Doncaster Rovers: Part one of our Q&A with CEO Gavin Baldwin talking transfer window, funds, budgets and managers

It has been a turbulent few weeks for Doncaster Rovers with criticism pointed towards the club’s hierarchy and, specifically, chief executive Gavin Baldwin.

Wednesday, 8th September 2021, 5:00 pm
Doncaster Rovers chief executive Gavin Baldwin

The CEO agreed to sit down with the Free Press to answer the questions supporters most wanted to ask following the closing of the transfer window and the disappointing start to the season.

With plenty of questions to ask and our endeavour to bring the answers in their entirety, the Q&A will run across multiple parts that will feature both in print and on our website.

Part one focuses on transfer business, squad structure and more.

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WHY DID THE FUNDS COME SO LATE FOR THE STRIKER?

GB: “The funds didn’t come late.

“The chairman, the board and all the staff could see that we desperately needed a striker.

“Probably ten days before the end of the window, we got permission from the chairman to look at options.

“I think we - and when I say we I mean Richie, Graham Younger, James Coppinger and myself - did really well.

“We went out and talked to players and clubs and we had to brave because ten days before the window ends, a player who would be £3,000 a week is £10,000 or a player is not available at that time.

“We played the game, we were brave and we got ourselves into a situation where with Will Grigg we agreed a financial deal but he chose to go to Rotherham.

“Then Richie did a great job with Aiden O’Brien. We talked to him and he agreed to come.

“The paperwork was agreed, the deal was agreed but unfortunately it didn’t go through and we’ve had the EFL reasons for that this week.

“From my point of view, the funds were available earlier. We just didn’t know how much because we had to negotiate the deal.

“But we knew if we went to the chairman with a such and such a figure it was likely to be a yes or such and such a deal it was likely to be no. We knew what ballpark we were batting in.

“Through the expertise of Richie and Graham, we managed to get a player that was expensive for a price we could afford or a player in the second instance that wasn’t going to be let out at a price we could afford.

“It was literally a paper error by another club, of which the EFL have said we could do nothing about, that meant we didn’t get that player.

“The funds were not available late. We had overspent. The budget had been spent and these additional funds were us going to the owners and asking if we could have more money please.

“We carried on the conversations and I think we’ve done well to get Joe Dodoo in and we all hope he does really well. The feedback from his previous clubs is that he’s got every chance.

“Appreciating the problems of transfer deadline day, I think the wider window was really good.

“We all felt kicked in the stomach, undeniably. But to that point I think we’d all say that Richie had done a brilliant job of rebuilding the team, looking at the number of contracts dropping off at the end of the season.

“I would put forward, slightly defensively, the point of view of the club that it’d been a very good window until then and we delivered what had been planned.

“I can’t deny we didn’t feel kicked in the stomach with the deadline day.”

HOW DO YOU REFLECT ON THE WINDOW AS A WHOLE?

GB: “We brought in eight players on permanent contracts and five loans in as well as six contract extensions.

“Five loans in the upper amount of what we had said. You would probably say Rodrigo Vilca coming in was more about numbers because of injuries.

“Where I would defend the loans we brought in, what we said is they would be quality loans and, as Richie said, they would have to be the cherry on the cake.

“No one could dispute the contribution of Pontus Dahlberg, Ethan Galbraith and Matt Smith look real players. We’re working with Tiago Cukur to get him up to fitness but the other loans have hit the ground running and have made good contributions to the team.

“We’ve been criticised in the past, and rightly so, about too many loans and not enough quality. But we were honest in saying that it was Covid-related and us trying to afford to get a team together.

“With the players that have come in on contracts, there is a role and responsibility for each of them and a purpose which Richie identified with Graham and James.

“If you look at the team for next season, in theory, we’ve got a goalkeeper, a strong back four with back-up, a strong front three, and players in midfield too.

“We won’t be having to recruit a load of players to fulfil the first team next year and that is exactly what we set out to do.

“Primarily Richie, along with Graham, has done a really good job.”

COULD MORE HAVE BEEN DONE IN THE WINDOW AND WHAT HAS BEEN LEARNED?

GB: “I don’t think we’d be asking that question if the Aiden O’Brien deal went through. Or if we didn’t have the injuries that we’ve had.

“I know people have suggested that we should have held money back for these circumstances, but no manager would allow you to hold money back.

“That is where we’re fortunate to have the owners we have to act as a backstop.

“They could see as clearly as the fans or Richie that we needed a striker.

“Until deadline day, we were saying it’s been a really good window.

“If that paperwork had gone through, I think everyone would have been saying the same.

“Lessons can always be learned. We’ve got a mop-up meeting next week to discuss what we’ve learned and what we can do better as well as what January would look like.

“Richie has said if we’re signing a player in the future to not let them do the paperwork electronically but get them to the training ground and stand over them until it’s absolutely completed.

“On saying that, in the time that I’ve been at Doncaster Rovers I’ve never known paperwork not be completed correctly before. Normally, it gets done.

“It didn’t occur to us the paperwork wouldn’t get done because it’s never been a problem before. We were all very excited.

“I am adamant that what will improve our transfer windows is the continuity of managers.

“With that you’ll have a consistent recruitment style, a consistent approach to what each position looks like and that will make so much difference.

