Date: 1st February 2018 at 5:37pm
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AMID all the wailing and gnashing of teeth – not to mention the usual doom merchants insisting that the club is about to implode under our Jordanian owners – Darrell Clarke pulled off a couple of masterstrokes in the transfer window.

President Wael Al-Qadi has spoken from the first day about evolution not revolution and the first real signs of progress came late on Wednesday night.

As the deadline approached and Rovers fans took to Twitter lampooning those running the club for a lack of ambition, in the background negotiations were in hand to sign vastly experienced Tony Craig from Millwall and speedy winger Kyle Bennett from Portsmouth.

The way I see it, these weren`t panic buys, unlike many that take place at this time of year. They were made with the future in mind.

Bennett, 27, was linked with Rovers right at the start of January and many thought he was the player who pulled out of a deal at the last minute. Whether that was the case and the deal was later revived, I don`t know, but whatever the truth of things he seems to tick all the boxes when it comes to DC looking for wide players with pace.

In fact, there are plenty of Pompey fans moaning that manager Kenny Jackett didn`t demand a fee for the speedster. What it did mean for Rovers, though, was that they could snap him up after the window closed and perhaps pay a little bit more in wages to guarantee his signature.

Then we come to Craig. Some critics have looked at his age and instantly dismissed him as the wrong side of 30 and on the downward slope,
I take a contrary view. Rovers have been screaming out for someone with experience since Steve Mildenhall and Mark McChrystal were pensioned off at the end of last season.

Craig played over 50 games in Millwall`s run to promotion last season and has got such a hunger for the game that well-known national journalist Michael Calvin wrote on Twitter: “If a young pro asks me for a role model, I`d point him in the direction of @TCraig1985 Gives everything of himself, every game, every day.”
The fact that rivals like Southend were chasing him says everything for the coup DC has pulled off.

Looking to the future, could Craig eventually take his place in the backroom staff? He has been doing his coaching badges and Rovers have been crying out for a replacement for defence coach Steve Yates. Perhaps that was the carrot that enabled us to snap him up.
Speak to president Al-Qadi and he is always quick to emphasise the work going ahead on the development side and with that in mind it was great to see some promising young players going out on loan to get valuable experience.

Many believe Rollin Menayese should be knocking down the first-team door now, but obviously DC feels he just lacks a bit of nous when it comes to league football.

Letting him go to Swindon means he should get a few more games under his belt and come back a whole lot wiser.

The same can be said of Ryan Broom, who is cutting his teeth with Eastleigh in the national league.

To my mind, it`s great forward planning. Inevitably, some of our promising talent like Tom Lockyer and Ellis Harrison will move on if they keep progressing and it`s great to see we are already grooming players to come in and fill the gaps.

It`s a production line that we haven`t had for years. So often young kids have shown plenty of promise only to be left floundering without any proper development path.

I said some time ago when I wrote a blog for the Bristol Post that I could think of nothing better than Darrell Clarke setting up a Rovers dynasty that would last for years.

Wouldn`t it be great if Rovers could follow the Southampton blueprint so that every time we sold a star player there was a youngster ready to step up and take his place?

Nick Rippington is a national newspaper journalist based in London. He is also award-winning author of UK gangland fiction thrillers Crossing The Whitewash and Spark Out.

To find out about either book click these links…

 

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