Liam Hoden: In building for the long term, Doncaster Rovers may have overlooked the short - to great cost

After several years of upheaval and constant change, the one thing Doncaster Rovers have needed more than anything else is stability.

Sunday, 14th November 2021, 12:11 pm
Updated Sunday, 14th November 2021, 12:54 pm
Photo by George Wood/Getty Images

The start of the Richie Wellens era saw acknowledgement of that fact from the club’s hierarchy and their new gaffer.

Safeguards were put in place to increase the chances of holding onto the manager in the face of interest from elsewhere. And there was plenty of talk of restoring philosophies and taking time to do so.

Wellens mapped out his ‘quality over quantity’ plan for recruitment, suggesting it would take several transfer windows to put together the squad he needed to play his game.

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It appeared to be a wise approach - steadily building on the stable foundations that the club represents using the modest means at his disposal.

But it has become apparent that both manager and upper management perhaps underestimated the extent of the work required just to keep Rovers on an even keel.

In building for the long term, the short may have been overlooked.

And with a bad start turning into a real relegation fight, that could be something the club is ruing for some time to come.

Wellens had certain key pieces in mind when he approached his first opportunity for recruitment as Rovers boss.

Among the necessities of rebuilding a defensive line, he wanted an experienced, no nonsense operator for the middle of the park as well as at least one new forward.

The midfielder is yet to arrive and the absence of such a player has been a major factor in Rovers’ poor start to the campaign, with a lack of control and bite hurting many performances.

It cannot be denied that certain circumstances have played a significant role in the current situation - however well-worn talk of them may have been.

The inability to move on players throughout the summer window crippled Richie Wellens’ attempts to complete the first stage of his planned rebuild of the squad.

Had Omar Bogle and Ed Williams left the club as Wellens’ envisioned, he would have gained room in his budget to enable him to sign one handsomely paid player for the level.

Handsomely paid equals experience and know-how - exactly what Rovers are lacking in the middle of the park.

Had he opted to go down a different route, Wellens could have used the funds to add two or three players instead, based on how wages had been structured for the new arrivals on average.

Bogle and Williams remaining at the Keepmoat - along with one or two others identified as potential departees earlier in the summer - severely hamstrung Wellens’ in the transfer market.

The situation has been exacerbated by an injury crisis that has plagued the squad since the summer.

Key players have yet to feature or only been seen in flashes. And then there is the inconsistency in selection brought about by niggles, knocks and illnesses.

In the league this season, only Pontus Dahlberg and Ro-Shaun Williams have started every game, reflecting the state of the disruption.

The absences of Fejiri Okenabirhie and Jon Taylor in particular had a major influence on Wellens’ thinking in the final few weeks of the transfer market and with the remaining money at his disposal, he needed to prioritise attacking options.

The need for the solid hand in the middle of the park was clear in the summer. Wellens was happy with the technical quality he had brought together but knew he needed an element of muscle to stop them from being overrun.

It was back then that action to recruit such a figure would have been prudent. Whether that was Wellens changing his focus or, more helpfully, additional funds being made available to bring in what would have been a key player.

There is an admirability to the business operation of Rovers - however frustrating it might be to certain sections of the support. Football as an industry would be much healthier if other clubs followed Rovers’ lead.

But in life there are times to speculate to accumulate. And there were key blocks that needed to be laid in order to give Wellens and his squad the strong foundations on which to build that long term vision - even if it meant briefly and not too significantly breaking-away from the self-sustainable model.

Fingers are firmly crossed that January will bring the players - and the one in particular - that Wellens needs.

But there may well be more frustration if the funding to do so relies on moving individuals on.

Action needs to be taken to ensure there are no more key elements missing, or a disastrous relegation is a real possibility.

In the short term, where Rovers are at now, they cannot afford to hold on until January for reinforcements.

Nor - as it is becoming increasingly apparent with further setbacks for the long-term trio - can they afford to wait for key players to return from long term injury.

Stepping up to the plate is required by those ready and available in the here and now in order to reach the new year in a position that sets up a survival push in the remaining months of the campaign.

Otherwise, any small progress made or good intentions imagined will be washed away.

The potential is there, within this team and in the dugout.

There have been signs of really good things from the side, going all the way back to the optimistic days of the summer with some excellent performances in certain friendlies.

And during the campaign itself, there have been really good periods in games - even if we are still awaiting for the allusive 90 minute performance.

With pieces of the puzzle either missing or yet to be added, there is room for wondering just where Rovers might go if they are able to get on sound footing.

Should Wellens be able to put the pieces together as he sees fit, there is the real possibility that the vision he has for his team to be realised over the next few years, with success then following.

But, with the position in which they currently find themselves, there can be no concentrating on the long term just yet.

Or we may well have a case of ‘what might have been’ on our hands.