Manager Paul Dickov will be entering the new campaign with Doncaster Rovers a far happier and relaxed man than at the same time last year. Leon Wobschall reports.
IF any manager in the country was overdue a serene summer, it was Paul Dickov.
Don’t talk to him about the close-seasons of 2013 and 2014 at Doncaster Rovers. If you drop those into the conversation, you are likely to receive a dark look or two.
On both occasions, super-slow delays in finalising player contracts, snails’ pace recruitment and depleted squad resources made it an unwholesome cocktail, largely due to off-the-field uncertainty caused by two abortive takeovers.
Summers at previous club Oldham Athletic were hardly a bed of roses either with the departure of key players and squad upheaval commonplace.
But times, they are a-changing, with fortune belatedly favouring the Scot.
The signings he has wanted have largely materialised in good time in the likes of Andy Williams, Richard Chaplow, Gary MacKenzie and Thorsten Stuckmann.
Pre-season results have been decent too, headlined by a 2-0 home victory over a strong Sunderland side on July 29.
But it is the well-being of the Rovers squad which is the most significant development for Dickov, whose first signing of last summer didn’t arrive until the end of July.
If he needed further confirmation of that, he received it when he viewed a picture on the wall in the Algarve early last month.
Dickov, embarking on his third season in charge of Rovers, explained: “We had a week in Portugal with 22 contracted players.
“We went to the same camp last year and every year, they take a team photo.
“Out of the 22 we took last year, we had only seven or eight contracted players. We had no goalkeepers; now we have two.
“Having the majority of the group together going into this season is a massive plus.
“Recruitment-wise, I am also delighted with what we have got and the players we have managed to keep.”
Dickov has largely opted for experience in his summer recruits, augmenting a squad containing the likes of Richie Wellens, James Coppinger and Rob Jones, who have seen-it-and-done-it in regard getting to where the Rovers boss wants to go: the Championship.
The vibes are good if Rovers’ wholly encouraging pre-season is anything to go by.
Dickov is savvy enough to realise that you don’t pick up points in July, although you do lay foundations for successful seasons nonetheless.
Dickov added: “The biggest thing for me this pre-season has been the togetherness of the group.
“They have been absolutely outstanding. We have tested them right to the limit and with the ones that have struggled at times, the other ones have dragged them through and vice-versa.
“That is what you want because that is what is going to happen out on the pitch during the season.
“We have brought the right characters in to go with the characters here already. The other thing is we have real competition for places now.
“Most of the players we have signed could all have gone to other clubs for possibly better offers. But they have bought into what we want to do here and also looked at the squad before coming in and believe we have got a genuine chance.
“Young Aaron (Taylor-Sinclair) for instance could have quite happily stayed at Wigan because he was on a good deal there.
“Like a lot of players would do nowadays, he could have stayed and picked up his money. But he showed a desire to come and play football here and that’s the most pleasing thing.”
Of Dickov’s summer deals, the headline one is the capture of ex-Swindon Town frontman Andy Williams, the sort of arrival that Rovers supporters had been crying out for since the club dropped back into the third tier.
Williams struck 22 goals for the Robins in 2014-15 and only Preston’s Joe Garner and Rochdale forward Ian Henderson found the net more times in League One, with the frontman also on the wanted list of the likes of Bradford City, Scunthorpe United and Millwall.
Dickov is pinning his hopes on him providing a sharpened edge to Rovers’ attack, which was somewhat blunt during much of 2014-15.
He said: “Andy’s a goalscorer and we created so many chances last year and that (scoring) can be the difference between winning and losing a game or drawing and losing. It is having someone with that composure.
“We played a small-sided seven-a-side game out in Portugal and it was a really tight game and Andy scored a goal out of nothing and his team won 1-0. That’s what he can bring to us and the sort of player we have been missing.”