Chairman Pete Winkelman believes that this is an ‘exciting time’ for MK Dons.
Over the last 11 months, the Dons, under the management of Russell Martin, have navigated big-name departures and a global pandemic to consolidate in Sky Bet League One and bring fresh hope and optimism to Stadium MK.
“We made massive improvements and although the last game wasn’t great, everybody could see that, from January, we’ve been getting stronger as a team and that’s why we are looking forward to next year,” Winkelman told iFollow MK Dons.
“Next season is going to be a really big one for us, with some massive teams in our division, and I’m excited for it.”
This offseason began with the surprise departure of Executive Director Andrew Cullen to Sky Bet League One rivals Portsmouth and while sad to see Andrew exit after 12 years at the Club, Winkelman is enthusiastic by the opportunity it has provided.
“Initially there was shock, especially with him going to a rival, but, in terms of the change, I think it is a real opportunity,” the Chairman said.
“We’ve been under pressure, over the last few years, to keep our very best people and we are seeing the results of what people like Simon Crampton have been able to do for our business and we’ve watched Liam Sweeting come in and make a real difference. Russ has obviously also come in and completely re-set our culture.
“What we will be able to do now is surround Russ in a modern infrastructure and while we have him, we should exploit that for the good of our Football Club. It’s shocking news but I can see some good out of it too – going forwards, I think we have every possibility in front of us.
“I won’t say, for sure, what we are doing right now but we are doing something that will update us as a Football Club and I’m looking forward to making those changes.”
And in terms of transfers, Winkelman confirmed Cullen’s parting, however surprising, won’t impact the Club’s ability to strengthen the first-team squad ahead of the 2021/22 campaign - which is there aim!
He said: “We are in the best place we’ve been in for some time and I don’t see Andrew’s departure being too impactful at all.
“We have a fantastic club secretary in Kirstine (Nicholson), who has been doing (transfers) for years and we’ve got Liam Sweeting who is able to grow into being more involved in those final deals. Ultimately, though, in a Football Club it comes down to the Chairman and I’ve been involved in practically every deal that has happened at this football club, for good and for bad.
“We are trying to put a squad together. We have targets everywhere and we know what happens if this happens and what happens if that happens. Some players that we want to sign might surprise people, some might be more obvious.
“We have a fantastic core but it’s a young core, and we’ve seen how Russ has used cultural architects like Cammy (Cameron Jerome0 and Andrew Surman, so we can see all sorts of ways that our team can come together.
“Being football, you never know what’s going to happen. I can’t say that every player will be here and everything will happen – I couldn’t have told you two weeks ago that Andrew Cullen was going. It’s about we deal with things and how we react.
“It’s also all about the way you use your player budget. If we end up half a dozen really expensive players then we’ll have less to spend on another player. If we can cover positions with players who are younger and more cost effective, then it might leave us more room to do things.
“What we can’t do is massively inflate our budget because this year is still going to be really tough. God willing, we’ll have fans back for next season and all the way through next season but we’ve priced our season tickets because we just don’t know that for sure.
“It was because of everybody’s support that we were able to what we did in January. We budgeted based on a certain amount of money leaving the football club and a certain amount staying and because of the support, we had that little bit of extra firepower.
“We really pulled together well as a football club, in the midst of some real adversity and we finished the season stronger than most. What does that mean for next year? We’ll have to wait and see. There are some big clubs in this division next season with much bigger fanbases to give them much more money to play with, but that also comes with more pressure.
“We have a manager who is learning on the job and getting better every week, and I’m excited to see what he can continue to bring to the Football Club. I’m excited, too, that we’re back to being what we’re about.
“We’ve always been about people coming here, developing and then going but if we can actually go up the leagues then maybe we wouldn’t have to lose so many. I’m not embarrassed about it, though. There is development on and off the pitch and that’s something I believe in as a business. It’s about getting the best out of the people in the Club.
“Last year, Rhys Healey’s sale, disaster though it was in some ways, was hugely important in being strong last season. It wasn’t planned but did it work out? It worked out. I’m going to sound like Russ but, we’ve got to believe in the process.
“We won’t get every player right but we’re seeing fruit of what’s going on behind the scenes. Everyone is working so hard at the moment and it is an exciting time. If we keep going forwards and keep getting better, reminding people of our culture, I think all the things we want will be possible one day.”