"We want to get it right" - Town boss Millington on recruitment, targets, his squad and pre-season

FC Halifax Town boss Chris Millington says offers have been made to eight potential new signings.

By Tom Scargill
Tuesday, 14th June 2022, 11:19 am

The Shaymen's squad is currently down to 13 confirmed contracted players - Sam Johnson, Jay Benn, Jack Senior, Jesse Debrah, Kian Spence, new signing Jack Hunter, Kieran Green, Jordan Slew, Matty Warburton, Jamie Allen, Harvey Gilmour, Jamie Cooke and Sam McLintock.

Millington said there are ongoing discussions with the rest of the squad who are out-of-contract over their futures.

"The process of attracting a player starts with the early dance of trying to sell them the benefits of being at Halifax Town, aside from what they might earn on a weekly basis," Millington said.

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Chris Millington. Photo: Marcus Branston

"So in that sense there have been an awful lot of conversations.

"Where we're up to now with firm offers and interest, we've got eight players who have expressed an interest in coming to play for us, that has then progressed to us making financial offers to them.

"A couple of those players are in the same position, so clearly we wouldn't want to necessarily sign both of them, but both would be of equal interest to get in the building.

"At the moment we're quite a way down the line with a number of them, but these players also have interest from other clubs so we're in there scrapping as best we can to help them understand why Halifax Town might be the best option for them."

Chris Millington. Photo: Marcus Branston

Millington added: "We're in the real final throes with a couple where we've had to revisit, one in particular where there's been some ongoing negotiation with their current club where we've had to get through one or two final clauses in that have slowed the process down."

Millington says he wants to assemble a squad of no more than 22 players.

"But we want to hit 22 players," he said. "We'll have a number of those already signed, a large percentage of those, by the beginning of pre-season.

"But we also want to make sure that we leave ourselves a couple of options available because as the clock starts ticking and getting closer to the beginning of the season, there'll be players who are currently out of our price range who will all of a sudden need a club, and we may be the ones who are able to provide that opportunity if the price is right.

"So we're not in any desperate rush, we want to get it right, we want to get the right people but we also want to leave our options open to make sure that we get any higher standard of player who'd drop into our price range late on as well."

With Billy Waters, Matty Stenson and Gerry McDonagh all leaving the club this summer, Millington admits restocking his forward line is a priority.

"It's clear where we've lost our established players has been number nines and centre-halves predominantly, so we need to replace those and they're the areas of the pitch that generally cost the most, so we've got to make sure we get the right people for those positions who are not only going to be able to contribute and be of a good enough standard, but who we can expect to see on the pitch 35 to 45 times a season," he said.

"So it's really important to get those positions right with losing Niall (Maher), Tom (Bradbury), Billy, Matty and Gez, it's really important we get good recruits in those areas to not only contribute to the team but also improve on what we did last season."

The Town boss says the mantra of signing the person first and the footballer second that was employed under Pete Wild will continue as his recruitment strategy.

"They've got to be the right people, especially when you've got a smaller squad," he said.

"We spend an awful lot of time together and regardless of how well you're doing in terms of your league position, there are times within the season when people get a bit sick of the sight of each other, so we have to be able to get on, enjoy our working environment and know that we're all dedicated to serving the team and serving our joint purpose.

"So having the right people in and around that is absolutely crucial. Without it the rest of it doesn't really mean anything, so we want to get the right people in the building first."

Millington has been either meeting potential signings face-to-face on his own or with goalkeeping coach Paul Oakes.

"He's fantastic, he's absolutely committed to the future of Halifax Town and he gives potential signings a great understanding of what it means to represent Halifax Town and what the experience will be like for them," Millington said.

"He's a fantastic salesman. Occasionally some other members of staff have been around it as well, but everyone's been really supportive and helpful."

When asked if he felt Town would have a stronger squad than last season, Millington said: "I think it's definitely possible and I'd argue it's likely that some of the additions will strengthen us in certain areas.

"What we've got to do is make sure that in other areas, we're at least as good as last season, so if we strengthen the areas that we're looking to strengthen, which would be across the back line and that central, main striker, then I think we can maintain the quality we've got across the rest of the pitch.

"What we've also got to remember is last season could eventually be considered as Kian Spence's breakthrough season, I expect him to be better again, Harvey Gilmour will improve, there'll be more to come from Jack Senior, I think there's a number of players who will improve and push us on and make us better who are already in the squad, so if we can add a layer of quality on top of that, then there's no reason why we shouldn't be looking at a stronger squad next season and hopefully a stronger finish to the season."

