Robbo’s ready to play the long game

Karl Robinson PNL-160301-005202002
Karl Robinson PNL-160301-005202002
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A stitch in time saves nine so says the popular proverb, but it won’t be the approach MK Dons take during the January transfer window.

After all the talk and promises, it turns out Karl Robinson won’t be dipping into the cash pillows at stadium:mk this month.

Lamenting his budget, or more specifically lack thereof, since the beginning of the season, Robinson has taken the unique approach of opting to save his pocket money for a later date or more specifically, when he knows what division Dons will be playing in next season.

His admission after the 1-1 draw against Leeds probably wasn’t music to Dons fans’ ears. Having seen their side scrape and claw just to get by, the idea of a bit of an influx of players would’ve been like a second Christmas. More hand-to-mouth football isn’t exactly high up on the wishes for 2016.

But there’s still scope for that influx to happen: Robinson just has to be even more shrewd with what little he has.

Diego Poyet’s imminent return to West Ham is the first piece of the puzzle for him. While likeable and popular, Poyet was just too similar to stalwart and Robinson favourite Darren Potter to get a regular run in the side. Sitting on the bench at stadium:mk therefore made no sense for either party. Freeing up his wages and a loan slot to fill a position in more desperate need of attention however makes perfect sense.

There will be other movements too, Robinson promised at Elland Road on Saturday night. Given the regular rotation of his key 20 men, those further down the order may indeed be farmed out to allow the manager greater room to manoeuvre.

It’s an astute, if unspectacular approach. A nightclub style one in, one out policy in a transfer window which had offered promise and excitement just a week ago. It still may provide that, but it appears it will be on a much lesser scale.

One startling admission though is the very real threat Dons now face: relegation. It’s naive of anyone to think the money crunchers at the club won’t have had several plans in place already for the summer window, knowing Dons’ precarious league position at this stage in the season. But to draw attention to it at this early stage casts a dark cloud on the horizon. Whether or not it settles over stadium:mk or blows harmlessly by only time will tell.

Knowing the club have concerns about their ability to bounce back should the worst happen is, on the one hand, reassuring while completely contradicting the mantra they have been feeding everyone since the season began: relegation is not on the agenda.

It makes Robinson’s refusal of the January transfer kitty all the more intriguing. Given a few days to ponder and talk about the what ifs of the month, his opinion has completely changed from one of ‘we must spend’ to ‘we must save’ in the blink of an eye.

His revelation of saving what little money he may have at his disposal for when he really needs it was announced almost ironically at Leeds - a club who are no stranger to money problems. The talk of building a sustainable club for the future in a room inside Elland Road is a far cry from the echoes of the David O’Leary era at Leeds, but is perhaps exactly what they should have sounded like.

And while patching in a few players to cover the cracks may indeed keep Dons in the Championship, Robinson will be desperate that another proverb comes true: a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. If he keeps Dons in the second tier without dishing it out in January, watch his stock, and his transfer budget, sky rocket in June. Fail, and watch it all fall apart starting with that one stitch.