Forest Green owner Dale Vince and first-team coach Duncan Ferguson hosted a Q&A with Rovers supporters on Tuesday night, giving the fans a chance to pick the brains of the two biggest faces at the club, with questions ranging from the progress of the new stadium to Ferguson’s experiences working under Champions League-winning managers. Here are the main takeaways from the hour-long forum.
Recruitment is on everyone’s minds
Vince was clearly not happy with the way recruitment was handled in the January transfer window, with Stevie Grieve’s departure from the role of Head of Performance & Recruitment announced this week, despite the Scot only having joined the club in November.
Vince said: “Some of [the player recruitment] was good and some of it wasn’t. Stevie wasn’t solely to blame, but he was the head of recruitment.”
When one fan criticised the January signings of Amadou Bakayoko and Ross Doohan as the “worst goalkeeper and striker in the world,” Vince admitted the club’s view “probably wasn’t dissimilar”. Bakayoko is yet to score in 11 appearances for FGR and Doohan was dropped in favour of Lewis Thomas after his poor performance away at Accrington Stanley.
The FGR owner confirmed the search for a new chief executive has been completed after contracts were signed with a candidate from New Zealand, who is yet to be named officially. The incoming Kiwi beat around 600 candidates to the role and will serve notice on their current job until May before flying to the UK. The club has been in search for Henry Staelens’ replacement since he resigned in January after a five-year tenure.
Recruitment planning for the summer transfer window has already begun, with Vince working with his scouts to build a completely new squad, as 12 of the current playing staff will either return to their parent clubs or are coming to the end of their contracts at The New Lawn.
Duncan Ferguson reiterated his desire for a younger squad moving forward, he wants incoming players to be with the club for a longer period and doesn’t see the value in bringing in older ones. He later agreed that physical players are required, and the team has been outmuscled physically since he took over as manager.
“I’m looking for good players. I’m looking for young, hungry, athletic players that will add value to the club,” said Ferguson.
The Scot also said that his experience has afforded him many contacts in the footballing world and he may use this to look at Everton’s players available for loan, as well as other top-level clubs.
Ferguson discussed the impact his arrival has had on proceedings
Ferguson has revealed he is leading every training session between matches at the moment. This is something that may be reconsidered in the summer, but currently, he has sole responsibility for designing and delivering sessions. The former Everton coach worked under seven different managers including Carlo Ancelotti and Roberto Martinez, so believes he has the experience to teach his players new skills. The main difference he has seen at FGR to the Premier League is the technical level of individual players.
Ferguson also said that the team looks “fragile” after scoring the first goal in a match and “game management has not been great”. He admits meetings have been had to discuss where the team is going wrong and sessions have reflected this on the training ground, specifically to combat conceding set piece goals.
The players are being worked hard by the manager, training every day this week in the build-up to Saturday’s trip to Plymouth. He says his coaching style is often opposition based but he’s focused on “scoring goals”, which has been a problem for the side all season.
Ferguson also seemed to confirm that a penalty taker has been assigned and that Myles Peart-Harris and Corey O’Keefe will not be first-choice takers any longer, after their argument over the late spot-kick against Bristol Rovers.
The manager also reiterated his belief that his name is the reason officials aren’t giving the side “the rub of the green” when it comes to decisions, only half joking when he said the Liverpool-supporting fourth official was to blame for the eight minutes of added time that saw them concede twice to lose in his first match against Peterborough.
Reflecting on a difficult season and looking forward to the new stadium
Vince has reflected on a whirlwind year that has changed the landscape of the club, citing the loss of playing and boardroom staff for the difficulties since gaining promotion.
“We won League Two, and our Director of Football was tapped up. Our coach left, and we’d begun recruitment for the summer before we knew this. We lost three of our best players to Championship clubs and our recruitment wasn’t good enough. We started with less firepower up front in League One than we did the year before. We’ve learnt from all that and we’re going to strengthen (the recruitment team) in the summer,” said Vince.
Losing director of football Richard Hughes to Portsmouth and manager Rob Edwards to Watford gave the Nailsworth club the worst possible start to life in the third division, but Ferguson is sure the club is heading in the right direction despite impending relegation. He was sold by the idea of proving himself as a manager as well as the dream that Vince has for the club. He believes the new training ground will be massive for the club as the current facilities gave him “a massive shock” when he joined. He hopes to be on the journey throughout the development of the new ground.
Vince said that the development of Forest Green’s stadium, Eco Park, has progressed in recent weeks, with work due to start on the new training pitches on 1st April. The club are hoping to start training there in about six months’ time, beginning with two pitches and looking to expand that to six in the future, with a view to all the club’s teams, including the women and girls, being able to use the facilities. One obstacle to the development is a layby on the south side of the A419, which will have to be moved before the full stadium is operational, but this should have no impact on the start date for the use of the training ground.
The biggest round of applause from the fans in attendance was for Ferguson’s belief in the project being built by FGR and Vince, as well as his admiration for the fans and the owner’s presence at the fans’ forum.
Ferguson said: “The structure of the whole thing is a good selling point for players. [Vince] is sitting here talking to you, there are not many owners who would do that. I’d like to thank you all for supporting the club and coming tonight. You’ve been on this incredible, fantastic journey and I want to be a part of it for a very long time.”