Bristol Rovers

Bristol Rovers: Crunch Time! … Who wins when an ambitious manager and a frugal board lock horns?

‘The time is now!’ Darrell Clarke roared after Rovers secured a top ten finish in their first season back in League One.

DC’s quotes in recent post-match interviews have been littered with subliminal messages to the new owners and supporters.  ‘We can’t keep over-achieving’, he has said more than once.  What he means is ‘We shouldn’t be where we are’, or ‘I’m doing an incredible job competing against the big boys on a shoestring’.  ‘We have a bottom eight budget’, he has also said on a couple of occasions.  ‘I want to bring in 10 or 11 players this summer’ he revealed in another interview.  ‘We need to bring in real quality and quality players cost money’, he added after the MIllwall game.  The message is clear to Wael and the al-Qadi family ‘back me, or lose me’.

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Having been linked to at least two Championship jobs recently, Clarke knows his stock is at an all time high and that means it IS now crunch time.  Few managers in the football league can boast a CV like DC right now. He is the Anthony Joshua of the 72, the man of the moment, and he knows it.  Of course he loves the club, and he knows Rovers are heading in the right direction.  BUT – if as he said here in his Millwall post match interview – Rovers catch a dose of second season syndrome, DC knows his stock will be firmly off the boil and turned down to a gentle simmer.  So yes, the time is now. For both manager and club.  What elements will play a key role in this month’s budget discussion at the Mem?  DC will go into the meeting with a strong hand. Clubs have always told managers ‘win games, attendances increase, and so does the budget’. 1-0 to DC on that count then.  Rovers’ gates have been mightily impressive this season, culminating in an 11,750 sell-out for the final game of the season.  DC has proven he can turn lads who were scraping a living in lower leagues, or struggling to find a club, into consistent League One performers.  Coupled with that, he has the knowledge and personality to get hold of younger lads and give them the self-belief to make it into the first team.  Tom Lockyer, Ellis Harrison and Ollie Clarke, voted Player Of The Season, are prime examples of this.  I’m convinced next season we will see Ryan Broom bloom – couldn’t resist that one, sorry – and Alfie Kilgour is another I expect to see starting to make an impression. Another ace in DC’s pack is the fact Leeds and Norwich have been keen on his services.  So the meeting this month is looking more and more like an interview – for the board, not for DC.  He has the board over a barrel.  His pitch could be: ‘Are you going to give me what I want, and what I need to take this club to where we want to be?’  If he doesn’t get the keys to the safe, I fear he will leave.  The departure of Steve Yates worries me. I am starting to fear DC may have already made up his mind, and I worry Yatesy knows this and so has decided to move on.  I spoke to someone very close to Steve a year and a half ago, and they told me he had only come back from Crete, where he and his wife were looking after holiday homes, because of his love for the club and because Darrell was in charge.

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Don’t forget after initially starting as kit man, he was subsequently promoted to enable him to play more of a part on match days, a role he relished.  The board have quite rightly identified areas that need to take priority.  ‘Infrastructure’ is a word Rovers’ fans have become accustomed to hearing, and the new training ground is scheduled for completion next year.  Next on the list is a new stadium, which isn’t going to be cheap either. As I write, rumours abound of a green light for work on UWE to begin, while other sources claim a redevelopment of the Mem is now Plan A.  ‘Evolution not revolution’ was the soundbite offered up on the day the new board took over.   So will that leave money in the budget for the ‘quality players’ DC craves?  During a discussion with someone close to the club two years ago I was told lads in League One earn a basic of up to £1,500 with goalscorers and bigger name players pocketing up to £3,000 a week including appearance, goals or clean sheet bonuses.  Many players in League Two are lucky to earn £1,000 a week all in.   So the task of luring players with a Championship, or top half of League One pedigree, to the Mem will not only prove tricky, but it will be a costly exercise.  The loan market is always an option, but as respected sports journo @ChrisSpittles once said to me ‘loan players won’t keep you up, or win you promotion’.  So will the Rovers board be able to match DC’s ambition?  Over to you Wael …



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