• Adam Stubbings

Musings from the South Stand #7: Awkward Manoeuvres in the Dark

Football is back, but not as we know it. No fans, no excitement and in the case of the EFL it seems, no clue. It is now June and we still don’t know how the 2019/20 season will conclude for Doncaster Rovers, however a decision does look to be edging closer if reports are to be believed.

Balancing Act

Whatever the outcome, Rovers will almost certainly be having to prepare for another campaign in League One for 2020/21 and the task for Gavin Baldwin, Darren Moore and their staff will soon be one of navigating brand new difficulties in terms of building a squad and trying to make sure the team is competitive in this adjusted reality the pandemic is going to force us to live in for at least the next few months.

Squads may well get smaller across the EFL due to the harsh reality of clubs’ finances being reduced through a lack of revenue, and with it wage packets will be smaller for players too. Said players may have a smaller number of suitors for their services and so some teams may be able to bring in better quality signings than in an ordinary situation, whereas others may look to put their resources into other areas.

For Rovers, the hope is that a swift conclusion to the debate over how to finish this season can accelerate moves to sort out the squad for next season. With a good chunk of the squad out of contract – as we outlined in last week’s State of the Squad article – it stands to reason that Moore will want to get to work on what looks to be another off-season of upheaval for the club’s playing squad.

Necessary Steps

It goes without saying that the fans and club would love to see James Coppinger extend his career as a Doncaster Rovers player past his 40th birthday, and discussions have apparently taken place to that end with the matter surely a priority once the club know they can start planning for the future. Issuing new contracts for existing squad members is a good starting point for putting together a competitive team next season and once that task is done, the picture in terms of budget will become much clearer.

The status of senior players like Kieran Sadlier and Matty Blair remain far less clear at the moment though, and a line in an article this week in the Doncaster Free Press suggests the majority of the out of contract U23 players may be on their way out – we expect Danny Amos and potentially Max Watters to be the only survivors of that particular cull. Then come the fate of the club’s loanees, and finally a look at how much is available to spend on new signings will complete the picture.

Talks of a salary cap and squad limits for EFL clubs going forward may also factor in – although no elaboration has yet come forth on those reports from a few weeks ago – however the 2020/21 season is likely to be one of compromised circumstances for most and a return to a sport fully resembling what we knew to be normal beforehand may not come to fruition until 2021/22. For now, we as fans will have to preach patience and hope that the club’s ethos of living within their means pays dividends now the world has been plunged into uncertainty.

Bottom Line

The fact is that awkward conversations will have to be made and decisions centred around compromise have to come: from clubs, from the league and from players themselves. Teams in similar positions to Rovers have already spoken of the difficulty in keeping afloat through all of this and so we all need to expect the unexpected when it comes to decisions over who to keep, who to sign and how much can be spent.

Some will unfortunately end up worse off once the dust settles. In Rovers we must trust to see the club through the storm and out the other side to prosperity – we’ll all surely be grateful to have a team to watch in the EFL again once fans return to stadiums, no matter what compromises have to be made.