Raith Rovers are determined to learn from the mistakes of the past year, and put the right manager in place that will steer the club towards better times.
That was the message from club chief executive Eric Drysdale this week who spoke to The Fife Free Press for the first time since relegation to League One was confirmed.
Some fans place a portion of blame for last season at his doorstep – after all he was heavily involved in two failed managerial appointments and the much-criticised player transactions involving David Bates and Lewis Vaughan. Not to mention the goalkeeper farce at Ayr ...
However, Drysdale is not only a lifelong Raith fan with the club’s best intentions at heart, he is also a vastly experienced football adminstrator, having served as a director at Stark’s Park since 1998, and on the SPFL board since 2014.
There is arguably no-one more qualified to take on the CEO role, although he accepts and apologises for the failings of the past 12 months.
“After the severe disappointment of relegation, everyone associated with the club is looking forward with a determined focus on putting the foundations in place that will allow us to push for promotion next season,” Drysdale told the Press.
“However, I personally recognise that neither of last season’s managerial appointments worked out as we envisaged, and also that, for different reasons, the circumstances of certain player transactions were not clearly enough explained to supporters at that time, and I’m sorry for that.
“These issues came back and bit us on the backside, of that there is no doubt.
‘‘However, it’s important that we learn from these lessons of last season, move forward now, united, and select a manager that we believe has the attributes required to lead us in the direction we want to go.”
Twelve days have passed since the club parted company with John Hughe. After two failed appointments in succession, time is being taken to identify the right candidate.
“The board is progressing through a thorough selection process that involves speaking to several high-respected football figures,” Drysdale added.
“We expect to be interviewing our shortlist of candidates over the rest of this week and into next week and all being well, will look to make an appointment without undue delay.
“Meanwhile the chairman and I have been in dialogue with players and their agents so that I am ready to brief the incoming manager on day one, so that he can decide how he wishes to proceed.
“It would be wrong for the board to determine players’ futures prior to that appointment and that’s another lesson we have learned from previous managerial changes.
“So I’d ask the fans to be patient for a short while, then when the new man comes in, let’s all get right behind the Rovers, as everyone at the club looks to turn things around next season.”
While the Raith board are carefully considering their managerial options, their focus has also centered around club strategy, and ensuring they have one in place for any new manager to adopt.
In the past, Raith have allowed managers, who come and go, to completely dictate club polic.
Going forward, Drysdale revealed that they will be expected to work within the club’s blueprint, which involves developing and utilising home grown talent in the first team.
“The board is very clear on the direction we want to steer it in,” Drysdale said.
“We’re not expecting an incoming manager not to have his own opinion – quite the reverse.
“We have several players who are out of contract, or who stand to have a significant reduction to their wages.
“Every player has individual circumstances, and we would expect our new manger to have an opinion on the players at his disposal so that we can decide whether to offer new contracts, and what to do with those who are still with us.
“The incoming manager will have to buy into the ethos and general direction of travel around youth development, but as you would expect, we would want him to make the decisions in terms of the futures of individual players.”
Last season, Raith were accused of giving out mixed messages with the introduction of the Development Squad, and appeals to contribute to the Player Development Fund, contrasted with signings of ageing players such as Rudi Skacel and Ryan Stevenson.
Players from the Development Squad, despite enjoying great success under Craig Easton in winning the U20 league, were rarely considered for the first team.
Drysdale insists that must change.
“We have over a number of seasons operated on the basis of giving the manager his budget and then it’s down to him to decide how to spend it,” he said.
“That has had varying degrees of success over the years. What we’re now saying, quite clearly, is that, yes, of course, the manager picks the team, picks the tactics, and decides who he wants to try and bring in.
“But if there’s any attempt to go don’t the route of bringing in a ‘star’ player at the expense of our own young players, then that will be challenged.
“Here’s hoping if we make the right selection of manager, then that shouldn’t happen, because they will be buying into the model before they come in.
“What we want to see going forward is an improved working relationship between the football side and the club management side.
“That’s been partly eroded as a consequence of training in Glenrothes and the club base in Kirkcaldy, but we need to find ways to resolve that to ensure the football side is progressing in line with the board’s plan.”
Raith have narrowed their search to three candidates with the club believed to be weighing up whether to opt for an experienced boss, such as Gary Bollan, with proven success in lower leagues, or a younger, untried manager.
Drysdale insists that the final decision will be based on who the board believe can take the club back into the Championship, and beyond.
“We’re now in League One so we need somebody that has the tools to get us out of there, and then continue that progression,” he said.
“Whilst the immediate aim clearly is to get back into the Championship, the ultimate aim is to get to the Premiership.
“Rome wasn’t build in a day but that is the direction of travel, and that’s where we want to get to. We need to appoint a manager who can take us on whole jounrey and not just the first step.”
The first task for the new manager will be to assess last season’s squad, and decide who he wants to keep, and which players want to stay.
Raith have seven first team players under contract - Kevin Cuthbert, Kyle Benedictus, Ross Matthews, Ross Callachan, Bobby Barr, Mark Stewart and Lewis Vaughan. The rest are free agents.
“We’ve had discussions with each individual player already so we know where their minds are at,” Drysdale added.
“What we don’t know is what the new manager’s view will be.
“Once he comes in and expresses that opinion we will then be able to proceed.
“Whether that is offering players a new contract or putting them on the transfer list, or any other options available, I can’t say what that will be until the new manager comes in.”
Drysdale confirmed that, thus far, none of the contracted players have handed in transfer requests.