Millington said he wouldn't rule anything out in terms of Town's approach to signing players, including paying a fee for a player if necessary.

"We look to find the value we can offer in any way, shape of form," he said.

"In some cases that's the platform and the opportunity to play regular football, sometimes it's the coaching environment that we provide where we know we can help a player move from point a to point b in terms of their ability, sometimes it's the ability to maybe structure a deal in such a way that creates an opportunity for the players to potentially earn a bit more against their performances.

"I'm sure the chairman, as long as we were creative in the way we did it, wouldn't rule out the possibility of going and signing somebody if a fee was required.

"They key thing would be making sure that we're absolutely confident they're going to contribute, we're absolutely confident they're going to make the team stronger and we're absolutely confident that they want to come and serve the club as best as they possibly can.

"If those factors are all there I'm sure the chairman would be willing to back us."

But Millington said the club wasn't planning on using the loan market, at least initially.

"Gareth McClelland, the head of recruitment, has an extensive list of players who we look at as potential signings, and an equally long list of players we look at as potential loan signings if and when required," he said.

"We want to be a team that provides opportunity to our own, if we can recruit local players from West Yorkshire then we will do.

"We want to be a viable option for more local players, but in the best interests of serving the club and providing a team that the fans can be proud of, then sometimes that does require us to bring in a Billy Chadwick or players like that, who can make us better and get us to where we want to be.

"So I certainly wouldn't rule it out but I'm not in any hurry to do that at the beginning of the season."

Gateshead's Jack Hunter became Town's first signing of the summer last week, agreeing a one-year deal with the option of an extra year.

"He'll bring a steady, controlled central midfield role," Millington said.

"He's played a lot of games for his age, he's got good ability on the ball, he's got good awareness of defensive responsibilities out of possession, and in terms of his professional profile, he fits into what we're trying to do as a club, to help give lads the platform to kick onto the next stage of their careers.

"It's going to be an important season for him in that sense.

"In the system and style we want to play, I think we missed having a Jack Hunter around at times last season, someone who can be more combative in the central area of the pitch, who can sit and hold the position in-front of the back four, who can distribute play and can compete aerially."

Millington added: "What you may see going into this season is a slight tweak in the way the central midfield area is set-up.

"We're still going to predominantly look at having three bodies within that area of the pitch, but in exactly what format, it may be slightly different."

On what his preferred formation will be next season, Millington said: "The system will be an evolution of the 4-3-3 we've played this season.

"This season we endeavoured to work with a 4-3-3 that had an advanced central midfielder or a number ten, and the front three was often quite narrow and almost played like three forwards rather than a centre forward and two wide players.

"So it will be similar but evolved from that.

"So you'll see us probably more often than not at home playing with more traditional wingers, more traditional seven and 11.

"The style of play is very much what we build our recruitment off, and the style will remain the same, even if some weeks the formation might be tweaked.

"But predominantly you'll see a similar formation to what you saw last season."

Town will begin pre-season training on Monday, July 4. Millington says pre-season testing will take place on June 30 and July 1, with pre-season training proper starting the following Monday.

Millington says the Town squad will not be finalised by the time pre-season training commences.

"I'd like to know we've got a really solid matchday squad, maybe a couple more than that, in the building, somewhere around the 16 to 18 players mark, by the time we're back in," he said.

"But I don't feel under any great pressure to have it finalised by the beginning of pre-season because experience tells me that some very important signings can come during pre-season, so I'm not in any desperate rush to get up to the limit straight away."

The Shaymen will be without at least three of their key players from last season after the departures of captain Niall Maher, top scorer Billy Waters and defender Tom Bradbury.

"I think they're a fantastic example of when and how to move on," Millington said.

"I know Billy was only with us a season but given his age and the stage he's at in his career, it's understandable that after the season he's had he's going to get interest, and it's understandable at his stage of his career that he's going to want to try and test himself at a higher level.

"As much as it hurts to see him go and we're disappointed we couldn't make it a tougher decision for him, but we tried our best.

"With Niall and Bradders, they're two lads who've stayed long enough to gain everything we can offer at Halifax Town, which is a good coaching environment, a great learning environment, an opportunity to play on a regular basis in-front of a great set of fans, at a great stadium, ,in a good level of football.

"Doing that has allowed them both to move on, and it's rumoured that both will be moving onto a higher level, League One is being talked about and certainly interest from League Two.

"So not only is it financially beneficial for them, but in terms of the standard, they I believe are now ready to go and establish themselves and play week-in, week-out at a higher level, and we can't argue with that.

