MK Dons yesterday parted company with Robbie Neilson with the Scot leaving by mutual consent. He leaves the Dons in 21st place in League One, far behind the target he set of automatic promotion at the start of the season. While results were far below expectation, it could be argued that Neilson was not the only factor in the Dons’ horror show of a season. After all, things were going badly wrong at the club long before he was appointed.
Where Does the Blame Lie at MK Dons?
Despite other people being accountable for the club’s lack of recent success, Neilson does need to take a hefty part of the blame. After inheriting a team bereft of confidence when Karl Robinson left the role, he managed to guide the side to 12th in League One, something that was considered respectable considering how the season had gone previously.
The next task Neilson faced was improving the squad. He did this as well, managing to beat off Championship competition for the signings of Aaron Tshibola and Ethan Ebanks-Landell. He also made the acquisitions of Wigan Athletic’s Alex Gilbey and Mali international Ousseynou Cisse from Ligue 2 side Tours, as well as reuniting with striker Osman Sow by bringing him to Milton Keynes.
Despite creating a squad that looked capable of matching his high expectations, the Dons have struggled all season, spending the majority of it languishing in the bottom half of the table. This has mainly been put down to Neilson’s poor tactics and poor game management.
There was no identity to the team. They didn’t play a certain way and they would rarely use the same formation for more than three games in a row. Neilson tried many different styles, including three at the back with wingbacks and five at the back with a bank of three midfielders in front of them. Nothing seemed to work, though. His unwillingness to stick to one tactic is a major pitfall in his management and is perhaps one of the biggest reasons as to why his tenure came to an end.
It’s easy to use the manager as a scapegoat when fortunes are not good at a club. Ultimately, he is the one that needs to motivate the team and get them performing to the best of their ability. However, the manager cannot be held fully accountable for the motivation of the players. They need to take some responsibility too.
The manager sets up the team, he tells them what to do and how to do it and he gets them pumped up for the games. The onus is then predominantly on the players to go and perform. The manager can make mid-game changes and shout instructions to try and change the players’ mentality, but it’s still then up to the players to take that advice on board and put it into action.
The players’ performances clearly haven’t been good enough. A lot of the time they look like they don’t want to play with each other or for each other. If a player constantly has this attitude, there is little the manager can do to change that.
The players at MK Dons have not been good enough so far, regardless of whether Neilson was able to get through to them or not. They need to take some responsibility, especially now in the period without a manager.
It’s unfortunate that the man who is the sole reason for the club’s existence has to be on the list. Although hated across most of the football world, he is seen as somewhat of a hero around Milton Keynes.
However, not everyone is so keen on him. The problems first started for Winkelman at the beginning of the 2015/16 season when the Dons began their Championship campaign. The Dons made very few signings going into that season and fans worried that Winkelman had underestimated the Championship. It appeared that he had, too, when the Dons were relegated along with Charlton and Bolton.
In preparation for the return to League One, Winkelman allowed Karl Robinson to spend the majority of the transfer budget on Kieran Agard. While not a bad signing, there were still many areas of the playing squad that needed to be improved after the relegation, and this left little money to bring in sufficient replacements.
Although many felt that the decision to sack Robinson was correct, just as many were confused by the appointment of Neilson. He was a largely unproven manager who only had two years of success in Scotland to his name. Winkelman’s gamble clearly didn’t pay off.
He was also guilty of not giving enough money to Neilson, as he was with Robinson. The Dons were once again reliant on loans in the transfer windows where Neilson was in charge. It’s impossible to create a strong, unified squad when a large proportion of them will leave again at the end of the year.
Winkelman really cannot afford to make another gamble with his next long-term appointment. Current academy boss Edu Rubio is high up on the list of candidates, but he would most likely be a temporary appointment until the end of the season.
There is a wide range of managers being linked with the job, from Paul Ince to Mark Warburton. Perhaps the most surprising name on the list is former boss Karl Robinson.
Sky Sports have also reported that former Rotherham boss Alan Stubbs is keen on the job.