• Adam Stubbings

Musings from the South Stand #9: Retained List Reaction

The news we’ve all been waiting for has finally been confirmed, albeit unofficially. The Doncaster Free Press revealed the club’s Retained List in an exclusive story on Thursday morning, and at time of writing confirmation from Doncaster Rovers themselves is yet to materialise.

However, the news has come with few, if any, surprises and if those offered new deals sign them in the coming weeks, we will know exactly where Darren Moore and the squad stands as Rovers aim to rebuild for an uncertain future and look towards the 2020/21 season, whenever it arrives.

Sadlier Departs

The headline story is that Rovers’ top scorer Kieran Sadlier is leaving having turned down the new contract offered earlier in the season. Whilst this is a disappointing turn of events following a break-out year for the Irish forward, it isn’t much of a surprise as media have reported consistently for several months that he and his representatives were still considering the deal put to him in the middle of what has been a breakout year.

Sadlier stepped in as a makeshift striker at the start of the 2019/20 campaign and hit the ground running with some important goals to kick-start the Darren Moore era, but as his star continued to rise with a string of fine displays, it became an increasing inevitability that he would want to test his talents at a higher level. Although there are some question marks over his consistency, there is little doubting the ability of the player and he will surely do well if given the right opportunity at a Championship club next season.

Whether you agree or not with Sadlier’s decision to run down the 18-month contract he signed in January of last year – a tactic that Rovers benefitted from when signing him from Cork City on a free transfer – you can’t fault his ambition or belief in his own worth and his spell with Rovers should be remembered fondly. However, it is understandable that some fans may feel aggrieved at the use of the club as a stepping stone if his destination ultimately proves a sideways step in their eyes.

There is nothing concrete in speculative reports about where Sadlier will land next, but it would be a disappointment if he were to move to a bottom-six Championship club or a League One rival. It goes without saying that if he moves to Hull City – a club in freefall likely to part with Grant McCann if they find themselves relegated next month – then accusations about chasing wage packets will rear their head just as they did with other individuals last summer, rightly or wrongly.

It is to be hoped he joins a club with true ambitions of their own and a willingness to make Kieran Sadlier a key member of their team as his footballing skill deserves.

One More Year

Four players in the first team set-up have been offered new contracts, with veterans James Coppinger and Matty Blair both asked to stay on reduced terms due to the financial impact of the pandemic whilst academy graduates Danny Amos and Louis Jones are also wanted by Darren Moore.

Club legend Coppinger will be a 40-year-old by the time his next contract runs out and it surely makes sense for him to see out his incredible career in a Rovers shirt, having spent 16 years here already. Starting over at this stage of the game would mean a big upheaval for a figure who knows exactly where he stands in the eyes of the club and fans, and the chance to see Copps lighting up opposition defenders again is something we would all love to be able to see when things are back to normal.

Matty Blair’s situation is a little different. At the age of 31, Blair is also closer to the end of his career than the beginning, but his game time was severely limited by injury in 2019/20 and he has spoken in interviews of his desire to play regularly. Will he get that in Darren Moore’s set-up next season? Does he fancy his chances of earning a good deal elsewhere? He has been a fantastic servant to Rovers and is a stand-out in community efforts but this summer represents a crossroads of sorts for Blair.

Amos and Jones will surely now stay and push on for first team spots. Left-back Amos has been a highly-touted prospect for a few years now, is a youth international for Northern Ireland and broke into the first team just before the pandemic hit, usurping loanee Cameron John for the berth in the wake of Reece James getting injured. He has integrated seamlessly into the side and could become a key figure in years to come.

Jones meanwhile still waits for his opportunity but gets nothing but praise from the coaching staff in public and is clearly well thought-of. With Seny Dieng unlikely to return after a stellar season and Ian Lawlor on the outs after losing his place in the side for a third time, Jones could easily earn the #1 shirt by the time League One gets back underway for a new season. Meanwhile, Devante Cole and Alex Baptiste will not be staying having failed to make much impact in their short time at the club, albeit for different reasons.

Development Squad in Jeopardy

This season has been one in which the noises out of the club have constantly said that Rovers are building the viability of their Development Squad and putting a lot of effort into making it a genuine pathway for players into senior football. Darren Moore is a vastly experienced youth coach whilst Gary McSheffrey has done a great job since taking over as U23s boss, yet most of that crop of players is being let go.

Aside from AJ Greaves and Branden Horton, the older players among the development group are departing. Max Watters is the biggest surprise on the Released list having broken into the first team and acquitted himself well in the handful of appearances he made off the bench, whilst Shane Blaney has also been in and around the senior squad for some time yet is leaving too. Rieves Boocock, Myron Gibbons and Rian McLean have all also been released despite their promise and the club now faces a decision over whether or not to continue with the project.

Insights into potential squad limits and salary caps coming into play next season will surely factor in, but for now it appears Rovers will either have to scale back the efforts to boost the Development Squad or else look to outside recruitment to add to the next class of youth team graduates that will come out of the Academy. The sad reality is that no Rovers youth graduate has made it stick at senior level in years and years, with a hatful of nearly-but-not-good-enough prospects falling by the wayside over the years.

Alex Kiwomya meanwhile is gone after a terribly unfortunate three-year spell. Signed to be a first team player by Darren Ferguson, for a fee from Chelsea no less, Kiwomya hit trouble straight away when he came down with a debilitating illness and he just hasn’t been able to get back to his prior level. His struggles serves as a reminder why Rovers are reluctant to offer more than two-year deals and his potential as a professional appears to have sadly evaporated.

The Bottom Line

It is always sad to see players leave when they have come through the doors and pulled on the shirt for Rovers. This summer the club faces challenges it never has before and that will affect these decisions as well as those of recruiting new players, and maybe even selling key players if offers come in. Darren Moore will have a solid base on which to build a new-look squad next season and can now throw himself into the task of identifying players who can come in and improve the team.