Neal Ardley

Neal Ardley - “Support us when we struggle, enjoy us when we’re good”

The Appointment

Neal Ardley was appointed City’s manager on 6th September 2023, just over a week after the sacking of Mikey Morton. Rather surprisingly for City, his announcement came with the confirmation that he’d signed a 3 year contract.

It is understood that Matt Uggla, Darren Kelly and David Stockdale were prominent in the recruitment process, a change in approach from last year when Glen Henderson and the York City Supporters’ Trust appointed David Webb.

After City compiled a short list of possible candidates, it was David Stockdale who made the first contact. A Zoom interview followed with the Ugglas before a more formal face to face interview. He saw City’s games with Rochdale and Ebbsfleet live.

He acknowledged that he’d inherited a “hugely inflated squad” to which he needs to bring structure and standards. He noted a lack of cohesion with players thrown together who haven't yet understood each other, late recruitment and changing formations had all contributed to the start to the season. Don’t expect the development squad to be a primary focus.

Expect him to be “careful not to keep accumulating players”, but he noted a couple of positions where he thought City are short. Despite City‘s new found finances, expect him to spend money as if it is his own.

Matt Uggla tweeted, “First manager I’ve ever appointed. After getting to know the man I know the club is in very safe hands and he fits the vision and culture we are trying to build! Very exciting times. Thanks so much to Darren (Kelly) and David (Stockdale) for helping get this over the line and Lisa (Charlton)” too!.

The appointment marked a switch in direction from David Webb and Mikey Morton, a manager with a solid pedigree.

The Player

As a midfielder, he made 245 appearances for Wimbledon, making his debut in the 1991/2 season towards the end of the "Crazy Gang era". He went onto make a further 26 appearances during the following season, the first of the FA Premier League. In his early days, he won 10 England Under 21 caps. By the time he left Wimbledon in 2002, he’d played 245 games for them.

In the following 3 years at Watford, he played 111 games before joining Cardiff in March 2005. He was a regular during his time at Cardiff and moved to Millwall on a free transfer in time for the start of the 2006/7 season, his last season as a player.

During the 1996/7 season, he missed just 4 games and played in the semi finals of both the FA Cup and League Cup for the Dons. More semi final defeats (FA Cup (2003) and League Cup (2005)) followed at Watford.

The Manager

He announced his playing retirement on August 30th 2007 and on the same day he was appointed Academy Manager at Cardiff City having started taking his coaching badges 3 years earlier.

He held the post for 5 years before being appointed Wimbledon manager in in October 2012. He left by mutual agreement in November 2018.

Neal Ardley picked up two Manager of the Month awards during his time down at Kingsmeadow, securing League Two Manager of the Month in December 2014 and April 2016.

Working under a tight budget, Ardley guided the Dons to League Two safety in each of his first 3 seasons. In 2016, he saw them promoted via the play offs.

A higher division saw renewed struggles with 15th and 18th place finishes. Come the 2018/9 season, more struggles ensured before he left the club in November.

He was back in management within 2 weeks at Notts County. That season, he couldn’t save them as they slipped out of the Football League. The following season, he guided County to the play off final and defeat to Harrogate in that covid hit season. With expectations high, he was sacked in March 2021 despite County being comfortably placed inside the play off places. At County, he picked up 3 Manager of the Month awards (December 2019, January 2021 and October 2021).

He was appointed Solihull Moors manager in June 2021 and picked up the manager of the month award in October. The season ended in a play off final defeat to Grimsby after finishing 3rd. Despite being amongst the pre season favourites, Moors could only finish mid table in 2023, City fans may remember Moors 3-2 win at LNER in David Webb’s last game in charge of City. He left Moors by mutual consent in June 2023.

To last 6 years in any managerial post must mean he was doing something right. It was painstakingly slow progress at Wimbledon. He oversaw slow but incremental progress. Taking Solihull Moors to a top 3 finish, given their tight budget must be considered a success whilst I imagine Notts County supporters, like City, want success straight away, a play off final and strong contenders for the play offs a season later suggested he was on the right tracks.

He developed 2 of his signings (Lyle Taylor and Kyle Hudlin) into potent goalscorers and it might appear at City that he has another striker who can flourish under his management.

Neal Ardley managed both Wimbledon and Solihull Moors to their highest ever league position whilst in 4 seasons in the National League, he averaged 76 points per season.

One worrying trend? Each of his managerial positions has lasted less time than the previous one.

He prefers a 433 or 442 formation and would be happy to change formation during a game, working on different formations in training allows an in game switch if circumstances dictate it. He noted 352 is a “grey area” and "needs a lot of work". He likes to play football from the back, his teams are usually high in possession stats and he likes his sides to play good football.

The Philosophy

It could be said that Neal Ardley’s Wimbledon and Solihull Moors sides were solid, difficult to break down and possibly over achieved.

In various interviews he referenced how even National League clubs must embrace the digital era and puts his faith in Wyscout and statistics.

In a 2021 article, a foreward in Moorad Choudhry's The Principles Of Banking (published 2021), Neal Ardley outlined his philosophy. He believes that being the boss is all about inspiring all around him and managing from the bottom up, creating a good team spirit, gaining employee buy in, cohesiveness, culture and rewarding work ethic.

He noted his keys to success are:

  • Clear vision
  • genuine buy in from staff
  • sticking together
  • bottom up leadership
  • no blame culture
  • taking responsibility
  • building relationships and trust
  • inspiring people.

Others say, “trust the process”, Neal Ardley says “its all in the script” and if you stick to it, then you’ll achieve what you want to achieve.

With just 2 days before his first City game, his philosophy was evident in his first words and actions. His first aim was to put together a cohesive team that knows how to get results, how to win a game of football (and start to re-build confidence). He was looking to bring clarity onto the pitch with a focus on how City play with the ball and the need for top draw mentality off the ball. Arriving 7 games into the season, he understood the extra challenges that come with getting his messages across to his players without the benefit of a pre-season.

For his players, he was looking for everyone to take on board what he was saying and on the pitch for every player to understand and pass on key messages, delivered in training, to each other during the game.

He wants his players to try to implement the ideas that we’ve worked on during the 2 days and to show mentality without the ball. Essentially to do what was practiced in training and he is looking for players “who get it”. During those 2 days, he spent a good 40 minutes practicing how to defend long throws, a Boreham Wood speciality. His first interviews came with a subliminal message, "Don’t let the result affect the performance, hit the stats we‘ve got to hit", indicating do what we've practiced and don't get upset if despite doing that, occasionally a result doesn't go your way, it can happen as game factors like a fluke deflection or poor refereeing decision can affect the outcome.

He spent the evening of his appointment visiting the training ground so he was familiar with the layout and prepared for training and then spent the rest of the evening swotting up on his players so that he could address them by name during training.

Also: Neal Ardley in the Non League Paper (20/August/2023).

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