Karl Robinson feels his current squad feels much more like an MK Dons team than the squad he was left with in the Championship last season.
Left with a squad of temporary patches and loan players at the end of last season, released 13 players over the course of the summer in a bid to rebuild the team to mount a new challenge for the Championship.
The squad has had a wholesale clear out since January. Deadwood, seldom-used and occasional cameo players have been released, a couple of fans’ favourites too have been shown the door, but Robinson said he wasn’t frightened to wield the axe.
“Since January, I think 20 players have gone,” he said. “It’s scary. In six months, the turn around has been drastic.
“As manager you have to do that and I’m never frightened of doing it. I’ve let go characters and fans’ favourites. But for the club to move forward, we needed clarity.
“Out of the crop of players who left, I’d have Josh Murphy back.”
It’s not the first time Robinson has had to do it - this is the third era of Robinson’s reign, having twice gutted his dressing room when the squad has needed a fresh direction.
His first side featured the likes of Stephen Gleeson, Shaun Williams and Sam Baldock. The departures of Williams and Gleeson in particular ended that team, and gave birth to the side which went on to win promotion.
That side though crumbled at the seams when Benik Afobe, Will Grigg, Dele Alli and Lewis Baker returned to their parent clubs - not only reducing the value of the squad by millions, but reducing the level of quality therein too.
“We finished second in one of the hardest League 1s ever,” Robinson said. “What we didn’t know at the time was that we had a £10m striker, a global icon in Griggy and arguably at the time, the best midfielder in the world. Buying that team today would cost us so much more. We were lucky that those players fitted into our budget and wanted to be here. Maybe we need to find one or two more like that who can propel us forwards.
“We all know it’ll be impossible to replicate that team. It makes it harder, but that’s the way it is. We’ve recruited really well this summer.”
While it appeared the summer was proving a difficult one for Robinson and his recruitment team, a late flurry of signings has given the side a lift. Dons broke the bank for Kieran Agard, who delivered a brace on debut, while defender Scott Wootton and keeper Lee Nicholls will be pushing for places in the first team. But that wasn’t necessarily the case 12 months ago when Dons dipped into the transfer market.
Robinson continued: “Last summer, we’d been promoted, and we sat there with no players. We signed five players who were only ever going to be squad players. And I still think two of those would be perfect for this season.
“We signed them for growth, but things weren’t going our way, and they became an unwanted commodity. If I could do it again, I’d still sign them, but I’d make sure people knew who they were and I’d disconnect them from the squad. But we included them in the group.
“This year, we’ve brought in players we know are going to play.
“We’re going to get better, and there’s a real sense of optimism.”