At higher levels of football, I always imagine the first meetings of team and manager to be awkward affairs with overdone politesse, long pauses and the lingering feeling that both parties are sizing each other up.
I may be wrong but the further down the pyramid you go, I imagine these pressures and mind-games to be much more low key as both manager and players are usually just very pleased to be employed in football at all – particularly at semi-professional clubs where contract security is not exactly top of the agenda. It is with this mindset that I approach man management at Altrincham; aloof characters will find themselves out in the cold and there will certainly be no fawning over specific players on my part.
Unless we’re talking Damian Reeves.
At 30 he’s no spring chicken, but just look at those key striking attributes. He’s hard-working, a team player, has a sharp attacking brain, a sound physique and a finishing ability to rival strikers in the league above and higher. There’s a reason why he’s so highly rated by the game; 158 goals in his six seasons at Moss Lane speak of a quality Altrincham are lucky to have in their ranks.
I’ll be happy with 10-20 league goals, but if he gets anywhere near his National League North record of 44 goals from 2011/12 (the highest amount in any league across Great Britain during that season), I will be absolutely beaming and the fawning will continue for at least another season.
Elsewhere up front we have Craig Hobson who is a strong Target Man type and will most likely partner Reeves for most games this season. Though lacking technically and with some pretty poor mental attributes, his strength and size alone should cause problems at this level. Being prudent though, I will be looking for a rotation option for him as I currently don’t have anyone else who is a suitable Target Man should he need a rest or get injured.
Additionally, we have the previously mentioned Batis Cande and Will Abbots should we need someone to step in for Reevesy and, failing that, attacking midfielder James Lawrie is a capable enough striker should we need to call on him.
Apropos attacking midfield – I’m expecting Lewis Hilliard to be my first choice at AMC, using his quality mental attributes to stay heavily involved, as well as his speed, flair and direct Player Traits to change the game should we need a bit of magic. Lower values for Anticipation, Vision and Strength may hinder him in tighter games or against more physical opponents, but overall he’ll be my main man and my first choice penalty taker so expect to hear more from him.
Backing up Hilliard will be the aforementioned James Lawrie as well as a few limited wide-men-turned-central-attackers in Sean Miller and Billy Hasler-Cregg. The former provides a goal threat but is otherwise a bit pants, whilst Hasler-Cregg is a speedy dribbler who is essentially persona non grata in my system. I’ll probably look to get them both off the wage bill ASAP.
As we move back a strata to my three-man midfield, my options are mostly defensive – but that suits me because I will be asking a lot of these three players in covering the flanks, protecting the back four and transitioning both quickly into attack and defence. Work Rate will be highly prized for these positions (particularly the outer two players) as they are asked to cover more ground than a normal midfield due to the lack of width.
Jake Moult stands out as the most well-rounded player with his only big weakness being his Marking, whilst veteran Alan Goodall is sure to leave his mark both on the game and any player that gets too close to him – his age and constantly declining physical attributes do worry me though… As for Simon Richman and Charlie Joyce, they will still play plenty of football but long-term upgrades will be needed in this area should we be aiming for promotion and beyond.
A bit of depth is provided by Greg Wilkinson and non-contract Fabio Bassangue, but in truth neither should expect to feature heavily and I will probably look to move Wilkinson on (he has a criminally low Work Rate of 4, is poor across the board mentally and is being paid £250 a week – utterly bananas).
With the front six discussed, we find ourselves banging on the door of the back four and our understocked defensive unit. Both full back positions were priorities that needed fixing in the transfer market ASAP and I swiftly brought in right-sided youngster Ryan Smith to replace injured captain Shaun Densmore as the rotation partner of Sam Patterson. Smith is actually the better player all things considered, but will need to learn the RB position to a higher standard for him to start performing to the best of his abilities.
As for left back, I have so far been unable to find a suitable rotation partner for first choice Andy McWilliams (though Alan Goodall is perfectly able to cover here – if a little on the slow side). McWilliams will have to be supported for now by a young prospect in Harry Cain (not that one) who is really a very limited player and should not expect to complete the season at Moss Lane.
As with the full backs, the central defenders will need a few additions to the collective in order to endure the rigours of a full season at this level. Few players will be expected to appear in all 42 league games this season, and with two games a week for a large part of first few months – and with hopes of a couple of decent cup runs – I sign up former Accrington youngster, Keenan Quansah.
Truth be told, Quansah is almost good enough to take a position in the side straight away but for the first few games I’ll be utilising a partnership consisting of a bit more experience in Danny Hall and Tom Hannigan.
Hall is a seasoned veteran in the local area and across several divisions, having been an important defender for Oldham, Shrewsbury and Chesterfield in the football league before moving down to non-league. He also played for Alty last time they were in the Conference North and it is this experience we hope to call on – although his lethargic speed and less than competent Agility and Balance may mean he finds it hard to compete. As for Hannigan, eight years at Vauxhall motors served to make him a mainstay at this level and though he has some clear defensive weaknesses, his Concentration attribute and physical sharpness will give him an edge at this level and compliment Hall/Quansah’s weaknesses.
Finally we move on to the goalkeepers and with nothing to really discuss regarding selection, I will simply attach a photo of clear first-choice, Andrew Dawber.
There is definitely room for improvement but finding a better keeper won’t be a priority as Dawber is young and highly rated by my staff; a solid overall aerial ability combined with solid Agility/Reflexes to ensure he can stop a variety of shots aimed his way. He will be backed up by last year’s first-choice and fans player of the year – Tim Deasy – who has lots of experience but is on the cusp of declining and has a patchy communicative/mental game that doesn’t really fit in with his non-league veteran status.
Overall, I can’t have too many complaints with the squad and we are certainly too good in terms of quality to be considered for relegation. The challenge will be competing with the professional teams in the league (AFC Fylde, Kidderminster and Nuneaton) as well as a pair of ambitious local rivals in Salford and FC United. If we can overcome these teams in terms of results and consistency, I’d say we have a chance of reaching the playoffs and an outside chance of winning the league.
The hard work is yet to begin though and I will be dedicating the next article to nailing my tactic and making sure first and foremost that we don’t concede avoidable goals.