"So it's a great lesson for some of the younger players, and although we're bitterly disappointed to see them go, it's a credit to the staff that these lads are now moving on to bigger and better things.

"But we did certainly make it as difficult a decision as possible for them in terms of the packages that were offered, we really went above and beyond what we would normally do to try and retain them."

But Millington isn't fazed or daunted at the prospect of having to replace the trio.

"I wouldn't say it's daunting, I think for me it's just sad to see the characters and personalities moving on," he said.

"As footballers, they'll definitely be missed because they contributed so much over the season, but more than anything, it's missing them on a day-to-day basis for what they bring to the environment and the culture of the group.

"We're always planning for those eventualities and although we worked hard to do our best to hold onto them, we know that sometimes these opportunities become irresistible for lads.

"So we have a plan in backup, we have a group of players who are earmarked as potential targets and it becomes my job to go and persuade them that their next right move is to come to Halifax Town and try to build on what's already been done."

The departure of Maher means there will be a new captain at the club next season.

"There's certain characters who've been around the group for a season or two who are real leaders," Millington said on a possible successor.

"What we've been fortunate with in the season just passed is the level of leadership within the dressing room.

"We've got a number of lads who lead by example, just by the way they do their work, the way they go about their game and their profession.

"We've got a number of lads who've got the ability to get round the group and use their voice to try and make sure people are toeing the line and keeping up the standards.

"Any number of those could step forward and be an official captain, but they all represent good leadership skills and captain material in different ways."

Two players who will be staying at The Shay are attacking midfielder Harvey Gilmour and winger Jamie Allen, who both signed new deals this summer.

"We've seen it in recent years where players of a similar standard to Harvey have taken a season to come in and settle in, and then the second season has been a great improvement on that, we can talk about Jack Earing, we can talk about Jeff King, there's any number of players who've had incredibly strong second seasons with us and considering the number of games Harvey got under his belt his year, and some of the performances he put in which really contributed to an attractive style of play, I'm really excited to bring him back and give him that second season at The Shay," Millington said.

"I think this'll be a really exciting season for him.

"With Jamie Allen, it was absolutely clear to everyone how much he was missed towards the end of the season.

"Jamie has grown year-on-year with us over the last three seasons and I really couldn't imagine leading a Halifax Town squad without Jamie Allen in it. He's so important to what we're trying to do."

On youngsters Jamie Cooke and Sam McLintock, Millington said: "We're looking at the options with both, we want to make sure that we get their development pathway right.

"It's really important that we make sure that these lads have the opportunity to kick on and progress their career.

"Part of that may be experiencing first-team football with Halifax Town initially and then potentially a loan to make sure they get the minutes they need.

"But they're both very exciting young players and we know they can help us out if and when required."

Millington was asked about several potential new signings, some of whom have been linked with Town or have played for them recently.

On Aaron Martin, who was on loan at Halifax from Harrogate last season, Millington said: "I thought Aaron did really well for us when he came in, and he could potentially have a part to play as that target man that we're going to need to help us this season."

On Chesterfield's transfer listed striker Akwasi Asante, Millington said: "A player I've always admired, I think he contributes with goals but does so much more for the team, and would certainly fit into our system.

"But at the moment, as far as I'm aware, he's still a Chesterfield player."

On King's Lynn's Michael Gyasi, Millington said: "He's an interesting character, he was somebody who was highlighted through our opposition analysis on a couple of occasions this season, and somebody who would fit into our system in a number of positions.

"I know there's a number of clubs interested in him, but he is somebody who would fit into the style of play."

On Emmanuel Dieseruvwe, who helped Grimsby to promotion through the play-offs, Millington said: "He's another player who would fit into the style of play, somebody who we sat down with last pre-season and had a discussion with, but unfortunately missed out on him as he got a League Two offer at Tranmere.

"But he's certainly somebody who would be able to help improve us."

And on Harrogate forward Danilo Orsi-Dadomo, Millington said: "He's somebody who has obviously been successful in the National League and is now trying to carve out a career in the Football League.

"He's somebody we're aware of but we believe he's happy at Harrogate Town at the moment."

The Shaymen have three more friendlies to be announced, having already confirmed they will play Fleetwood Town under 23s, Farsley Celtic and Colne away.

One issue that seems to be heading towards a resolution is who will work alongside Millington as his assistant manager.

"We've gone right the way through the process with one candidate, we're right in the final stages of seeing if we can make that work," he said.

"If we do then that should be in place within the next couple of days, if not then there are a number of very strong candidates ready to trigger straight away who are people I know and who have expressed an interest in coming to work for the club.

"So there should be some progress on that this week."