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Next AFC Wimbledon Manager Odds: Why Luke Garrard would be the perfect fit for next season and beyond

'The right man for Wimbledon long-term could be Luke Garrard'
"The right man for Wimbledon long-term could be Luke Garrard"

AFC Wimbledon have parted company with manager Mark Robinson after a 1-0 defeat to Cambridge plunged the club deeper into relegation trouble in League One.

It’s 21 without victory for the Dons and 20 in the league, matching Bury’s unwanted run at this level from 2016-17.

Despite this, and the looming prospect of the club’s first relegation in its current incarnation, the decision was an incredibly difficult one.

Robinson might not have achieved anything ground-breaking as a player or as a manager, like Neal Ardley or Wally Downes, but he should still be considered a club legend – and not just for keeping the team up last season.

The one-time Fulham academy graduate has worked with the youth at various age groups, then been part of the coaching team under Downes and Glyn Hodges, before taking the team on himself.

Robinson, therefore, is part of the reason why Wimbledon have such a high-functioning academy, with the likes of Jack Rudoni and Ayoub Assal becoming first-team regulars.

Not only that, Robinson is a fantastic person to have representing your football club and has done far more for the local community than most.

The mitigating circumstances for this season have been significant, with the gaffer handed an extremely low budget and tasked with working with an extremely young squad: just eight of the 27 players who have featured for Wimbledon this season are above the age of 23.

Next AFC Wimbledon Manager Odds

Throw in the lack of support in the recruitment process, injuries and the January sale of Ollie Palmer as well as the subsequent struggles of replacement Sam Cosgrove and the alarming drop in form from this youthful side becomes more understandable.

However, the circumstances were such that the Dons needed a new voice for the last seven games, just to give them a change of momentum to give them hope of dragging Fleetwood into the bottom four with Morecambe, Doncaster and Crewe.

What that type of manager might look like, and what the Wombles need long-term, may be two different questions.

Theoretically speaking, if Wimbledon’s relegation were a foregone conclusion, what sort of manager would they want leading them into League Two?

It would almost certainly require no firefighting skills, because only two go down and the financial disparities are nowhere near as vast, so they would need a process-driven manager.

This would be someone capable of developing youngsters whilst encouraging tidy football on the deck, someone respected by many at the club, and someone who could build a side that can challenge for the Play-Offs on a midtable budget.

The irony is that much of that description fits Mark Robinson and that may have been the club’s thinking, last week, when they placed a vote of confidence in their manager.

It might be that, after the defeat to Cambridge, ‘Robbo’ initiated the process of parting company, as opposed to the club changing their mind based on 90 minutes of action, as disappointing as the second half was.

Now, Wimbledon have two tasks: firstly, to find someone who will give them the best chance of staying up this season, and secondly someone who can take them forward beyond May, in whichever division.

League One Relegation Odds

  • PROB
    %
Gillingham
WIN PROB: 80%
Fleetwood Town
WIN PROB: 27%
Morecambe
WIN PROB: 7%
Odds correct as of 2022-04-27 09:09 Odds subject to change.

The next seven games

Darius Charles has been placed in temporary control of the first team and has already begun preparations for the trip to Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday.

The club’s intention is to bring in somebody more experienced between now and the end of the season, but the prospect of Charles being a manager holds much intrigue.

Of course, the former centre-back is extremely inexperienced and has not had a period to focus solely on coaching, before moving into the number one gig.

Charles is, however, an inspirational figure, aside from his involvement in Wimbledon’s 2-0 victory over Plymouth Argyle in the 2016 League Two Play-Off Final.

In summer 2019, Charles was advised by a doctor not to play professional football again yet the following season, he would play a crucial role in Wycombe reaching the Championship for the first time ever, against all the odds.

Does that strength of character, alone, mean Charles will be a good manager?

Of course it doesn’t, but there is no reason why he cannot bring a different energy into the building and lift the place, with the support of Rob Tuvey, Ashley Bayes, Andy Parslow and James Oliver Pearce.

Why Luke Garrard would be the perfect fit: for next season and beyond

The right man for Wimbledon long-term could be Luke Garrard.

The 36-year-old has roots in the capital, having lived in and around the outskirts of London for the last 17 years of his playing and managerial career, making him logistically attainable.

Not only that, Garrard has an association with AFC Wimbledon: he won Young Player of the Year at Kingsmeadow in 2006-07, before being a key part of successive promotions from the Isthmian League, then Conference South and was very much a terrace favourite.

Some Dons fans would argue that the club needs to move away from appointing people largely or solely because of their affiliation, but others would say that this club is unique and it needs somebody capable of galvanizing people, and that history can play a part in that.

Appointing Garrard would satisfy both arguments because, while he already has that connection with fans bar the very youngest generation, it would not be a fundamentally sentimental appointment.

AFC Wimbledon are looking for a replacement for Mark Robinson
AFC Wimbledon are looking for a replacement for Mark Robinson

Modest budget

Garrard was appointed Boreham Wood boss back in October 2015 and has since achieved a minimum of two Play-Off finishes in seven seasons, three if they make the cut this term, which is possible with the team currently in eighth.

It would be wrong to look at the fact The Wood have an average attendance this season of 1,023, the second-lowest in the National League, and automatically assume the budget is tiny and that Garrard’s achievements are ground-breaking.

There can be instances of clubs that benefit from lots of external investment and chairman Danny Hunter has certainly put in his fair share, especially in terms of facilities and infrastructure.

The evidence, though, is that Boreham Wood’s playing budget is modest, or at least ranks significantly lower in the National League than 12th, which is the team’s average position across Garrard’s tenure.

They only have two players who have worked in the EFL in the previous two full seasons, one of which being Tyrone Marsh, who played 10 games for Stevenage, the other being on-loan Danilo Orsi, who was out of favour at Harrogate.

