Blackpool FC CEO Ben Mansford on recruitment, contracts, academy and plans for training ground and East Stand
Blackpool’s new chief executive Ben Mansford sat down with the media yesterday to give his first interview since beginning his new role.
The former Maccabi Tel Aviv man, who is just 11 days into the job, is one of several recent appointments made by owner Simon Sadler.
He will work alongside Head of Recruitment Tommy Johnson and Head of Technical Scouting Jonathan Gibson.
As a team they will work closely with manager Simon Grayson to help identify the best talent to help with Blackpool’s push for promotion from League One.
But Mansford will also be heavily involved with plans for a new training ground, improvements to the East Stand, contract negotiations, the academy and much, much more.
Here’s what Mansford had to say…
Do you expect the January transfer window to be a busy one?
“We’re duty bound to want to improve the team and this January will be no different to any other transfer window.
“The January window, as we all know, is tough, as every single one of the 92 professional clubs are all looking for two number nines right now.
“But in all seriousness, we have got that duty and we have got that desire to get this club back to where it belongs - and that’s further up the pyramid than we are at the moment.
“Therefore we expect to be busy and we expect to do what is right for this club both in the short term and long term.”
Are lists already being drawn up?
“We were delighted we were just about to pinch Tommy Johnson before he signed either north of the border or somewhere far down south.
“I don’t know if Henrik Larsson is still speaking to Tommy, but joking aside I’m really pleased we’ve been able to bring him in.
“We’ve also been able to bring in Jonathan Gibson who spent 10 years at West Brom as recruitment manager, so comes with a real analytical sports performance background.
“I think when you combine those two with myself and Simon, we’re not going to be short of lists.
“What we have to manage is that January is a difficult window to do good business and that’s all we want to do at Blackpool, as best we can.
“We need players at Blackpool that want to be here.
“The single most important thing we’ve got to change on the recruitment front, and I think we’ve already seen it with the likes of Sullay Kaikai coming, those type of players that actually choose Blackpool as a good option.
“We don’t want to be someone’s last resort to stay in the Championship or someone’s last resort to drop to League One.
“We want people to come to this football club and recognise they’re at a proper football club, with a good owner, great fans and want to be here.
“They’re the players we’ve got to find in January, it’s so important.”
You previously worked as an agent, will that be an advantage in your new role?
“I hope it just cuts through a lot of the nonsense.
“People say to me ‘oh, do you want to come back?’ I know I’ve got a lot of friends out there who are football friends but I do not miss being a football agent, not one day.
“I love being part of a team, I love bouncing into a football club and trying to make it better every day and I hope my knowledge of being on the other side of the fence and being a fairly capable negotiator - and knowing all the games the players, agents and hangers-on are going to play - means I can cut through a lot of the rubbish.
“Hopefully I’ll be able to work out, especially in a really difficult window like January, whether we’ve really got a realistic chance of doing a deal or not and spending our time going after players that are going to make a difference and will come into Simon’s 11 to make us better.
“I don’t want to be dealing with time-wasters who will be keeping us spinning.”
Have you spoken to Blackpool’s out-of-contract players?
“I’m only 10 days into the job but I knew I was coming for a while, so you’re watching the games and you try and think about what you might be doing.
“I think at the moment we’re building a togetherness.
“I know the supporters will want answers on some of those questions about who is in the team who is out of the team, who is staying and who will move on.
“I think you will hear about that when things are done, but at this stage the most important thing is that this football club continues to win matches.
“We will succeed if we’re together as a collective.
“Trying to deal with one or two incidents now, or trying to speak to one or two players and not others will distract us from our common goal - which is to get out of this division.
“The togetherness of the team is more important at the moment than talking about individuals.
“Equally, we have some players we will have to make some decisions on and we will deal with those situations and update the supporters as soon as we can.”
How much of a priority is a new training ground?
“It’s very high on my list of priorities.
“I’ve been here less than two weeks but I feel a real sense of engagement with Blackpool Council and conversations have started.
“Simon Sadler has been very involved in making sure those conversations took place and I’ve carried them on already.
“I think a proper 21st century training facility, both for the first team and the academy and the Community Trust all playing its part, is very important.
