Neal Ardley – the Dons’ view

So after plenty of interviews, at least half a dozen different bookies favourites, strong links with three ex Notts managers and clocking hundreds of miles on the country’s rail network, Magpies owner Alan Hardy’s third manager is the man who was the initial favourite, and the one who appeared the most likely choice – if he wanted the job – when news first broke of Harry Kewell’s sacking.

Welcome to Neal Ardley, the latest man to step into the madhouse.

On the face of it, it seems a highly logical appointment of a man who – at odds with modern football – has put down strong roots and dug-in for the long-term in his two previous managerial roles, six years with Cardiff’s Academy and six years as first-team manager at AFC Wimbledon.

But what do we really know? Not a lot. That’s why we asked the nice people at Dons’ audio fanzine 9yrspodcast  what they could tell us about the man who left their club just two weeks ago.

Thanks to Chris Draper for taking the time to answer our questions.

Would you class Neal Ardley as a good appointment for Notts County?

Yes – Neal is a good man-manager and can definitely get the best out of the players you have, whilst also adding a few, I’m sure, come January.

Are you surprised he’s got back into management so quickly, particularly as it’s with Notts County – a club near the bottom of League Two who’ve already sacked two managers this season?

Not surprised at all, he lives the game and being part of it – also, we don’t exactly have the money to pay a kings ransom (but who does?!), so he probably needs the work 😁

But seriously, he came to us off the back of an appalling start to a League Two season, with us rock bottom and in a couple of relatively mediocre years, got us promoted – something worked!

Don’t let the “oo he’s been sacked, he’ll be crap” brigade fool you – we’re a club that, with our resources, are top half league Two at best – with a club with as much potential (and history) as yours, he’s in a better position to do well.

What would you say are his overriding qualities as a manager?

Definitely man-management and the old silk purse/sows ear argument comes to the fore.

Any weaknesses you feel he needs to overcome?

The only criticism I can think of comes from the last 18 months – he stick to certain things that he should have changed (but that’s my opinion) and was sold a couple of pups that didn’t perform as they used to/probably still can. Relied on experience, some of whom just seem to be playing out their careers.

Ardley was at Wimbledon for over six years – a lifetime in modern football – did he have a defined way of playing/system throughout that time, or did it evolve as you progressed up the leagues?

Good question – evolve is the wrong word – he adapted as he went along to suit the situation – he hit on the right “League Two” one, without doubt (big lump up front, hold and pass), but he went one adaption too far – this season we continue to lump it to the smallest forward in living memory (his larger counterpart continually injured.)

He clearly has a huge affinity with your club given his history there as a player. Are you confident he can translate that success to a totally different club with whom he has no prior relationship?

He was at Cardiff’s academy for a time and did well – this was his starter position and, affinity aside, is a great manager – he needs the right tools and the right backing and he’ll be grand.

Do you think there’s any scope for him to bring any Dons players with him in January? Any Ardley favourites there currently not playing, or anyone in particular you think he could target in the long term?

He did dip into his academy background early on – there’s potential, but he’s not the kind of guy to raid a former club. You may find a few ex-players giving him a call from League Two/Conf level that would do a job for you.

Quite frankly, you’re welcome to some of the current first team, but that’s another story..

Did you feel it was the right time for him to leave Wimbledon?

Mixed emotions…yes, in the fact I think the players were doing his head in and no, because in my opinion, the players let him down.

Were the Dons fans in general agreement that it was time for a change? Had there been calls for his head any time before this season?

There has been a long term group of “Ardley-outers” for a good 18 months or so. And to be fair to them, it’s not been liquid football by any accounts, but that comes back to the “beyond our means” argument and I’m not sure that a large group of our fans appreciated that – for a team that has, in 16 years, only known success (or relative success!), it has come as a shock to lose 8 in a row – but as a long term Don myself, they’ll get used to it 😔

What’s your favourite memory/moment of him as Dons boss?

Too many to count, so there will be a few:

  • Last day staying up v Fleetwood
  • Liverpool in FA Cup
  • Play Off Semi-Final at Accrington
  • Play off Final v Plymouth (obvs)
  • Beating the plastics (twice, but most memorably at home)

To name a few…

Any final message for Notts County fans on what we can expect.

Commitment to the cause and a bloody nice bloke. You’ve done well there.

Thanks again to Chris from @9yrspodcast for giving such a good insight into Notts’ new boss. 9 Yrs Podcast is the weekly audio AFC Wimbledon fanzine and is available on iTunes and YouTube every Thursday.

Join in the debate with @GerritForward on Twitter.

Rob Davies

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