July 2, 2022

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Questions but no real answers as AFC Wimbledon’s backing of Mark Robinson lasts only a matter of days

5 min read

How can you go from effectively a vote of confidence to being relieved of your job just five days later? Sadly, nobody at AFC Wimbledon was able to provide an answer to that question this week.

The South London Press contacted members of the Dons Trust to ask – without success – if they would provide further comment on the decision to part company with head coach Mark Robinson at the start of this week.

It’s not a huge shock that there is a managerial change when you are talking about a 21-game winless run that has seen Wimbledon go from a free-scoring and confident team – mooted as potential play-off contenders in the opening months of the campaign – to one in the bottom four and in dire straits.

But that just makes the joint statement last week by the boards of AFCW PLC and the Dons Trust all the more puzzling.

“The boards believe, with the right support and structure around him, Mark Robinson is the right man to remain as our head coach. Crucially, the players and staff have absolute belief in his ability to turn things around. The board has challenged itself as to whether more could have been done to support Mark and his team and has concluded that is the case.

“We would like to place on record our belief that changing the head coach brings no guarantee of success and could carry higher risks than working to turn our on-pitch fortunes around alongside someone who has earned the respect of everyone at the club over the last 18 years.”

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So what changed after Saturday’s 1-0 home loss to Cambridge United?

There are so many questions, but absolutely no answers.

Robinson, who initially joined the Dons as an age group coach in 2004 and was eventually promoted to academy head of football, went in to say an emotional farewell to the staff and players on Tuesday.

AFC Wimbledon v Cheltenham Town Emirates FA Cup 2nd Round, Cherry Red Records Stadium, 04 December 2021

“All I ask is, irrespective of your personal views on me, please find it in you to support the players,” he tweeted on Monday. “Confidence is a wonderful thing and all I can guarantee you, even in what looks like their worst moments, they do care. COYDs.”

Robinson’s post-match comments on Saturday did not smack of a boss eyeing the exit door.

“I have never quit anything in my life, and I have never failed anything in my life long term,” he said. “There is a reason why a manager’s lifespan lasts 16 months on average across the board, that’s because football is a knee-jerk industry and people get sacked and don’t get a chance to build things.

“If the club came to me and said that they think there was a man to get us out of it, then we would have to look at that situation, because the club is far more important than any individual.”

But it now means that two of the club’s five-man ‘selection panel’, tasked with identifying players to sign, have now gone – Robinson and Joe Palmer, who stepped down as chief executive recently.

Will Daniels, another in that advisory role, combines being recruitment and analysis manager alongside his other job as a senior sports trader at Spreadex.

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There was a lack of contingency planning when it came to Ollie Palmer’s £300,000 sale to Wrexham – a club record outgoing transfer – at the end of the last transfer window. The Dons eventually signed two loan strikers – the completely unproven Terry Ablade and Sam Cosgrove, who had struggled to make any kind of telling contribution at Shrewsbury Town.

Wimbledon have the youngest squad in England’s top four divisions and Palmer admitted in a Q&A in November that was largely a financial necessity due to the costs and financial strain from their Plough Lane build.

“Figures showed the top club has £10million while we are in the bottom three [for playing budgets] with £1.8m,” said Palmer at that time.”

Like it or not, spending tends to equate to success. It’s why Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea are the contenders for the Premier League title.

It’s why Fulham and Bournemouth are leading the way in the Championship. League One is no different.

Ayoub Assal kicked on under Mark Robinson Picture: Keith Gillard

Yes, you’ll get the odd club which bucks the trend. But, even then, it tends to be only temporarily . Barnsley outperformed their resources to reach the play-offs, now they are desperately scrapping not to drop into League One.

Every club wants to follow the Brentford model. Buy young talent, sell it on, use the profits to improve the quality of your squad – rinse and repeat until your side then starts to be able to compete at the top of the table. But one Wimbledon podcast described their strategy as ‘Poundland Brentford’.

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But Robinson, who did such sterling work heading up the academy, gave youth a chance. The exciting Ayoub Assal emerged and flourished during his time at the helm and it recently led to the attacker training with England. The likes of Assal and Jack Rudoni are likely to attract interest this summer, Palmer’s fee might not be the record fee for very long.

League One is a physical division and you tend to need some streetwise stalwarts, like an Ollie Palmer, to be able to get results.

Wimbledon always knew that it would be an almost impossible task to replace 20-goal Joe Pigott last summer. Livewire Ryan Longman returned to Brighton, another notable loss. The fact they cashed in on Palmer – when their league position was already precarious – was a huge call.

The signing of Derick Osei Yaw on a short-term deal on March 19 -bearing in mind the Frenchman had not played a competitive game since last April – had more than a feel of desperation.

Former Reading manager Mark Bowen was appointed on Wednesday on a short-term deal until the end of the season and will be assisted by the former Arsenal and Chelsea coach Eddie Niedzwiecki.

“We will all be doing everything possible to keep this proud club in League One,” said Bowen.

The appointments of Robinson and Wally Downes both led to the Dons just about clawing their way to safety.

There is a chance that this will be third time unlucky.

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