the club sim­ply stuck with me all the way through and gave me a ‘bounce back’ man­date.

Fe­ro­cious

I have not been so ex­cited about a new sea­son in a long while.We built suc­cess at Steve­nage through a phenom­e­nal work rate, an in­no­va­tive way of op­er­at­ing, a strong unity, and a fe­ro­cious am­bi­tion. Now we are look­ing to pro­duce our best foot­balling prod­uct ever as we at­tack the fu­ture op­por­tu­nity.

I left Steve­nage in a strong po­si­tion to be pro­moted into the Cham­pi­onship pre­vi­ously through a mea­sured blend of de­fen­sive or­gan­i­sa­tion, tac­ti­cal in­ge­nu­ity and at­tack­ing foot­ball. In 2014-15, we will seek to cre­ate a more ex­cit­ing game than ever in League Two as we con­tinue to learn and evolve and as we seek fi­nally to stop the rot and strongly move for­wards.

I vis­ited Madrid last weekend to look at how both Real and Atletico op­er­ate. Bench­mark­ing and learn­ing from the cur­rent ‘best’ is al­ways a good idea in my ex­pe­ri­ence. I cer­tainly gained a lot from it. I won’t have the re­sources to ‘be like them’. But that doesn’t stop me from do­ing my best to learn and adapt. So, for in­stance... Im­me­di­ately, I have de­cided to in­tro­duce more specialist coach­ing into my en­vi­ron­ment in the key ar­eas. My staff and per­son­nel re­cruit­ment is al­ready un­der­way. Im­me­di­ately, I have de­cided to re-en­gi­neer the re­la­tion­ship with our academy struc­ture for mu­tual gain.

And, im­me­di­ately, I have re­vised the phi­los­o­phy of in­te­gra­tion be­tween the play­ing squad and the club and its com­mu­ni­ties.

These are tips of the ice­berg of de­vel­op­ment. Our train­ing meth­ods will be fur­ther and sig­nif­i­cantly mod­ernised and rev­o­lu­tionised to max­imise the per­for­mance of our play­ers.

The com­ing sea­son gives me an op­por­tu­nity to re­store our club into one that people look to as a model of ex­cel­lence on and off the field.

In in­ter­views with pos­si­ble sum­mer re­cruits, play­ers ask very lit­tle about Steve­nage. They tend to think of Gra­ham West­ley’s Steve­nage as be­ing very hard work­ing, in­no­va­tive, or­gan­ised and suc­cess­ful. They seem to have writ­ten off last year as the end of the change pe­riod. And they seem to think that the fu­ture will be bright again.

My level of op­ti­mism is tinged with the re­al­ity that a team of new lads can take time to gel, but my level of op­ti­mism is in know­ing that we will work harder than any other team in our di­vi­sion to cre­ate suc­cess. Come hell or high wa­ter, we will find out what ev­ery­body else is putting in and we will go fur­ther. And we prob­a­bly have the best train­ing com­plex in League Two to op­er­ate out of.

Ad­van­tage

As I said at the out­set, a man­ager’s job is to stay bal­anced. Not to get too high or too low. Nei­ther too op­ti­mistic nor too pes­simistic.

These sum­mer weeks are for hol­i­days, rest, blue sky think­ing. But they are also when next sea­son’s Cham­pi­ons will be get­ting ahead. I know that what I learned in Madrid is an ad­van­tage. I know that the enor­mous ex­tent of our re­cruit­ment plan­ning is a huge ad­van­tage. I know that you get what you de­serve and I am de­ter- mined that Steve­nage will de­serve again go­ing for­wards. Our play­ing squad are sign­ing up to that agenda which is a great feel­ing.

Come Au­gust 9, the Leagues will be alive again. Ev­ery man­ager will want a great sea­son. Ev­ery man­ager will want an open­ing win. I just want to get back to know­ing that my lads will put down their shirts at the end of ev­ery game hav­ing given ev­ery ounce of en­ergy to win.

As the old say­ing goes, I don’t want 101 per cent. But 99 per cent isn’t good enough. Not on any level.

May ev­ery sin­gle foot­ball fan en­joy a great sum­mer break. And may ev­ery sin­gle Eng­land fan en­joy a great foot­balling sum­mer.

We prob­a­bly won’t win the World Cup. but let’s play to win. Let’s at­tack our op­po­si­tion, let’s be in­fe­rior to no­body and brave enough to beat any­body.

Can I thank you all for read­ing my col­umn this sea­son and for the pos­i­tive feed­back that many of you have given me at grounds through­out the coun­try.Your sup­port is truly ap­pre­ci­ated.

Re­mem­ber, love foot­ball and foot­ball loves you.

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

LOYAL SUP­PORT: Steve­nage play­ers salute their fans

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