Weeks don’t come much more uncomfortable than the one MK Dons has just endured, but they might just be facing a tougher one in the very near future.
Relegation, despite being on the cards for several weeks, was finally confirmed at the very beginning of it but only then did the difficult work begin.
On Monday morning, Karl Robinson met with media to discuss the ramifications of a return to League 1. In 39 minutes, he shouldered responsibility and raised his concerns before meeting with his players, one-by-one, to inform them whether they had a future at the club.
Later in the week, chairman Pete Winkelman sat down for an exclusive interview with the Citizen, offering up 43 more minutes of responsibility taking.
The one common theme though is that neither are solely responsible, and both are keen to let everyone know.
While other media claimed Robinson’s comments were taken out of context regarding his future, both parties have admitted the manager’s future could lie elsewhere. Both manager and chairman converse regularly, the crunch talks between them will probably happen ahead of the game with Nottingham Forest next Saturday. Planning for the future must start immediately.
Relegation can never be put down to just one thing, one person or one match, but a culmination of things. Mistakes were made throughout the club but it has led to a feeling of discord around stadium:mk - one that hasn’t been felt fora very long time.
The relationship between Winkelman and Robinson - the two head honchos - is at a crossroads. Ultimately, it won’t be a fight Robinson will win. If he disagrees with the chairman, he leave MK Dons. If the chairman doesn’t feel he is the right man, Robinson leaves MK Dons. If he stays, he has to get promotion out of League 1 again - something he has on his CV.
His loyalty to the club is beyond question now. Having turned down approaches from clubs throughout his tenure, Robinson is the third longest serving manager in English football. He achieved the goal he set out to achieve - get Dons into the Championship. If he were to walk away from the club now, no-one could have much of an argument. He doesn’t owe the club anything.
Whether he feels he was given enough support in one way or another from his chairman - something which Winkelman admits he could have done better - depends on whether Robinson really feels he needed it in the first place. What he feels he needed more than anything was more money, but so does every other manager in the game.
Winkelman’s biggest gripe on that front is intriguing - the money was spent. The summer signings were, frankly, flops. Too much money was put into players who turned out to be surplus to requirements almost instantly, and were then offloaded in January in a bid to cut their losses as best they could. Mistakes were made at the recruitment level, and that brings in another Winkelman - that of the chairman’s son Bobby.
Losing the key conduit between Bobby Winkelman and Karl Robinson - that of Andy King - in the summer couldn’t have been helped, but his role cannot be emphasised enough because the results are plain for all to see. While they were able to capture the likes of Benik Afobe, Will Grigg and Lewis Baker in League 1, none of Dons’ Championship signings were of the same ilk. But that is something Robinson too has to hold his hands up to.
Winkelman Snr claimed 18 of Dons’ initial 33 player target list at the beginning of the season made Football League team of the years across the divisions, with Dons only able to land three of that huge list. Dons’ shortcomings were perhaps disguised by the manner in which they came up, swept up in the hysteria and incredible scenes of last May.
The players who should have been replaced from the team that beat Yeovil would go on to become the players who’d play regularly because the recruitment team had to fight the fires left behind in the absence of Dele Alli and Grigg and those fires were never extinguished, even a year on.
The team who played Ipswich on Saturday barely looked like they knew each other, let alone played together all season. It is at the end of it’s cycle, and that means big changes are afoot.
But just how far up the tree those changes will go is yet to be seen, and at this stage, neither Robinson nor Winkelman will be 100 per cent sure either way.
Crucially though, a decision needs to be made one way or another, and the sooner it is made, the better it will be for the future of MK Dons and their fight for an instant return to the Championship.