Gillingham FanZoner Damian Buxton gives his take on the latest happenings at Priestfield after boss Martin Allen transfer-listed four players.
Rewind 14 months to the appointment of Martin Allen at Gillingham and many neutrals may have raised an eyebrow, before muttering "that's not going to go well." Fans of previous club Cheltenham swamped Gillingham message boards to "warn" (in reality to vent) Gills fans to expect a string of crazy actions. However the meltdown didn't materialise and Mad Dog's Gills side were more akin to his Brentford career than his Cheltenham career, comfortably winning League Two.
A poor start to the League One season has caused some concern, mitigated by some creditable draws, but Friday the 13th proved truly unlucky for four newly transfer listed players and has led to the first sustained questioning of the manager. The move doesn't just impact upon the starting XI, as it leaves chairman Paul Scally with a decision to make as to whether to back his manager's call with new signings, particularly if the barren start continues.
Transfer listing Charlie Lee, Chris Whelpdale, Antonio German and Steven Gregory, less than a fortnight after the close of the transfer window, screams of pushing the panic button. All of the four come as somewhat of a surprise from a fans perspective, with the quartet comprising three first-team regulars and a summer signing.
Prior to Friday's news, Allen had put a big show of faith in both Gregory and German. Gregory, a target for criticism from sections of the Gills crowd, came into the side in January to replace a combination of David Wright, Lewis Montrose and Jack Payne. Payne and Montrose were both allowed to leave on loan following Gregory's arrival, and both departed permanently in the summer. The position in front of the back four is key to Allen's system, and it comes as a surprise to learn that he's now suddenly unhappy with its occupant.
The move to transfer list German also appears odd, particularly for a manager using a tight budget to justify the move. The Gills only signed him in the summer, and had to pay a fee to do so. As well as his wages he would also have cost the club through contributions to Adam Birchall's wages during his loan spell at Dartford, having replaced him as the squad's fourth striker.
The listing of Whelpdale and Lee, who seem to only do things as a pair, seems strange from a football perspective. Arriving from Peterborough to much fanfare, the pair would seem to be two of the team's biggest assets. However, whilst Whelpdale was one of last year's better players, and Lee this season's, both are on high wages and will create room in the budget.
Despite the odd timing and logic in the announcement, it is important to maintain some kind of perspective. Whilst the timing is, frankly, ridiculous, it does give the players some form of stay of execution as they cannot make permanent moves away. It's also worth noting that Allen does love the spotlight, and enjoys a big gesture. Lee has produced the best football of his time at Gillingham while on the transfer list, and this could just be one of Allen's eccentricities. He has also justified the move by promising an improved starting XI, which the team's start to the season suggests is needed.
Potentially the most interesting aspect of the afternoon of the long knives could be the response of chairman Scally. If the side's bad run were to continue into the winter, then Scally would have to consider the future of his manager. He now has a difficult decision to make as to whether to back his manager in undergoing a squad restructuring mid-season through the loan market, particularly given how disastrously Mark Stimson's mid-season overhaul ended. As chairman he could justifiably be asking Allen why this is happening now, rather than during a pre season that the manager spent telling people that his side were ready to "smash" League One. If Allen is given the all clear to remodel the side then it would seem to suggest he is here for the near to medium-term future, and would need a spectacularly bad run of results for Scally to then back track and sack him.
Whilst Friday's announcement may play out well, it certainly signals the start of a potentially worrying spell for Gills fans. Hopefully the move is one of Allen's eccentricities rather than financial problems at the club, but if it is down to Allen, then he is playing a very risky game. This is amplified by the popularity with the fans of Lee and Whelpdale. Gregory would attest to the difficulty of replacing a fans' favourite, and new signings will be under pressure to hit the ground running.
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