Gareth Ainsworth reaffirmed his belief that he has the strongest squad he’s ever had in his four years in charge of the club at the Fans Forum at Adams Park last week.Around 150 supporters were in attendance in the Vere Suite to hear about the club’s progress on and off the pitch, with the opportunity to pose questions to a panel which consisted of Ainsworth, chairman Andrew Howard and strikers Paul Hayes and Dayle Southwell.
Responding to a question about the team’s style of play, the Chairboys boss explained how the nature of League 2 football doesn’t always allow for fluid passing football, and he will always set up his side to do what it takes to win that particular match. The team aim to keep the ball on the floor whenever they can, and demonstrated in recent matches against Crewe and West Ham how effective that approach can be, but games such as the 1-0 win over Exeter proved that this method doesn’t always break down opposition defences and a Plan B is required.
Ainsworth went on to declare he has every faith in his squad to climb the table, particularly once the recent injury crisis has cleared up, with his intentions to attack with pace being jeopardised by absences of a number of key personnel. At present, only Southwell and defender Max Muller are considered to be relatively long-term injuries, with Myles Weston and Marcus Bean now back in the squad and Luke O’Nien and Scott Brown back in training. The manager explained that he keeps injury news close to his chest, partly to avoid giving selection clues to opposition clubs, and partly due to uncertainty about recovery times whilst the club awaits results from scans and assessments.
The club’s disappointing disciplinary record this season was called into question and Ainsworth revealed that he has spoken to his players to ensure any ‘silly’ bookings are cut out to prevent the risk of suspensions and fines mounting up. The manager took this opportunity to share his belief that all officials should be full-time and professional, especially now that the better referees from the lower levels have been promoted into the Select Group to officiate in the top two tiers.
Remaining with footballing matters, Ainsworth was asked about the small pitch size at Adams Park and whether the team find it harder to adjust to bigger pitches away from home. He explained that the pitch was narrowed and shortened two years ago to suit the style of play that he wanted to introduce, which also limits counter-attacking opportunities for away sides who often come to defend and play on the break. In the past two years, away form has generally been better than it has been at Adams Park, which has reversed in recent weeks, but the return of pacy attackers from injury will strengthen the club’s ability to play on the counter-attack when required in away games.
With regards to the January transfer window, Ainsworth said he was thrilled with the success so far of the 500 Club, which has raised over £30,000 from contributions from supporters and will go a long way towards strengthening his squad for the second half of the season. In addition to the potential of bringing in new players, he is also keen to explore extensions to the deals of his loan players, as well as Scott Kashket and Max Muller. Having turned down an offer for Aaron Pierre in the August transfer window, the club anticipates further interest in the defender in January, and will do what it can to keep the player at the club.
Moving on to off-field matters, the potential windfall due to the sell-on clause in Jordon Ibe’s transfer from Liverpool to Bournemouth was a big talking point. Andrew Howard revealed that the club have not yet received money from the deal but hopes the situation will be resolved as soon as possible. Any further details cannot be shared due to confidentiality clauses which, if broken, could jeopardise the situation and scupper future transfer dealings, but fees will be shown in the club’s accounts when published. How the money will be spent is to be determined by the club’s finance committee.
The club’s support of the new format of the Checkatrade Trophy was explained in terms of the significantly increased prize money available and the opportunity to help the future of the national game, by giving young players from top-flight academies the chance to gain essential experience from coming up against seasoned professionals. The comprehensive victory over West Ham United identified a large gulf in class between the two sides which should serve as a reality check for academies and their players who expect a smooth pathway into the professional game. Howard revealed that the club are working on an initiative to increase the attendance for the final group stage match against Coventry City.
On a related note, Howard revealed that lower league clubs objected to the Checkatrade Trophy accepting under-23 sides, instead insisting on teams being under-21, and that Wycombe Wanderers object to the Whole Game Solution, which is a proposed restricting of the leagues.
Howard was asked for an update on any plans to reintroduce an academy to the club and the chairman declared that while it would be fantastic to have, the reality is that the start-up costs would be too high for the club to bear at this stage, with potentially £1million being required to fund a programme over five years before any return is made. Any steps towards a Professional Development Phase – which could potentially widen the pool of players available to the first-team squad – would require investment or sponsorship outside of the club’s current budget.
In operational matters, Howard announced plans for the recruitment of a General Manager, who will be appointed to take responsibility for the day-to-day running of the club, overseeing all departments, which will improve processes throughout each department. This came in response to a query about tickets for away games being unavailable for purchase at home matches.
A new scheme to increase attendances at matches will be rolled out in the New Year, targeting schools and junior sports clubs in particular, and there may also be a half season ticket package, as there has been in previous years.
The evening concluded with the announcement that the new Wycombe Wanderers themed beer will be named ‘Sloping Loakes’, as a tribute to the famous slope at the club’s old Loakes Park ground. The beer was launched at the start of the club’s new partnership with Heineken, with supporters being given the opportunity to vote on its name, and Sloping Loakes came out ahead of Adams Ale in the final two choices.