Manager aims to take the club forward
Neal Ardley said that he has had to make plenty of tough decisions in an effort to improve the squad for next season after informing several players that their contracts will not be renewed.
Neal also updated supporters about the situations of players he would like to keep for next season’s 2017/18 campaign in League One.
Dannie Bulman and James Shea made vital contributions to AFC Wimbledon’s rise after joining in the summer of 2014 with both players making over 100 appearances in all competitions for the club.
One of the club’s Wembley heroes last May, Dannie continued to play regularly in League One during 2016/17 at the age of 38, showing the commitment in midfield that made him a favourite with supporters. His popularity was also summed up at the end of season celebration as he received the Players’ Player of the Year award, serenaded by supporters with passionate chants of ‘Dannie Bulman, Wimbledon’s number four’.
Neal Ardley said: “Unfortunately, we’ve reached a point where finances and different things going on, mean that with a heavy heart we have to let Dannie go. This is particularly tough for the staff because Dannie is one of the players we have got particularly strong allegiances with. He has never let us down during the time he has been here.
“Dannie is one person who we are going to be really sad to lose because the place is going to be different without him. He is a great character to have around the place, but sometimes to move on and try to take the club forward, you need to make tough decisions. Dannie is going to leave – like he did from Oxford and Crawley – with a lot of best wishes from people who love what he has done for the club and I will certainly miss him.
“James did really well for us when he stepped in after Ryan Clarke moved on. After being left out, James really knuckled down and made the number one spot his own again. He has been a real team man with an attitude that is a model for all players. He has had a really solid season, but unfortunately for James I am determined to try and improve the squad all over.
“Some people may say that I am taking a risk, but it is something we have worked on now for a number of months so that we do not make the same mistakes we have in the past in this area. We are confident we can bring someone in who can take us to a new level and that is no slight on James. He has been outstanding for us and been a really good servant. James leaves as a really strong member of the AFC Wimbledon family.”
Tom Elliott produced an outstanding second season for the club, scoring 13 goals in all competitions and leading the forward line superbly. A deserved winner of our Player of the Year award, Tom is obviously a player who Neal would like to keep for next season’s League One campaign.
“We have offered Tom a deal, but he wanted to wait until the end of the season to decide on his future and look at what direction he goes in,” added Neal. “Obviously, we have to move on and look at other options as well, while that is going on. Tom has had an outstanding season, as well all know, and we will be delighted if he stays. That is something out of our hands though. If we move quickly that may go out of the window because Tom could decide we are the club for him. He loves it here and loves the relationship he has with the fans, but he is also quite ambitious as well. We will see where this one goes.”
Chris Robertson made 18 appearances for the club after joining last summer and Neal believes it is the best decision to allow him to leave so that he can get more first-team opportunities.
“Chris has not been getting the playing time he would have liked recently and he needs to be playing more regularly,” said Neal. “We are hopeful that Will is ready to step-up, although he is still learning. Darius and ‘Robbo’ have both done really well in the last couple of seasons, but we will need to strengthen at the back. We believe it is best for Chris and his career for him to move on.”
Sean Kelly is a player who Neal wants to keep for next season, but the left-back has had an offer from a club to return to Scotland.
Neal said: “We would like to keep Sean and I think in an ideal world he would like to stay. He has really improved during the course of the season, but as it stands he has a very good offer on the table from a club in Scotland. There is a likelihood that if we cannot match Sean’s ambitions here, then it would be a sensible thing for him to do. As it stands, it is a little bit open. Whatever happens, I think the player we have got at the end of the season is a much better player than the one we had at the start of the season and we are really pleased with that.”
Neal added that Tom Beere and David Fitzpatrick both fit into the category of young players who need to move on to forge careers in the game after limited opportunities during 2016/17.
“Tom did wonderful for us at the end of our promotion season, scoring a vital goal against Accrington, and playing a major part in the play-offs,” Neal said. “Again, it goes back to affordability and whether these fringe players are going to step-up to League One football, particularly when you look at how tough it has been at the back end of the last season. With the likes of Tom and David, there is only so long that we can keep them before they financially want a better deal or they need to play to make a career for themselves. If I cannot guarantee them games for next season, sometimes you have to do the right thing by the player. I am sure that both of these players will have great careers because they are talented young footballers.”
George Oakley and Dan Gallagher are two academy products who Neal also feels need to seek opportunities elsewhere.
Neal said: “In the Under-21s set-up, we have some lads who have got to the point where they need to go out and play first-team football regularly. Dan Gallagher has shown a fantastic attitude, captaining our development squad, but he needs to go out and play. George has had a couple of loan spells that have not quite gone as well as he would have wanted them to, but I need to be 100 per cent certain that he can be one of our four strikers next season. If he is not going to get the playing time here, then the right thing is that he goes elsewhere and gets a run of games for his own development. These are tough decisions and we wish these players all the best, but I am sure they will go on and forge good careers in the game.”
Of course, Tom Beere, Dan Gallagher, and George Oakley all progressed through the ranks at AFC Wimbledon, making significant contributions at youth level, and the club wishes the trio all the best in their future careers.
Neal also added an update about other players in the squad who have been informed that they should seek to join another club.
“There are a few other players who have been told to move on because they do not have futures at this club,” said Neal. “We will see going forward how that develops. If they cannot find other clubs, then they will still be Wimbledon players next season.”
AFC Wimbledon thanks all players leaving the club for their contributions to our success and we will aim to keep you informed about developments with other players in the coming weeks.