Gaffer | "Tough decisions have to be made"

Retained list reaction from the boss.

Gills Manager Steve Evans says several tough decisions had to be made following the decision to curtail the 2019/20 League 1 season.

Last week an overwhelming majority of clubs in the division voted to end the season with immediate effect, which ultimately resulted with Gillingham finishing 10th, four places shy of the play-offs which will still go ahead to determine who is promoted to the Championship along with Coventry City and Rotherham United.  

The Manager immediately decided to meet all members of his first-team playing squad prior to releasing his retained list, which was published last week. Ouss Cisse and Ben Pringle will both leave MEMS Priestfield Stadium following the expiration of their contracts, with all loan players having returned to their parent clubs.

Mark Byrne’s deal also expires at the end of June, however he has been invited for pre-season training to prove his match fitness in an attempt to earn a new contract.

Max Ehmer, Brandon Hanlan, Regan Charles-Cook, Mikael Mandron and Henry Woods will need to wait for a board meeting to take place on Friday before any potential offer is put in their direction.

Speaking to the club website, Evans said: “The end of season review when it comes to the playing staff, and other staff, some tough decisions always have to be taken. I work with the Chairman of course, work through budgets, and no one at the club has worked more round the clock than Paul Scally in the last month or so with all sorts of issues, but more importantly in my area, getting ready for the players for a new season.

“Some tough decisions, but hopefully decisions which will make us leaner, sharper, stronger and ready for a new season.

“We also said farewell to the loan players, they go back to their parent clubs, you never know if they will be back or not – maybe, maybe not. You see five of those lads, including Olly Lee. You thank them because they played a big part, particularly the Southampton boys [Alfie Jones and Tom O’Connor].

"Ben Pringle has been fantastic for me. He is based in Manchester so we gave him the option of attending in person or receiving a phone call and Paul Raynor spoke largely to him.

“We had to make a tough decision but he will get a club because he’s a good player. The other was Ouss Cisse, he was in France so had we got him in it was going to be a two week curtailment, he would have to be locked down. Players talk and when Ben heard Ouss had been given the option to do it on the phone he thought it would have taken him longer in comparison to Ouss as he can jump on the Eurostar and be here in two hours.

“He’s a great lad, salt of the earth and has interest from one or two clubs. If he [Cisse] was your son you would be very proud but it didn’t work out for him here; Alfie Jones commanded that position, and Mark Byrne was one of our top two or three performers in the early part of the season. He was excellent for us, he’s a great kid and a consummate professional.

“But the reality is the injury will dictate that it will be September or October before we see Mark kicking a ball again and taking part in training games. I said to him if he wants to take up the option, and he may say no, then he can come in and do the pre-season programme which will probably be in August and he can play some games and demonstrate he’s back to full fitness in terms of playing fitness. If he does then I’m sure we will offer him something but every penny will be crucial, particularly in these tough times with no supporters in the stadium.

“Budgets will be reduced, but that’s for everyone. We have given Mark a platform, or a target if you like, to demonstrate his fitness and if he plays like he played in the early part of last season then he will be offered a contract.”

Steve clarified the position at this moment in time in regards to five other players whose contracts expire at the end of the month.

He added: “They [Ehmer, Hanlan, Charles-Cook, Mandron, Woods] haven’t been offered a contract, they’ve been told that a contract offer, of whatever description, will be coming to them, post the board meeting, and the reason for the slight delay in that is because the Chairman is still working on the numbers. The Club now has to look at budgets that say no matchday income, and you can’t guess. It could be the whole season without fans, we are hopeful it will be maybe October/November or January, but you have to budget. The upside is every penny you get is a bonus.

“It will be tough but those players will be made an offer, whether they then decide whether to take that is up to them. Henry, in reality, is an U23 player, so he is a different situation but for Regan and Brandon they will be subject to compensatory payments so we will make them an offer. If they choose to refuse that they can do, and go and sign for other clubs, and if they do then the other club would have to come to an agreement with our board and Chairman in respect for compensation or it will go to tribunal. On the other side Mika could say no and is then free to speak to people as he wishes.”

As for Barry Fuller and Lee Hodson, the Manager confirmed what the situation is regarding the two right-backs.

He said: “Barry has been absolutely terrific and he earned that shirt deservedly, and with real pride, and has had many, many successful times with the club. He’s very honest and has always said “just give it to me straight” and I said if “it wasn’t for you taking your option up (Barry triggered another year on his deal after making the required amount of appearances) you wouldn’t be getting a contract, but we will respect it and honour it, but if you have something else that’s there, take it, because I don’t foresee you getting a lot of Football.”  He has the option to come back and prove us wrong, and of course that’s what he may attempt to do, and he will be treated with respect.

“We are going younger, hungrier, meaner and leaner; Barry got a knock at Sunderland which would have seen him out for the season. He was starting to feel it I think. He’s been tremendous but honesty is the policy with everyone and supporters will appreciate that I have to be honest with them, and the players. I won’t hide around a corner or sit on a fence. I have to say it as it is.”