What next for Colchester?

cowling

Robbie Cowling – www.eadt.co.uk

“After a meeting with the owner, Robbie Cowling over the future direction of the club, Kevin Keen has decided to leave Colchester United.” This was the opening line of a statement released by Colchester, three days after a 3-0 defeat to Burton Albion confirmed the club’s relegation to League Two.

The statement suggests the parting of ways was very much Keen’s choice, rather than that of the board. It also implies that Keen was open to the possibility of staying on, but chose not to after the meeting had taken place. We can deduce that in the meeting, Cowling outlined plans of a budget cut and continued focus on youth development, rather than a short-term push for promotion.

To an extent, this is understandable. Leyton Orient are the highest placed team to have come down from League One last season and they are 14th. In the last six seasons, there has only been four teams that have won instant promotion after going down from League One – Wycombe, Swindon, Scunthorpe and then Shrewsbury last season.

Colchester have averaged gates of around 4k this year and that number could drop in League Two, meaning they will not get bigger gates than the average fourth tier club. Promotion therefore, can only be seen as a hope rather than an expectation and Cowling did not feel he could risk spending big before selling players.

That would explain why the current bookies favourite to be next manager is John McGreal, who would become another Colchester boss promoted from within. McGreal has worked with the and under-21 teams since 2009 and will therefore have a good knowledge of and relationship with the youngsters at the club. However, McGreal has never managed on a permanent basis before and has no experience of League Two, meaning it will take him longer to get to grips with the transfer market at that level.

Alex Gilbey’s contract runs out this summer and the vice-captain could leave for nothing, which would be a huge blow, given the potential the 21-year-old has shown. George Moncur has been Colchester’s most skilful player this season and is likely to be sold. The question is whether the club can get a respectable fee for Moncur and secondly, whether that money will be re-invested in proven players who can step into the first team instantly.

U’s fans will believe they should be in League One, the club having spent 18 of its last 24 seasons above the fourth tier, but it is hard to see the club getting back there without investment in the squad. Cowling wants to create sustainability, yet the danger is that in his attempts to do so, he instead creates stagnation.