“As a board, we recruit to a philosophy and we have a DNA for each position. We thought that would give us a definite direction of travel.

“What we have learned over time is that even within those parameters, a manager will have very different ideas on what a tall left back will look like.

“Accrington for example, they do a great job and have a style and everything. But if they lost their manager, even if they recruited the next one to the same style, it would be unlikely to be as smooth.

“That is where we have suffered in the past, through upheaval of managers.

“Fair play to the managers, they have gone on to Championship clubs. But hopefully we’ve covered that with the contractual arrangements with Richie.

“Also, with who Richie is. Richie was very clear that he needed a home and to be at a club for several years to demonstrate what he can achieve.

“So it’s almost mutual that we want him to stay and he wants to stay. We’re going to do our best to help him and he is going to do his best to help us.

“It feels good at the moment.”

SO YOU ARE CONFIDENT RICHIE IS GOING TO BE HERE FOR A WHILE?

GB: “Yes. Definitely.

“You would hope that Richie would go on to manage for a long time at the top level. But you’d also hope that he’s here for five years first.

“The players love his sessions. They keep using the words that he’s a footballers’ manager.

“He loves getting out on the grass and he loves what he does so he’s really popular with the players.

“But also, he’s very shrewd how he operates. He won’t bring players in that if it didn’t work out he wouldn’t be able to move out either on loan or whatever, so he can put money back into the club to bring people in.

“He’s got very clear ideas of how to operate off the field.”

IS IT POSSIBLE TO HAVE A LONG TERM VISION NOT TIED TO A MANAGER?

GB: “You can have a long term vision and you can have a direction of travel but it’s rocky with a new manager.

“We have a clear process for how we recruit the manager and within that process is criteria. One of the biggest ones is how they play football. The philosophy.

“Part of our recruitment, the highest scoring has been the philosophy.

“But Grant McCann playing 4-3-3 and Richie Wellens playing 4-3-3, there will be different players in there. They may play the same system but their players wouldn’t likely be ideal for each other.

“Therefore it does make it really rocky when you get in a new manager.

“Dick Watson said many years ago that the biggest thing we can ever do is have continuity of manager. At the time, I understood it but now I understand it a lot more and it was a really wise thing to say.”

HOW WOULD YOU ADDRESS SUGGESTIONS RICHIE WAS NOT BACKED IN THE WINDOW?

GB: “As part of the recruitment process, we supplied all of the candidates who went to the final interview stage with the information on the current squad and the money available to put a squad together.

“And basically we said if you don’t like it, don’t come to the interview.

“Richie’s words were that he was pleasantly surprised by what was available.

“From the start, we were all absolutely transparent.

“It was like a church fundraising board in reverse. We signed Ben Close and it came down, then again when we signed someone else.

“We do try to work hard to get the players the manager wants and as long as they meet the financial criteria, we’re happy.

“But also when we get to the final deal with the player, we will go to the manager and say these are the implications, are you happy with where that leaves you because you still need X, Y and Z and this is what you’ll have left to get it. Richie can then prioritise.

“He was very clear on which positions he was prioritising and put more money into than others.

“The process was transparent from appointing the manager to recruiting Joe Dodoo. We’ve all understood the implications the whole way through.

“I think Richie was backed and he said he was pleasantly surprised. And that backing has been extended now.”

DO YOU FEEL YOU HAVE MADE THE PROGRESS YOU WANTED TO ON THE STRUCTURE OF THE SQUAD?

GB: “Definitely.

“If we choose, we’ve got a settled back four for next year. We’ve got a settled front three for next year.

“And there are players like Charlie Seaman who are in the mix this season and may be considered first choice next season.

“Richie rates Ben Close really highly and we’ve got young talent coming through.

“It’s exactly what we were trying to achieve before Covid.

“It may be a criticism of ourselves but Covid was a year we just tried to get through and ensure we had a club at the end of it.

“There was too many loans and some weren’t of the standard we’d want but with one window, I think we’re back on track again.

“Myself, Richie, James and Graham, we’re having a meeting next week to determine what the perfect January would look like. And at the end of the season, what we’d be looking to recruit, and the season after that.

“Graham has presented a vision of what the next five years of recruitment could look like for Richie.

“There’s clearly a plan for the football side, which myself and the chairman will try to support.”

HAVE FUNDS BEEN SET ASIDE FOR JANUARY?

GB: “We always have a plan for January and we have a minimum threshold if you like.

“Then, we are tasked with good cup performance or Club Doncaster performance or moving players out in order to boost it.

“There’s always a fund available for January. How big it is depends on circumstances.

“I’d like to think that last January, even if it didn’t work out by the end of the season, we gave it a real go and we backed the manager. We tried to give ourselves the best chance of promotion or the play-offs.”

ARE THERE FUNDS STILL AVAILABLE FOR THE FREE AGENT MARKET?

GB: “We’re at the end now.

“It would have to be exceptional.

“The board - and by that I mean Terry Bramall and David Blunt - are always there. If there are exceptional circumstances, the door is always open to talk to them.

“You do think it’s exceptional circumstances now.”

Part two of the Q&A is coming soon

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In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Liam Hoden, editor.