(Wednesday 2nd October 2019)
Wanderers Manager Gareth Ainsworth has said that it is his dream to lead Wycombe into the Championship and added that it would take something 'spectacular' to lure him away from a Club that he had been at for close to ten years. The Wycombe boss was speaking at a Fans Forum held at Adams Park on 19th September 2019 where he also stressed the importance of the forthcoming Legacy Members vote regarding investment proposals.
Ainsworth reached a seven-year milestone as Wanderers boss on 24th September 2019 and is also just shy of ten years in total at the Club as Player, Player/Manager and now, mostly Manager. The 46 year-old is also by far the longest serving Football League Manager in the history of Wycombe Wanderers and the third longest serving Manager ever in the history of the Club. The only Wycombe Managers/Coaches to have served longer than Ainsworth are Sid Cann (August 1952 to May 1961) and Brian Lee (December 1968 to May 1976).
Speaking at the Fans Forum, Ainsworth admitted that speculation linking him to the vacant Manager spot at Lincoln City was 'flattering' but insisted that both parties carried out their duties in the correct manner and would not comment on how far talks, if any, had progressed. The Wycombe boss did however add: "I wanted to stay here. Iím not going to build something over seven years, ten years as player, but seven years as a Manager. Iím not going to scrape and scrap. You wouldnít believe what myself and the staff have got up to sometimes at the training ground to make it the best possible environment for the players with absolutely nothing. And [then] to leave that, it would take something spectacular. Believe me it would have to on all fronts. I donít mind saying it would have to be spectacular on the money front [and] the opportunity front. It would have to be spectacular for me [but] I think we are on the verge of something spectacular here."
The comments brought prolonged applause from the audience at a forum arranged to include the latest news of investment proposals from Rob Couhig. The vote for the proposals is provisionally being pencilled in for 'mid-October' 2019. 75% of all Legacy Members have to be in favour for the plans to go ahead. Ainsworth knows the outcome of the vote would be vital to his aspirations at Adams Park having originally planned the 2019/20 season with a playing budget estimated to have reduced from around £1.85m to £1.2m, saying: "I know how important this [proposal] is to everybody the Club and likewise it is important to me. It is really important. Four or five months ago myself and Trevor [Stroud] sat down in the office and talked about a budget that would really be competitive at the bottom end of League Two." In true Ainsworth fashion he admitted he was disappointed but was willing to get on with it: "Thatís what we do at Wycombe Wanderers. But it would have so tough to perform in the League with the [drop in playing budget]."
The catalyst for change came in June 2019 when the Club opened up talks with Rob Couhig. The American flew over to the UK to speak with the Club and meet the Management team. Ainsworth explained: "I met Rob [Couhig] in the middle of June, and Mark [Palmer] and the talks we had were super positive. Everybody always thinks when you meet somebody, they are just coming in to have a look and speculate about the Football Club. But from the moment I met Rob, he was true to his word. He put the budget back to where it was and gave me a little bit more and said I want to prove that Iím committed to this Club."
Ten players would eventually leave Adams Park in the summer of 2019 and the early weeks of the new season, but twelve new faces in the other direction (including four loans) propelled optimism at the Club. Even so, when Wanderers hit top spot in 'League One' on 7th September 2019 following a 3-1 home victory over Lincoln City [the highest ever League position to date for Wanderers], fans could be forgiven of dreaming of even greater things.
Ainsworth has constantly battled with managing expectations at the Club ever since coming to the brink of relegation from the Football League in May 2014. He said: "I have to say the expectation was smashed by getting to the top of the League and I am so proud to be the Manager [when] getting to the highest place in this Clubís history. Please, please believe that without Rob [and Trevor] and the deals we have done and the finances that have come in, that was a big part of the puzzle of managing to get to the top of the League."
The former QPR player first arrived At wycombe as a player on loan from QPR in November 2009 and admitted he was excited at what could now possibly be achieved at Adams Park, explaining: "Sometimes you Ďdonít look a gift horse in the mouthí, you say, Letís have a go at this, letís do it now. And for the first time Iíve always said Iím happy at Wycombe and played the game and played the line but; This is a crucial time. I think we could really achieve at this Club and I want to Manage in the Championship, who doesnít? But my preferred option is to be able to do it with Wycombe Wanderers and I think we have the chance to be able to do it." But he was cautious too, adding: "I also realise thereís a lot to look at and go into as itís a Football Club that a lot of [supporters] have been here a lot longer than me; but believe me, it means a lot to me as well.Ē
The Wycombe Manager candidly added that he thought the Club could be in serious financial trouble should the proposals get rejected, admitting that the Club had 'punched above its weight for four or five years' and had to thank volunteers for helping with certain behind-the-scenes tasks at the Club, adding: "Theyíve kept us alive and there comes a time where you think, this really needs to change and for me this is that time, so thatís why Iíve committed because I believe in Rob and what he could do for this Club."
With reaching the 'Championship' now clearly on the agenda, certain obervers have begun to draw parallels with Bournemouth. The South Coast side survived relegation from the Football League of the penultimate day of the 2008/9 season but were promoted to League One at the end of the following season. Cherries boss Eddie Howe was tempted away to Manage 'Championship' side Burnley in January 2011 but things didn't work for Howe at Turf Moor and he returned to Dean Court in October 2012, eventually leading his team to the 'League One' title at the end of the 2012/13 season. Two years later, on 27th April 2015, Bournemouth clinched promotion to the Premiership and at the time of this article were sitting in 8th place during a fifth successive season in the top flight of English football.
Commenting on the Bournemouth comparison, Ainsworth said: "Iím lucky to know Eddie [Howe] quite well. He has said that one of the biggest mistakes he made was going to Burnley Ė being a Blackburn lad, I agree with that. Joking aside, he said the continuing growing culture [has hepled] but believe me, cash helped. The Russians came in at the right time. They gave him cash but he didnít over spend. They didnít go crazy with it. The culture and the size of the Club stayed the same. They didnít over develop the stadium. Even now they are only [11,000 capacity] in the Premier League. It is phenomenal for what they have done. Believe me, there is quite a bit of money behind the scenes there, they have got some serious investors." But the Wycombe Manager believes there are still areas of experience they can draw on, adding: "But the things that we can take is the culture, the longevity of the Manager (smiling), of the players, of the staff and the way the Club is run. The people who worked behind the scenes. If they were good enough, they stayed, even through all the Championship and Premiership years. The people who did it with them in 'League Two' still stayed with them at the top."
Ainsworth believes it is a good story to emulate but also warns of the 'crazy, crazy' money in the Premier League. For the time being and with the 800 or so Legacy Members waiting to hear more details of the proposals ahead of the vote, the Wycombe Manager concluded: "I firmly believe with my squad Ė and with some additions to my squad Ė I believe we can challenge. League One is not as powerful as it has been in the past. I think we can dream. Iíve told you not to dream but I want to dream."
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