…On the 15th day…Orient’s new head coach was announced. In the end it seemed fairly obvious that the new man was going to be Richie Wellens, as his was pretty much the only name still doing the rounds after the rumours of Darren Ferguson, Neil Lennon etc, had been well and truly quashed.
So, what do we know about the 41-year-old Mancunian then? First of all, he brings with him a track record of 182 games in charge at Oldham, Swindon, Salford and Doncaster with a win percentage of 36%, a League 2 title win with Swindon albeit on a points per game basis in the Covid-curtailed season two years ago, and a delayed EFL Trophy win with Salford last season. He was also approached about taking the Orient job in the summer but felt a greater pull to go to Doncaster where he had made 199 appearances across two spells during his playing days.
While he felt he was never truly given the chance at Salford: he wasn’t in charge for a single transfer window, and one can only imagine what it is like trying to manage under a former serial winner and renowned television pundit in the form of Gary Neville. By his own admission he probably let his heart rule his head in going to Doncaster and in actual fact should have probably never have taken the job in the first place.
To get a better feel for what our new boss might bring to the Orient cause it is therefore probably best to look back to his Swindon days. Taking charge at the County Ground in November 2018 after the sacking of everyone’s “favourite” lower league manager, Phil Brown, Wellens guided Town to a respectable 13th place finish and then, as mentioned above, led them to the title the following season. I vividly remember us being comprehensively beaten by his Swindon side at Brisbane Road, 3-1, in early September of that season and concluding to the missus that we had just watched one of the teams that would be amongst the automatic promotion places come the end of the season.
Beyond the success on the field, it was reportedly the style of play that most enamoured him to the Swindon faithful. According to Wikipedia (yeah, I know!): “Wellens favours his teams to play attacking football, believing long ball and defensive-minded football to not be suitable to long-term success. He cites former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson as a major influence on his approach. Using a preferred formation of 4-2-3-1, Wellens likes his teams to play out from the back and be patient, Wellens likes his players to maintain a high level of intensity, even during training sessions.”
All of which should be music to the ears of Orient fans who, yours truly most definitely included, grew tired of our hoof and hope (© Mrs Football Nerd) approach a good few months back, but then again didn’t we think along similar lines when Kenny Jackett was appointed in the summer?
When asked what his immediate priority was in his introductory press conference, Wellens suggested that it would be naïve to think that he could come in and try to instil his philosophy and approach and get it right straightaway, right now as we know “the results are more important than performances”.
Another positive announcement is that Matt Harrold is to be retained as part of the coaching set-up to help us to regain the link to the National League title-winning days that seemed to get a bit lost under Jackett, and as a result of the significant churn in the squad ahead of the start of this season. Seemingly less welcome news amongst the Orient faithful is the appointment of former O Paul Terry to the coaching staff, given his well-documented indiscretions of the past. A perspective I wholly understand and appreciate, however the focus of this blog will always be on football matters, so I will concentrate my attention on how the new coaching team impact what happens on the field and by definition the results.
As things stand, despite the two recent draws thanks to added time equalizers, we sit in 20th place just 4 points above the drop zone, and the priority has to be pulling away from there and putting as much distance as we possibly can between us and the relegation places in our remaining 13 games. To do that we need to start scoring goals on a much more consistent and regular basis than we have been of late. As our new gaffer himself said we have two strikers in the top 10 goal-scorers in the league and Archie just outside the top 10 for assists, somewhere along the line something has gone badly awry. If Wellens can start to address that and get H and Drinan scoring as they were in the first few months of the season, that would go a long way to steadying the ship and securing safety.
As has been highlighted by various recent pieces and comment on Orient, the results and performances on the field have led to a stalling of the progress towards the owners’ and board’s lofty ambitions, as set out in the 5-year vision unveiled at the end of last season. Specifically, the two points of being at least play-off contenders in League 1 and averaging attendances of 7,000. Right now, as a club we look about as far away from fulfilling those as it is possible to be.
If we can start to get better results, secure safety as early as possible, then perhaps Wellens can start to try to embed his playing philosophy and approach ahead of next season, where with some astute recruitment we could really start to do ourselves justice in League 2 and hopefully beyond.
It is easy for us as fans to be optimistic when a new manager comes in and time will tell if Wellens is the right man to take us where we all want to go. He was certainly impressive and talked both confidently and convincingly in that initial press conference. However, this is now the 6th “permanent” managerial appointment that has been made since Nigel and Kent took over the club and Martin Ling was appointed Director of Football less than 5 years ago, and, without being too harsh, it is fair to say that Justin was the only one of the previous 5 that proved in any way successful. Where would the owners go from here if things don’t work again this time?
Adopting an optimistic perspective, while Wellens will have very little time on the training ground to address any of the issues that he may have spotted while analysing our previous matches, if he can tweak a few things here and there, improve the style of football even a little bit and start to pick up some points, then we can all start to feel a bit more positive for the remainder of the campaign. It won’t be an easy start of course as we face consecutive away trips first to Hartlepool tomorrow and then to table-toppers Forest Green on Tuesday evening; but then again when we have played well this season it has tended to be against the higher-ranked teams.
Here’s hoping that this time next week some positivity has broken out in E10, Richie welcome to the Orient and all the very best of luck!
Up the O’s!