Doncaster Rovers: Gary McSheffrey on style of play, budget, expectations and more

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In part two of his exclusive interview with The Free Press, former Doncaster Rovers boss Gary McSheffrey discusses the team’s style of play, budget, expectations and more.

Were you given enough time in the job?

“No, not this season.

"I took a large chunk of games last season. A big regret about last season is that ultimately we should have stayed up.

Gary McSheffrey takes charge of Doncaster Rovers at Northampton Town.Gary McSheffrey takes charge of Doncaster Rovers at Northampton Town.
Gary McSheffrey takes charge of Doncaster Rovers at Northampton Town.

"There were at least four games - Morecambe away, Plymouth at home, Cambridge away and Sheffield Wednesday at home - we should have won. Morecambe alone would have done it.

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"That's not saying we were excellent but there were some teams down there that were just as poor, if not poorer. We were given opportunities to get out of it, that's frustrating.

“We finished the season well and took the momentum into pre-season and August when we went unbeaten. We had our first little blip then bounced back with three wins on the spin.

"The big defeat was Hartlepool. We should have come away winning that game.

"In terms of the wins and draws I don't think it was bad. It was OK, and I deserved more time, but the club had a different agenda.”

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The Rovers’ hierarchy made it it clear they wanted to push for a return to League One at the first attempt this season and said a budget was in place for a promotion push.

But the club’s head of football operations, James Coppinger, later claimed that was not the case and the budget was in fact “average”.

What were the expectations for this season?

“My personal expectation was to get the team promoted. Even without talking about a budget, I wanted to get a group of players together that will work hard and have a go.

“The wheeling and dealing was really good. We managed to get Joe Dodoo and Jordy Hiwula moved on which freed up a bit of money to bring in the likes of Kyle (Hurst) and Lee Tomlin.

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“I didn't really think it was a top three, top six budget. Deep down I knew it wasn't.

"I wasn't really in a position to be demanding things or too much. It was a case of get some good players in and have a go.

“It does look like I was supported and backed. I was with numbers, but in terms of what we were paying some of these players and how much wheeling and dealing we had to do there was a lot of hard work done to try and get those players together.

“Some of the wages we were paying, they were so low it would shock you. So low it was unreal.

“You get what you pay for.”

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Upon McSheffrey’s exit Blunt said the board were “disappointed” their wishes for a particular style of play and identity, “which were clearly laid out over the summer, have not been brought into effect in competitive matches.”

Following the appointment of Danny Schofield Doncaster adopted a more possession-based approach, with underwhelming results.

On the style of play under him, McSheffrey said: "Ultimately I know the squad we had. I knew there wasn't really a set style we could work with with that squad.

"I was adamant I wouldn't set players up to fail.

“The ideal style was to be good on the eye. Certain styles exploit players, I was trying to protect players.

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"James introduced a 12-game review. I said in that we were nowhere near where I wanted us to be playing-wise, however I thought it was positive with what we have got in the building.”

On trying to play possession-based football, McSheffrey said: “You are asking for trouble, opposition coaches and managers knew that.

"I thought we were really good at adapting to win.

"We knew we were going to lose a few along the way but I wasn't going to play in a certain style that a head of football operations and chairman wanted us to play.

“I was confident that style would come off in another window or two.

"I didn't think it was realistic with the players we had.

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"I'm not saying we didn't have good players, we did. We saw after 12 games what this group was. Players make styles. If you want to make a style, players have got to be good enough to do that.

"We felt we were doing OK, we were competitive and getting points on the board just by mixing it up.

“That was how we felt it was going to be throughout the season. That view was shared among all the playing staff.

“For that statement to come out was disappointing. We worked with the players every day, I know the players we had in our squad.

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"That's not me being smart or saying 'I told you so'. What's come to fruition is that the squad haven't been capable of playing that certain style at this moment in time.

“Hopefully they can do that with a good summer, but I think the proof is in the pudding. We were being adaptable to be competitive in League Two.

“David knew that during my time we had big injuries. We also missed out on some good leaders we tried to get in.

"The club wanted a certain style and identity, but it doesn't happen overnight.”

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One player who was exciting to watch and got fans off their seats was Lee Tomlin, who quickly became the team’s talisman in the early part of the campaign.

How much of a blow was his decision to retire suddenly?

"It was disappointing. It hit the team harder than I initially thought it would. All of a sudden your main link between your midfield and striker has gone.

"He had that little final bit, that final ball or good decision, he could protect the ball.

"It was silly what he did in his first game (Tomlin was sent off against Bradford City), apart from that he was good for a few games.

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"We felt safe when he was on the ball and when it was going into him. It was a blow, he put fear into opposition.”

How was your relationship with Steve Eyre, your assistant manager?

"I thought Steve was really good. I thought he was the experience I needed.

"He managed in the Football League 10 years ago, he's been a first team coach since at Huddersfield and Fleetwood. We worked well together.

"It was disappointing to see Steve go as well. They went down the route of saying 'we have got a group of players in the development stage' and wanted to get a coach in that could develop them.

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"Steve's had 30 years coaching experience and developed some of the best players out there. I couldn't really get my head around that one.”

What have you been up to since leaving Rovers?

"I have been into a few clubs watching a few managers. It's been quite nice (the break).

"Even on your days off you are watching videos of your next opposition, this has been my first real bit of time off.

“There was the lockdown period, bar that it's the first real time off since I left school. I have enjoyed it for a few months but I'm getting fed up now. I'm ready to work again.

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McSheffrey revealed he spoke to Crawley Town about their managerial vacancy following his Rovers exit.

He said: “I have had a few discussions with a couple of clubs about academy roles, a couple of National League clubs about first-team roles. But nothing concrete, nothing I would jump at.

"A lot of it is potentially leaning towards the summer as well.

"I want to stay in the game. I want to keep coaching and get another shot at it.

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"Obviously geographically I have got a young family. It would be ideal if it was commutable but that's the thing in football when you step up to first-team level you are going into that career again of moving about.

“I like working with players and coaching, whether that's academy or men’s football. I'm open to offers, all I would say is that it has to suit me and my family and it has to fulfil me most importantly.

Any final reflections on your time in charge?

"I was proud of managing the club and really grateful for the opportunity. I got on fine with all the board and I really respected them.

“I wish I would have lasted longer but it wasn't to be.”

Since this interview Grant McCann’s return to Doncaster Rovers has been confirmed with Cliff Bryne arriving as his assistant.

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"They were the management team in my first year in coaching, I learnt a lot under them,” said McSheffrey.

"I hope they do really well. I have messaged them both. I think it’s brilliant they are back and I wish them all the best.”