GUAR Column: Changing of the Guard

[Written before Mark and Nicola Palios’ arrival at Tranmere]

Every time I write this column, it seems to be about change – be it lack of, the need for it, or something that has happened. Well over the summer, there has certainly been no shortage of change at Tranmere Rovers. In fact, you could go as far as to say the club has undergone a partial facelift.

So where to start? Well let’s begin with the obvious. Coming towards the end of the campaign, Ronnie Moore was sacked and the Jeremy Butler and Mick Horton began their hunt for a new manager.

On May 27th, it was announced that search had come to a conclusion as ex-Wales international Rob Edwards had been appointed as the club’s new boss.

I am sure I am not alone when I say I had to Google his name when I found out the news. I am equally as sure I was not the only person who clicked on “the other” Rob Edwards, before managing to navigate to the right Wikipedia page (other search engines are available…but are neither as memorable or as useful!).

So I finally got on to “our” Rob Edwards – a 41-year old six foot former Blackpool, Bristol City and Preston defender who had enjoyed a successful career in the lower leagues as a player, most recently with Exeter.

And it was down at St James’ Park where he had made his first steps into coaching, leading the Grecian’s U21 side as well as standing side by side with Paul Tisdale, the Football League’s longest serving manager.

It therefore quickly became apparent that a really thorough search had taken place to find the right man to take over from Ronnie Moore. There were countless other candidates, but here was the guy who had come out on top.

So what made him so impressive? Well upon meeting him, and I have now had the pleasure of interviewing Rob on numerous occasions, that quickly became apparent.

He says the right things, he is media friendly, he has a clear philosophy that he wants to follow – right down from which players to bring in in terms of their attitude, commitment, ability and age, he wants that philosophy – which includes an attract as well as winning brand of football, to be used from the first team right down to the kids and he wants to develop talented youngsters into those who can be stars for the club and be sold for much needed cash in the future.

These are big changes from previous eras, and I believe he will be given plenty of time to become a success at Prenton Park by the board. Hopefully the fans have such patience too, because implementing them will not be easy and the chances of Rob becoming an overnight success are slim.

However, time will tell whether Rovers can mount a promotion battle this season, and they are now well on the way to establishing the squad they will have to mount that challenge.

So who has come in? Plenty of experience in Matty Gill, who seems a good talker and consummate professional, alongside Kayode Odejayi who could be a great person for Cole Stockton to learn from. Marcus Holness and Marc Laird look impressive acquisitions too, whilst we know little about Eliot Richards and Michael Ihiewke. Hopefully by the time you read this, there will be a few more new faces too!

It is not just the manager and the players who have changed either. There is a new chief scout, and he is somebody who many fans will be well aware of.

Alex Hay is a former Tranmere striker who went on to play for Rushden and Diamonds amongst others before moving into coaching, management and latterly scouting with Chester.

Alex has come into replace Dave Philpotts, and the enthusiasm he has for the role is unparalleled. He first met Jeremy at the back end of the season and his keenness to get involved with the club he supported as a boy once again has clearly paid off.

Recruitment is a key area for clubs like Tranmere. They need to bring in the right players at the right price, and hopefully Alex will flourish in role. If his determination and work ethic is anything to go by, then he will indeed be a success.

Of course, Alex’s enthusiasm is not only being spent in the stands casting his eye over future opposition and potential signings. Alongside Matty Gill and Jason Koumas, he will be putting in some hours on the training ground to help improve the first team and their results.

Speaking of the training ground, I have also had the pleasure of spending some time on the training ground this summer as part of a documentary I made for City Talk 105.9.

This allowed me to see Mr Edwards (and Alex, for that matter!) in action, as they put the players through their paces as part of their pre-season training.

What I witnessed was very different to previous years. There was less emphasis on running and more of a focus on ball retention and football fitness, as opposed to making the players work until they flopped.

Rob and John McMahon were very vocal, constantly providing coaching tips and confidence boosts for the players, whilst Alex was getting involved as well.

They did a number of drills that included one and two touch work, as well as passing and heading, whilst 7 aside mini games sandwiched a running exercise.

The players I spoke to all found it enjoyable, the atmosphere was good and everybody looked sharp. It was modern and up-to-date, perhaps two phrases you might not associate with Tranmere Rovers.

If you want to hear the finished documentary, which includes interviews with John McMahon, Max Power and Marcus Holness amongst others, then you can catch it on the Radio City Soundcloud page for a limited time only –

So there’s a quick run through of some of the things that have gone on at Prenton Park whilst we have all been away. Hopefully they will point towards a positive season.

Promotion, of course, it the buzzword. That is what everybody wants to achieve. After being relegated last May, many would say that going up, or at least challenging to do so, would be the only acceptable goal this year.

That of course will not be easy. There are numerous strong teams down here, like Luton, Bury and Burton, and plenty who have bought in many impressive players, like Shrewsbury. Time will tell how they all do though. Teams gel together differently, and of course there will be a surprise. Let’s hope it’s us.

Finally, congratulations to former Tranmere left-back Aaron Cresswell on securing his move to the Premier League.

The 24-year old, who came through the club’s academy and made his debut during the 2008/09 season, has joined West Ham from Ipswich in a deal that is believed to be worth an initial fee of £3.5million.

For me, this move has implications on two levels for the club, the first being financial.

When Ipswich signed Cresswell in 2011, the fee they paid was decided by a tribunal. This is because he was aged under 24 but still signed for them on a free transfer

Part of the fee the Tractor Boys had to pay depended on how many appearances he made, as well as an upfront fee. But on top of that, a clause was inserted meaning Ipswich have to pay Tranmere 20% of any profit they make on the player.

So thanks to Aaron joining West Ham, the Rovers bank balance has been swelled a little, and will continue to be so far a number of years as the transfer is fully paid off.

The second important note of the Cresswell transfer is it is once again a boost for the club’s academy.

Over the years, numerous academy graduates have gone on to play in the Premier League, including Clint Hill, Ryan Taylor, Jason Koumas and Steve Simonson. Now, after a few years of waiting, one of our own will once again by strutting his stuff alongside the country’s elite players. Hopefully, he shows the watching millions how good he is.

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