I perhaps should have made a statement in advance of now following the loss against Harrogate Town on Saturday; My apology for not doing so whilst my focus is on changing matters rather than empathising with people moaning about it.
Nevertheless, it was a very miserable defeat. We should not point the finger at Mark Molesley or indeed the young players that, as a result of injury (four senior pros out), he was forced to play. I think we can all agree that the performance against Gillingham the previous week, although having resulted in a 1-0 defeat, was a sound performance which we should have won and not least because two senior pros (John White and Timothee Dieng) that were missing from last Saturday’s match.
Mark inherited a young squad as a consequence of me taking my scalpel to the squad throughout last year. I have said previously that we do not want any player at Southend United who does not want to be here and would if required run through brick walls for our football club.
There were many players last season (and the year before if the truth was known) who enjoyed big salaries but did not perform to either their ability or maybe our recruitment could be criticised too. Throughout last year we negotiated the payoff of four players and the contract came to an end in June with others… a change around of some 13 personnel. Changes needed to be made and this was a deliberate strategy to clear the decks for the new management team.
Nevertheless, over the summer the continued support of the Academy witnessed an additional nine young players on the recommendation of Ricky Duncan, our long stand and highly experienced Academy Manager. As a result, the Club has one of the largest squads in League Two of some 28 professional players. However, the squad is hugely imbalanced.
Mark knew this of course during our detailed discussions before joining and I promised him that we would sign 3/4 perhaps even 5 players to not only strengthen but to ensure that the youngsters could continue to grow from the Under 23’s to supplement the First Team as required. We are still in that process of re-building to be ready to build again.
Unwittingly Sol Campbell in his efforts to find a winning formula blooded a number of young players and now all of those count as part of our maximum squad size of 23.
Of course, some might argue, if we were not embargoed it would not matter how many professional players the club carried on its books… well it does. It is important that there is a pathway through from the Academy for the Under 23’s into the First Team and the signing of two maybe three players year on year to come into the First Team squad is what we would ideally want. Equally we do not want our young skilled players dropping off our books who might shine later for one of our competitors… it is a tricky balance.
The fact is we expected to discharge the HMRC debt before today’s Hearing. We have reduced the balance, to HMRC, by a third but cashflow over the past six months has been very limited and we have had the carry the club costs through this difficult Covid period, including paying off overpaid/underperforming players.
That cashflow has not been assisted by both the limited number of season cards that we could sell (I guess 50% of normal) and compounded by our card merchants, Cardnet, not releasing any funds to the club as a result of their change in policy. As a consequence, all season card monies are still held by Lloyds Bank. The club could in theory unblock those monies by asking supporters to pay by cash but as matters stand, we would rather help where we can and carry the burden until matters improve, which they will.
I am in dialogue with the hierarchy at Cardnet and hopefully there will be some relaxation on their new policy to assist the club.
In the meantime, with the squad numbers capped at 23 we are managing that strategy… protem until the embargo is lifted.
We have signed the initial two players that Mark has targeted and we are now in negotiations with four further players at this moment to strengthen the squad… six in total not the 3/4, perhaps 5, I discussed with Mark during the interview. This will mean that vacancies will have to be made within the squad numbers.
The departure of Stephen Humphrys, who I personally did not want to leave the club as his potential was unfulfilled, but equally it is not me that had to manage Stephen. Again, I repeat we do not want any player at the club that does not want to be here. Mark and his management team (we have brought in five of his colleagues with the 6th still needing to join) are here to quickly change the culture from which the club has suffered over the past two seasons. We now have an energetic and highly motivated management team who are all focused on improving the current squad and supplementing further players to ensure success.
I am asked “what are our ambitions for this year”… “are you happy to remain in League Two”. The answer is absolutely not. As Chairman of your club I shall never be satisfied with mediocrity. We are here to compete and want to be back in League One next year.
Some reading this will be saying 4-0 against Harrogate new boys, he is kidding himself. The team, due to injuries and recruitment negotiations continuing, had an average age of 22.3 years. I am told that is the youngest squad in a League match Southend have ever played in its history and I have no doubt contributed to last Saturday’s result. Minor injuries simply conspired against us on the day.
Maybe I am wrong about competing to get back to League One… however if I didn’t have an optimistic outlook on life for sure I would not be Chairman of a football club!
We have to accept with relegation comes changes and the changes to management I am very pleased with. I had time on my side for once. As I say earlier, I took the scalpel to the squad and to a lesser extent the backroom to make sure we can get Southend United back where we all want it to be as quick as possible. There is no point the club being a religion to most of us, when some of the players are not joining the congregation.
As Mark said early on “Rome wasn’t built in a day” with the senior pros of John White, Jason Demetriou, Timothee Dieng and shortly Harry Lennon too coupled with the new signings (x6) it will be a very different team in the coming weeks in terms of experience to that which we were forced to play Saturday.
I realise it is important in these times to keep supporters informed and the club will now do just that week by week.