Doncaster Rovers aim to be great entertainers with a permanent cast

Doncaster Rovers chief executive Gavin Baldwin says the League One club will put more work in to strengthening the core of its team, and less reliance on loan signings next season.

New manager of Doncaster Rovers: Richie Wellens. Picture: Gary Longbottom

New manager Richie Wellens has also been brought in with a brief to play more entertaining football.

Rovers had great success in the first half of 2020-21 with Darren Moore’s shrewd use of the loan market, allowing him access to talent from the top academies his club could not have afforded to buy.

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But it perhaps caught up with them in the second half of the campaign, young players exposed to unusually high physical demands they were not yet built for, and lacking the experience to come through the difficult times exacerbated when manager Moore left to join Sheffield Wednesday in March.

Planning: Gavin Baldwin.

In the second half of the season, Doncaster had seven players on loan, despite only being allowed five on the field at one time.

The club will still target loans under Wellens, but there will be more emphasis on improving the calibre and durability of the permanent signings he makes.

“Richie clearly will bring in loans but he describes them as the cherry on the cake,” explained Baldwin. “We want a core staff that are contracted who can play 40 games a season each and the loans can provide those special moments, players we couldn’t otherwise attract because they are at a Premier League club, a Championship club, but the core staff have got to be good enough and that will probably be the significant difference from last season.”

With so many players from Premier League academies last season, there was certainly a concerted effort by Moore to play positive passing football, but Baldwin wants more as he tries to ensure that the return of fans generates an exciting atmosphere.

Entertainment centre?: A general view at Keepmoat Stadium.

“Criticising ourselves, some of the football we may have played last season wasn’t the most attractive, wasn’t what the fans wanted to watch,” said Baldwin, who has had plenty of advice from the authorities to plan for 100 per cent capacities when the League One season starts on August 7.

“We’re hoping the fans are delighted with the season ticket plans we’ve got because they show how much we respect and value them but we don’t want them to buy season tickets as a favour, we want them to be excited to come on a Saturday.

“We think that’s what will happen and even before the first game of the season they’ll be excited, then on the first game of the season – Sheffield Wednesday at home?! – it’ll be rocking.

“Coming to games during the pandemic it felt like you were coming to 23 home friendlies.

“It was good to be playing football but on a Saturday you didn’t wake up with that tingle, that buzz, and it was hard work.

“If it was not the same for us it must have been even harder for the players because the best thing about match-day is the atmosphere, even the hour before the game walking around the stadium.

“It was like watching football in a sanitised environment and nowhere near the same experience.

“If anything it’s hopefully made clubs fully aware, even though they should have been aware before, of the importance of the fans and the match-day experience, and playing the right sort of football to have a good day out.”

Although Sheffield Wednesday’s relegation adds another former Premier League to the division, Baldwin believes the gap between League Ones haves and have-nots may be narrowing.

“Next year we’ve still got challenges,” he cautioned. “We’ve got wage deferrals we’ve got to pay back and HMRC debts so it won’t be a normal year.

“Having said that, the ownership want to give us every chance they can to compete on the field. The playing budget is increased on last season. We also want to give the manager the opportunity to put his identity on the team.

“We’re expecting progression next season. We just need to see a plan the fans buy into, knowing we’re working towards that promotion everyone wants.

“A lot of clubs in League One we’re aware of, significant clubs, are looking to reduce their budgets because they can no longer keep speculating and not going up.

“Because our owners target continuous improvement and challenge me to produce more money off the pitch to put into the playing budget, our budget is getting closer to the top teams because we’re working harder and harder off the field and those teams with the higher budgets are getting burned more often.

“The feedback I’m getting is that their ownerships are starting to think, ‘Hang on, are we enjoying this?’ and they may start being more generous.

“There are some massive clubs in League One but they may have the reputations without the playing budgets to come with that.”