Walsall Football Club, Friends,
This is the first of two notes I’ll be sending in the coming weeks to the Football Club – meaning to our staff, the players on all teams at all levels, our sponsors, and our supporters.
Today’s note will focus on the football – what has happened and where we’re going from here, while the next one will be a broader reflection on the past year and a broader vision for the future. I am going to be quite transparent and vulnerable, as this is what you deserve.
First, let me just say how much I appreciate the 7,100+ supporters who attended our final league match, and spurred the team on to a commanding victory. It was good to end the season on a high note – we all needed it! I was so pleased to be in the building for the Doncaster game and it was a great moment to be a Saddler.
Where We Want to Be
I will be short and simple – I believe in working and battling every single day to build this club onward and upward, and out of League Two. It has been Trivela’s stated ambition from day one to be a sustainable League One club that is pushing for further promotion. There could be many thoughts on the strategy needed to achieve that, but suffice to say that myself and my partners are highly competitive people, and this is a club with a tremendous history and legacy – and what we can all agree on is that we want to advance the club out of this league. There is so much good here and so much potential here, and we will all be aligned to press on together.
What Happened In 22/23
On January 31, this season had all the promise in the world – a few points off the play-offs with games in hand, looking excellent in the form table, and having reached the fourth round of the FA Cup. We all enjoyed a very special moment together hosting Leicester City, with a great deal of brightness and enthusiasm around the club. Sadly, the reality since then has been a very disappointing downturn, and we’ve been forced to rely on the positive results from October, November, and December simply to be comfortably safe in our league status.
We did have poor luck with injuries, poor luck with decisions and bounces in individual matches, and poor luck in the loan market, as two players were unavoidably lost in January, both of whom ended up being very key for us. We combatted these losses with aggression and ambition in the January window, but the results after that simply did not come, as we all know.
Blaming poor luck, however, is cheap and weak. The poor luck turned into a losing habit, which was allowed to snowball into the demise of a once-promising season. Obviously this has been immensely frustrating for everybody at the football club. While I remain hugely optimistic about our potential, I am as frustrated as anyone about the outcome of this past season on the pitch.
How I Think About What Happened In 22/23
Obviously, as that situation unfolded, it was determined in a thoughtful, patient process that we needed to make a managerial change. The Club’s board plays an important role in the day to day operating of the club, and in advising on major decisions. At the same time, as Trivela Group is the 90% owner of the club, these difficult decisions are now held by Trivela Group. The decision to part ways with Michael and Wayne was my decision, and it was a necessary but very difficult one. Michael is a good coach, and I deeply respect his contribution to Walsall FC, and believe he will be very successful in his career, which I will be following with great interest. I wish him and Wayne all the best at Swindon Town.
The “easy way out” would be for me to simply say that management was the problem, that managerial change was needed, hire a new manager, present to you all the potential of this new manager, give him the keys, and move forward without evaluating additional changes. That is not what will be happening. A change was needed, but the needed change runs deeper. It starts with me personally looking in the mirror, asking what has been going on at the club, asking what mistakes I myself have made and what mistakes the club has made, and asking how it is going to be different going forward.
Including short term caretakers, the club has had eight managers in the past eight years, and suffered a relegation in the process. We need to understand why and make strategic changes as we make this critical next decision in the club’s history.
What We’re Going to Do
Prior to Trivela’s arrival, the club’s leadership has done an outstanding job in building a steady, sustainable, well-run football club. Massive credit is due to them for building a very strong foundation for us to build on, and I am honoured to carry this forward with them, and build upon their work. Specific to the manager appointment process: in our view, upon reflecting, we have had a process in these past many years that was overly manager-centric. As is very common, we have had a process of looking to identify the singular individual who is the right fit for that moment, and empower them to implement their process, their style of play, their staff, and their playing squad to get the formula just right. When that hasn’t worked in one situation or another, we’ve terminated the manager, hired a new one, and gone again.
We’ll be working with a fresh plan and a fresh vision from here on. I believe in building a structure, a system, and a culture where a manager can come in if (and only if) they fit that strategy, and be a part of our building process. Said another way, we need to build a crystal clear football strategy, and identify the correct manager to fit into that picture, and create the best possible environment for that manager to succeed. We have been building this for the past several months, with Trivela’s VP of Global Football playing a leading role, with his extensive experience in the game informing the work. Much more could be said, but the following items are the key components to the WFC Football Strategy:
Clear Playing Identity: We want our supporters and community to come and watch our team compete knowing not only that the players are always ready to give them 100%, but that the match will be enjoyable to watch with a clear identity of play. We’ll allow our actions on the pitch to speak in this area, as opposed to spelling it all out here, but suffice to say that we want an aggressive, high-pace, high-energy team that plays on the front foot and is disciplined in transition.
Clear Culture: We will build a positive, energetic, and clear culture at the training ground, that is based on our four values as a club – Service, Discipline, Excellence, and Ambition. We will recruit a manager who can help build this culture, and will recruit players who fit it.
Advanced Player Recruitment: We are working to fully revamp our player recruitment structure with a more centralised approach for both WFC & Trivela Group which will provide our club, manager, and staff additional support when bringing players onboard. Our revised recruitment process will lean on sports analytics data as one key part of the equation, along with character evaluations, interviewing on mentality and culture fit, and also our manager’s information and intuition, all geared to making sure we get the right players and the right characters in the locker room.
Player Development & Academy Integration: We will build more vertical integration between our academy and first team, in particular with our U18 team this coming season and beyond. We are also reviewing our grassroots recruitment strategy. We want to continue to build our culture and principles of play, and work throughout the academy in a more refined manner. We have now implemented individual development plans at all levels of the club (including the first team), aimed at developing and supporting our players to their highest potential as we continue to build. This will allow for higher performance at the club overall, and for the academy to augment the first team more and more over time.
Continuity: We will strive to have continuity in the building, less turnover of staff and less turnover of players. Our recruitment needs to focus on capabilities but also on our culture and identity – getting the right people in and keeping them.
Defined Systems & Processes: For everything from training to medical, we are implementing clear daily and weekly systems and processes to ensure that we have a consistent, highly professional environment in which our players can thrive.
Football Organisation Structure: We are re-organising the way reporting and accountability works in the organisation, to have the football side be strictly operated by football professionals, and to inject the capabilities that Trivela Group has at its disposal more directly. To that end, our next Manager will report directly to Trivela Group’s VP of Global Football, who in turn reports to Trivela Group’s Managing Director (myself). This will allow all parties in the combined organisation to leverage their capabilities in the areas for which they are most suited.
This is the vision – a clear strategy that defines how we want to play, who we want to be, how we’re going to operate. The next manager will be a key player in executing this plan. We are currently running a very detailed and exhaustive process to identify the right manager for WFC, who will buy into this plan and make it a reality.
What I am talking about will take time. This is a building project. And it’s not just about the next manager or the next player or the next match – it’s about us as the club, and putting one brick on another, over time. The next manager that we hire will be one absolutely critical component of this – but as a part of a thoughtful plan, not as the “be all, end all.” They will be coming into an increasingly well-defined Walsall Football Club, rather than coming in and redefining Walsall Football Club for themselves.
Thank you all for the roles that you play at the club. These past few months have been difficult and dark days – no way around it. That said, my ambition and belief for what we can accomplish together remains sky-high. Our best days lie ahead of us, as we press on together to make Walsall Football Club all that it can be once more.
Thank you once again for your unwavering support,