After Danny and Nicky Cowley left Lincoln this week, it was inevitable that Gareth Ainsworth would be linked with the job given Wycombe’s brilliant start to the season. And after seven years at Adams Park, it sounds like he’d be open to moving on…
Gareth Ainsworth’s stock as a manager has probably never been higher.
After promotion two seasons ago, Ainsworth kept Wycombe in League One last term, operating as ever on the perpetual shoestring budget at Adams Park, but this term the Chairboys have started like a train.
Victory last weekend was their fourth of the season and put them top of the table, nudging past Coventry on goal difference, thanks to the hat-trick of set-pieces you’ll probably have seen by now from the left foot of Joe Jacobson.
But what was particularly interesting about that game was the identity of the opponents: it turned out to be Danny and Nicky Cowley’s final match in charge of Lincoln, before they departed for pastures more glamorous at Huddersfield.
Now there’s a vacancy at Sincil Bank, it’s inevitable that the former Imps player would be linked with the job. And it Ainsworth might not need much persuading if the call came.
“I’m really happy at Wycombe, they’ve been so good to me,” Ainsworth exclusively told the Totally Football League Show this week.
“But of course, I’m ambitious. I want a club that has ambitions to play in the Championship, to be as high as they possibly can. I know Lincoln City have got that ambition. What the Cowleys have built in their time there – it’s just awesome.
“I’m open to everything. Wycombe have this potential. I’m really hoping that the fans understand that, unfortunately, money is needed in football and to progress, especially to the next level. It’s going to take some serious investment.
“We have people willing to put their money in. The fans love owning their own club [Wycombe are currently owned by the supporters’ trust] and I understand that as well. But the ambition for me is to get into that Championship one way or the other.”
Ambition is clearly the key word. But while Ainsworth didn’t directly suggest Wycombe don’t have that ambition, it sounds like he would like them to show it fairly sharpish.
“My immediate future, I’m okay. I’m happy at Wycombe. But I just have this burning desire to to manage and test myself at higher levels.
“If somebody did come knocking, I’m sure that the Wycombe fans would understand that’s it’s decision time. I want Wycombe to be up there, but at the moment, we have the ceiling, this financial ceiling at the club.”
There has been no contact from Lincoln. Yet. “At the moment there’s there’s nothing happening,” Ainsworth said. “But I know that there’s plenty of rumours and it’s early days. I think Danny and Nicky only left on Monday, and it’s only Wednesday. So it’s a waiting game.
“I know that there’s plenty of interest and rumours and I think Wycombe would be open to letting me have a chat with people. They know that I want to manage higher if they can get it going at Wycombe it would be fantastic because the culture’s there. We know what we are. And I’ve got the best squad I’ve ever had. And I really believe we have a chance to finish a lot better than we did last season. That’s important, that’s the aim.”
If someone did come knocking, I'm sure the Wycombe fans would understand that it's decision time.
For now though, Ainsworth’s main challenge is to continue Wycombe’s fine start, which is even more impressive given the limited resources available to him.
“I think the squad is good enough…it’s just probably injuries [that might be a problem] and and the small squad I’ve got.
“I’ve only got 22 outfield players and people…and that is it. There’s no academy, there’s no youth team. We signed a guy called Ben Frempah last year on a non-contract and he actually got a game against Charlton because we were so, so small and numbers on. If we get the injuries, I can’t say we will finish as high as I think we could.
“I trust my sport scientists, I trust my physios to keep them all fit. And if if we have the perfect season like that, then, yes, we can finish very high in this league. I’d be buzzing. Can we sustain it? Hopefully, but we’ll see.
“It is pinch yourself time for all the fans, for all the players, especially for myself. We seem to have got the combinations right this season. The signings have done well. There’s been a little bit of investment from the American consortium that’s pledged a bit money, and hopefully they can get the go ahead to take over the club because I really think that’s helped.”
Of course it helps when you have a left-back who can score hat-tricks, as Jacobson did against Lincoln, two of them from corners.
— Sky Bet League One (@SkyBetLeagueOne) September 8, 2019
“He’s had enough publicity this week, I tell you,” jokes Ainsworth.
“He’s not aiming for the goals, believe me. He puts a fantastic ball in. I’m sure that we have few people in the top two divisions that haven’t heard of Joe. But in the bottom two divisions, everyone’s heard of him because his left foot is lethal.
“I always go back to the World Cup semi-final. I think it was France against Belgium last year and it was settled on a set piece, a corner. So I think if it’s good enough for a World Cup semi-final. Set plays are so important to have somebody who can take them and have the delivery that he’s got, is crucial.”
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