“I really see that as one of the most important things that I’ve got to push on with in the immediacy of my appointment.
“I really hope in the next few months we show the supporters and the local community and the council how serious we are.
“We can hopefully not just show fancy designs, but show that spades are going in the ground and we can give the club a training facility it deserves.”
Have you looked at other models?
“We’re already on with that and we’re involved with architects that have built the right type of facilities for clubs that are as ambitious as us and are playing at Premier League level.
“Simon and I visited one or two the last time he was over the weekend before last, so we’re absolutely on with that.
“With the people we’ve got engaged with this process and the support we’re getting from the Council, we’ll show a real progressive design.
“But the reality will be delivering and actually getting it built.”
When will the temporary buildings at Squires Gate be installed?
“We’re on with that.
“We’ve had some new staff come in before me, we’ve got a new stadium operations team, we’ve got a new operations team, so it’s a real priority of mine to make sure those buildings at Squires Gate are there as soon as possible and that Phil Horner can work as hard as he needs to keep everybody fit.
“We’ve got to look and feel better than we have, so they will be sorted I’m sure in the next few weeks.”
What plans do the club have for the East Stand?
“They did a great job in making the East Stand ready to use this season.
“I think we see in certain areas of the club are struggling from under-investment, or no investment, over the last few years.
“Simon has been very passionate about making some quick decisions.
“The East Stand got to a place where it’s operational, but the long term vision for the club has to be carefully thought out.
“In terms of the infrastructure here and the blueprint of Bloomfield Road, we’ve probably got to come up with a bigger vision - maybe a masterplan for this site and some of the surrounding areas.
“That’s not to take a step back, but just to breath and make sure the vision for this site is something that might take us to another level if we take a sensible amount of time to think about it.
“But finishing the stadium and investing in infrastructure, creating a site that can help us with our aspirations to punch above our weight, is really important and I see it as a big part of what I’ll be doing over the next few months.”
Will there be a new East Stand - potentially with two tiers?
“We haven’t talked about tiers!
“Yes, we could finish the East Stand, but I think what we have to do is just think long and hard with key stakeholders, like Blackpool Council and some of the property advisors and developers, to say ‘hang on a minute’ and think about what this part of Blackpool needs.
“Can the football club play a leading, integral part of not just making sure the East Stand gets finished, but what else can we all do if we all come together in terms of the entire site?
“I think that’s why I can be very positive about the training ground to help us recruit players very quickly, we’re going to do the temporary buildings on Squires Gate to keep the players out of the wind and the rain, that we’re going to work hard in January to realise this club’s ambitions.
“When it comes to the East Stand, I think we have to consider it as part of a bigger picture. But equally we want to do it as soon as is practical.”
Does that mean away supporters will remain where they are?
“I think that’s a question for our safety officer and the police! I’ve only seen well-behaved games in my first week or so here.
“We all know the vocal energy the supporters are giving the players is brilliant and I thank them for that.
“We all want to create the best atmosphere and we want the best stadium.
“Moving fans around and things of that nature? I’ve not had chance to look at that too much.
“I think we’ll have a period of status quo while we understand what we’re doing.”
How important will the academy be?
“I think it’s really important.
“I think for so many reasons, because when you’re running a Category Three academy you’ve got Under-9s to Under-16s.
“You’ve got 20 or 30 boys in each age group having a touch point with the football club and not only do we want to generate a player that can go on to be good enough for our first team. If he can help us get to where we want to go, brilliant.
“If not, maybe we sell him with our blessing.
“Simon is very passionate about wanting to produce players that can ultimately play in the Premier League and maybe even go on to play for their country.
“I think the academy has so many community and footballing aspects that it’s important we invest in that area.
“People believe you decide what team you’re going to support when you’re six or seven, which is Year 2 of Year 3 at Primary School.
“We want to see some Blackpool shirts back in the playground, not Real Madrid, Manchester United, not other Premier League teams.
“Therefore, we need those children to want to play for Blackpool and not want to go up the road and not want to go to any of the Premier League teams.
“The academy has a huge part to play for so many reasons and I’m so lucky that I’ve got an owner that wants to invest in that.”