MK Dons: Negative press overshadows the good
This weekend, the spotlight will fall on the town 60 miles north of London which now houses a football club, more specifically the heir of the liquidated Wimbledon, which Pete Winkelman still attracts unparalleled contempt for ripping an historic club from the heart of its south London community and shifting it to a new life in Milton Keynes.
This weekend, memories will be cast back to the anger of the whole situation as AFC Wimbledon, a phoenix club created by fans in the aftermath of their old Wimbledon’s demise, travel to the place that now houses their old club in its new guise for an FA Cup tie.
Winkelman, the chairman of MK Dons, has spent the week expressing his regret of his decision made eight years ago, wishing that this 2nd round tie can draw a line under the whole story that has seen AFC, the fan’s revival of Wimbledon based now in Kingsmeadow, jump with dramatic haste through five divisions in nine years in order to retake its place in the Football League.
Winkelman has also made known his desire that this Sunday’s game will see a “line drawn in the sand”, that perhaps with a degree of blind optimism, both sets of fans can accept the unfortunate sequence of events that has led to a match between the two bred forms of a once established football club.
Winkelman also spoke of his belief that his club are well run, which as they sit third in League One after a promotion from League Two and a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy win over the past four years is a fair assessment. As the chairman also points out, the MK Dons’ successful existence, as controversial it may be, has been achieved the right way, with an indulgence in a productive youth set-up that has stuck closely to the expansive football preached by current manager Karl Robinson and from past managers, Roberto Di Matteo and Paul Ince.
It was Robinson who faced questions earlier this month of his team’s ability to keep hold of 16 year old midfielder Dele Alli, the star of the 6-1 route of Cambridge in the first round of the cup, scorer of a goal in his first professional start. Robinson was glowing in his review of the England under-17 international’s performance, “we have just witnessed the beginning of a star”, said the young manager who has also handed a debut to 18 year old defender Mason Spence this season.
It is a philosophy of giving youth a chance that has seen 20 year old defender Tom Flanagan impress on loan at League Two table-toppers Gillingham, while Adam Chicksen has developed into a first team regular at the age of 22. Seyi Ojo, a 14 year old schoolboy, was snapped up by Liverpool last year after rumours surfaced that Chelsea were prepared to spend £1.5 million on the attacker who had already earned 2 caps for the England under-16s.
Striker Sam Baldock made the move to West Ham from which MK Dons pocketed £1 million, the type of product and sell business plan that fits in with Winkelman’s belief that his Dons are indeed well-run, despite the ugly history that has belied its creation. Daniel Powell, a 21 year old winger, has also made the graduation to the full squad and could be the next to move from a squad that also houses Dean Lewington, the defensive ever-present since emerging from the youth ranks a full decade ago, and 16 year olds Brendon Galloway and Georgio Rasulo, both of whom have been given first team exposure this year by the resourceful Robinson.
Robinson himself is also an epitome of the Dons’ willingness to give youth a chance, the manager is the youngest manager in league football at the age of 32, while Roberto Di Matteo’s odyssey to Champions League winning coach at Chelsea began at the humble beginnings of the MK Stadium at the age of 38.
Robinson, in tandem with his number 2 John Gorman, narrowly missed out on promotion last season after defeat in the playoffs and this year, just three points off top spot with League One’s best defence after the opening 20 games, could finally see them continue their hasty rise into the Championship.
It is this type of potential, based on an expansive style and a talented crop of young players that has the Mirror predicting Robinson will follow Di Matteo into the top flight before he is 35.
The Dons will face their messy past on Sunday lunchtime and for Winkelman, it presents a chance for both parties to move on, which in his case, is to continue a successful era based on some of the more elusive traits in the modern game, stability in the form of a young manager with the constant production of talented young players.
Most importantly, the Dons are seeing ambitions realised as a result of it, and there is nothing AFC Wimbledon or anybody disillusioned at Winkelman’s Milton Keynes outfit can do to stop it. It maybe a messy past for MK Dons, but it’s promising a very bright future.