Mansfield Town are in a good starting position for the new season, but their choice of new players this summer will be key to their success says former Stags manager Stuart Watkiss.
New boss John Dempster has inherited a strong squad and been told he will be backed in the transfer market, though other clubs chasing his own stars could complicate matters.
“If the majority of the squad stays, I think John is in a decent starting position and there are reasons to be optimistic,” said Watkiss. “It certainly won’t be plain sailing though.
“Lee Glover is a good man and a good appointment as assistant.
WATKISS HOPING TO HELP LEAD BANGLADESH INTO NEXT ROUND OF WORLD CUP
“But the longer I have been in the game the more I have learned recruitment of your players is everything.
“You can be the best coach or the best manager in the world. But if you haven’t got the raw materials it’s a tough, tough gig.
“So that will be key. But again there are reasons to be optimistic looking forward to next season and I believe they can mount a strong challenge again, which I would love to see.”
Watkiss was as heartbroken as the Mansfield faithful by last season’s late promotion capitulation.
“I watched the play-offs and it was disappointing,” he said.
“But, in all honesty, I think Newport were the better team over the two games. In saying that, I think Mansfield had the better chances.”
David Flitcroft’s second late failure in as many seasons cost him his job after taking over the helm with 12 games to go the season before when Steve Evans had left them perfectly placed before quitting.
“Steve Evans is a success at lower league, but he’s always had the budget to buy it with. Having said that he has always achieved wherever he’s been,” said Watkiss.
“Obviously he abandoned ship as he thought Peterborough were a better option.
“Flitcroft came in and, from the outside looking in and from the football people I speak to, he had arguably the biggest budget in the league aside of Lincoln last season.
“With that comes an expectation. They just fell short and the owners saw fit to make a change which I have to say still surprised me a little bit.
“But I know a lot of Stags fans on Facebook and social media and I kind of sensed the Mansfield faithful thought it was going to happen.”
Watkiss suffered a few scares of his own on the way to getting Mansfield home to promotion in 2001/02 after taking over in January.
“I am only too well aware that the second half of a season – and certainly the last half dozen games – are really, really tough,” he said.
“It’s not necessarily the best team that prevails, it’s just the team that handles the situation the best.”
Watkiss said it would be interesting to see if new boss Dempster begins to blood youngsters, having just been academy manager.
“I have heard a lot of good things about John Dempster and the academy.
“I know the academy team has been very, very successful. “But I don’t seem to see too many youngsters actually breaking into the first team, which would be a concern for me.
“Maybe I am biased as I come from an academy background and we had success at Mansfield with the youngsters coming through.
“There comes a point when you have to put them in the team to have a look and find out whether they will sink or swim. John may be a lot more willing to do that if he knows a lot more about these youngsters.
“But it is a fine balance between introducing them and protecting them - and obviously the owners and fans still expect to get results as well.”
Watkiss believes, had Stags gone up last season, the club were equipped with the right foundations to challenge again in League One.
“Stags do look to have really good and supportive owners, which is great.
“They are clearly investing in the football club and the area and it’s great to see the new training ground is up and running. A lot of people deserve massive deal of credit – Steve Hymas, the Radfords and the board of directors.
“The sad thing is that if they had been promoted this season I think the manager would have been backed, which unfortunately I never had the benefit of after promotion for one reason and another.
“I think the foundations and finances were in place as well as the willingness of the owners was in place to almost kick on again.
“But there is no reason why it can’t be done still. It may just be delayed by 12 months. The club can continue to develop and progress.
“I’d like to think there some kind of five year plan and there is no reason why that plan can’t include challenging for or getting a place in the Championship with what they appear to have at their disposal.
“It would be great to see the club progress.”