Garrard is proven to work effectively and successfully on a budget: while Wimbledon are still making certain cut-backs due to the new stadium, that could be extremely helpful.

Football Tips

Resolute characters

Garrard has built his success on recruiting resolute characters, which is a must for any side representing the people of Wimbledon.

The former Wombles utility man likes to forge close, deep connections with the people he works with, whether that’s the chairman, the players, the catering staff or the fans.

That makes him a perfect fit for the way people like Commercial Director Ivor Hellor like to operate.

You cannot create the kind of warm, honest and open culture that is in place with a thirst for battle, and then have a manager who is cold, passive and secretive.

Garrard would fit into the ethos seamlessly and he would assemble a group of players that fans can be proud of.

Smart recruitment

While a revamped recruitment process can be expected at Plough Lane this term, the manager will still have to play a significant part, so it bodes well that Garrard got it right last summer with his current employers.

The Wood lost some big names but the acquisitions of Will Evans, Jacob Mendy, Josh Rees, Frankie Raymond and Scott Boden all proved instant hits, and there is no reason to think Garrard could not work his magic again.

Wimbledon are not expecting a huge overhaul of players this summer, even if they are relegated, with midfielder Alex Woodyard and centre-back Ben Heneghan being the only two players known to be out of contract: and it wouldn’t exactly be a shock if either re-signed.

However, what limited funds will be available to strengthen this youthful squad with three or four peak-age performers must be spent wisely, and Garrard has previous.

Stability

Garrard is big on consistency: firstly, in terms of team selection, with 12 players for his current side featuring in 20 or more of the 32 league games and four starting 30+.

Secondly, in terms of loyalty to dependable, reliable players, with David Stephens and Kane Smith having been Boreham Wood mainstays for seven and five seasons respectively.

Garrard is patient with players and the indications are that he is not afraid to stick with one or two even through the odd tough season, if he knows they are capable of better.

Loyalty could be a valuable trait in the next Wimbledon manager: Garrard can certainly help defender Will Nightingale through what has been a rocky patch, as well as re-establishing a core of leaders, with the futures of Heneghan and Woodyard in the balance. 

On top of that, they need to maximize the strength of their academy which may take patience.

While the likes of Ayoub Assal and Anthony Hartigan established themselves as household names very quickly after coming into the first team fold, it won’t be the case for everyone.

League One Odds

Youth development

Sorba Thomas has gone on to light up the Championship, thanks to the guidance he received at Meadow Park.

If Garrard can inspire that kind of progress in a National League player, just imagine what he could do with Wimbledon’s top talents, Assal and Jack Rudoni?

Whether either stay on, especially if the worst happens this season, is doubtful, but the Wombles boast an excellent academy thanks to the foundations Robinson laid, and more will come through the conveyor belt.

Forwards David Fisher and Zach Robinson had both secured National League South loans by the age of 18, which is significant progress, with the latter even having gone on to start a league game.

It’s a similar story for 19-year-old defender Luke Jenkins, who has been playing step-2 with Tonbridge Angels, while left-back Josh Hallard has earnt a temporary move to Isthmian League Merstham based on his form for the Under-18s.

Elsewhere, versatile full-back Huseyin Biler and powerful forward Quaine Bartley are highly-rated, while winger Dylan Agjei-Hersey – a goalscoring specialist who loves a one-on-one - is thought by Tuvey to be a big-game player.

If Garrard were to get the job, Fisher, Bartley and Robinson may move further up the pecking order long-term due to his preference for two up top.

Plus, Jenkins’ spirit and determination would appeal to Garrard, with the defender having bounced back from an incredibly difficult 12 months on the sidelines to then be training with the first team and playing senior football at a competitive level.

Hallard is believed to be capable of playing left wing-back if required and, if he can thrive in his next couple of non-league loan spells, could be a viable first team option for Garrard when Lee Brown’s contract expires in 2024.

Adjei-Hersey would not be a natural fit into the 3-4-1-2, but is believed to be improving the defensive side of his game, which may make him a contender for a wing-back role long-term.

What would the 3-4-1-2 look like?

Below is a guess as to how Garrard would look to set up a Wimbledon side next season, under the assumption that Assal and Rudoni are sold.

Gab   Wimbledon Line Up

By our calculations, a goalkeeper, a left centre-back, a wing-back and two strikers would be required for the first XI and, as above, our suggestions would be…

Taye Ashby-Hammond, whom Garrard has worked with at Boreham Wood, on loan from Fulham, Reiss Greenidge from Bolton, Harry Boyes on loan from Sheffield United, Fabio Tavares on loan from Coventry and Omar Bugiel on a free from Sutton.

Each of these players will be on Garrard’s radar, having recently played in the National League, and the 36-year-old’s knowledge of that division could be crucial to recruiting gems to supplement the academy talent.

FA Cup achievements

Wimbledon have a proud history in the FA Cup.

Ok, winning the competition like they did in 1988 might not be immediately on the agenda, but more cup runs are a must.

The Dons earnt a Third Round tie with Liverpool in 2014-15 and produced a spirited showing, beaten only by moments of Steven Gerrard brilliance on the same week he had announced his planned retirement.

They were drawn away to Tottenham three seasons later, then beat West Ham the following season under Wally Downes, which was a springboard for the great escape.

More memories like that are essential for the Wombles and Garrard has previous, having led Boreham Wood to the Third Round in 2020-21 and then, remarkably, the Fifth Round this season, with shock victory at Bournemouth earning them a glamour trip to Everton.

Garrard can inspire upsets, he can motivate his players to thrive against the odds, which is the ultimate hallmark of a true Wimbledon manager.

The Dons must do everything within their power to beat the drop this season, but Garrard is the one they need: next season and beyond.

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