Chief Executive on lifting AFC Wimbledon
Chief Executive Erik Samuelson has spoken about his hopes for 2013/14 and the challenges that AFC Wimbledon face ahead of their third season in the Football League.
During an interview for Dons Player, Erik said that Neal Ardley is a “very capable, thoughtful and energetic young manager” who is capable of lifting Wimbledon to greater heights during his first full campaign in charge.
We today publish part one of our in-depth interview with Erik, which appeared on our premium site on Wednesday.
Though we still remember the dramatic events of Wimbledon’s final-day escape, what lessons do you think need to be learned from last season overall?
It was a dramatic and very exciting final day and we all ended up on a high as a result of that. But when you stop and think that we were only 18 minutes away from returning to the Conference, it is important to make sure that we do learn lessons. I think the most substantial one is probably the importance of getting recruitment right. We have to ensure that we bring in the right players who fit into the right pattern of play. The manager is determined to do that for the coming season. With that in mind from February onwards the management team put a lot more effort into looking for players to be recruited during this summer. We also put more money into next season’s budget so that we can continue to do that and do our talent recruitment more effectively than in the past. That will hopefully increase the chances of getting exactly the right players that we want.
What did last season also tell us about finances at the club?
Another important lesson is that had it not been for the televised FA Cup games against York City and Milton Keynes then we would have struggled to provide enough money for Neal to strengthen the squad in January. I think it is reasonably well known that I did not want to play Milton Keynes and I did not go to the game, but the money we made was very valuable. Neal was able to strengthen the team and that made all the difference in the end. When we look forward the lesson from that is we have to raise more money to give Neal a better chance of building a solid team that will not just ensure we are safe, but be competitive in the coming season.
Off the pitch, the Nongshim Stand has transformed things. Towards the end of last season it was full every week. I know that we had all sorts of problems with the stand at the start of last season, but now that it’s there it gives us an opportunity to improve facilities and the matchday experience for families. It has improved the experience for younger fans and supporters who wanted to sit and watch games in comfort. I am looking forward to seeing that full every week next season because it is a fantastic sight. It is a major improvement and attraction for fans coming to games.
How much of a challenge has it been to keep the playing budget competitive for next season?
It has been a big challenge. The way that we do the budget is quite simple really. We work out all the income that we generate and the costs that we are committed to and what is left is the amount that we can spend on the playing squad. We bump up the income as much as we can and keep the costs as low as possible, but it is the nature of business – and we are a business – that by and large the costs rise faster than what we want them to.
It has been a massive struggle just to be able to give Neal the same starting point for a playing budget that we had for the season that has just ended. We have managed to do that, but only by really stretching ourselves to the limit. That has given us the base from which we can add the money from the We Are Wimbledon Fund. That was a brilliant idea, very effectively implemented and we have been able to add the £70,000 that was raised to provide an increase to the playing budget.We are getting close to the limit though of what we can currently generate in terms of income. We have shirt sponsorship, stadium name sponsorship, back-of-shirt and shorts sponsors. There is not much more we can sell. The pressure to keep the playing budget at the same level in future years is going to get tougher and tougher. We have to look for even more ways to raise funds to help Neal make us more competitive in the league.
What are your hopes for next season?
again in that. Firstly, we need to out-perform that. Ideally, we will be looking for Neal to push towards the edge of the play-offs. We recruited a bright, very capable, thoughtful and energetic young manager and next season is an opportunity for him to put his own stamp on it, rather than inheriting a squad and trying to make it work enough to help us stay up. It promises to be an exciting season and I cannot wait.I have spent some time talking to Neal about next season and what we will be looking to achieve. I have heard lots of people say that we don’t want the excitement of a relegation battle and we want a boring mid-table finish. I am not sure that we would really want that. We should set the minimum target of out-performing our budget. I think everyone knows that we get a league table about where we should be placed in terms of the budget and we are likely to be 20th
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