Since the September appointment of Englishman Marcus Bignot to the managerial helm at Chester, it’s safe to say that his performance has divided opinion in the North West.
But when you take into consideration the fact that Bignot has had next to no budget to work with, perhaps fans could forgive the torrid season the Blues have had on the pitch.
Following Sunday’s Derby Day defeat at Cross-Border rivals Wrexham, the future of the former Grimsby and Solihull Moors boss has come into the spotlight once more. Bignot has a contract that runs until the end of the Seals’ current National League campaign, and with little room to work with in terms of finances, it’s surely a certainty that he’ll be managing the remaining nine games of the season.
Then comes the question, does Bignot’s contract get renewed in the Summer? This weekend’s defeat at the Racecourse has more or less left Chester as relegation fodder, marooned six points adrift from 20th place Barrow, who have three games in hand on the troubled Blues.
So surely two Derby defeats and impending relegation would all but confirm the news that Marcus Bignot would not have his contact renewed, although this isn’t necessarily the case.
In 2016, then as Solihull Moors gaffer, Bignot masterminded his way to automatic promotion from the Conference North with the Midlands side. It is this recent success in Chester’s next destination, or so you would imagine, that has many Blues fans eager to keep the 43-year-old Manager at the helm for another year.
Bignot has been criticised plenty in his term, only managing five wins in six months, resulting in a measly 17% win percentage. I, like many others, put this down to the squad’s poor lack of game management. In the Blues’ last four league matches, they have gone into half-time on level terms, only to have lost come the final whistle.
Two poignant examples of which have been at home to Dover and away to Wrexham, firstly the former who rode to a 2-0 Tuesday night victory against the Blues, in a game that, up until Dover broke the deadlock, was an even affair.
Next comes the latter, the Cross-Border Derby at the Racecourse Ground, a carbon copy of the home encounter with Dover just five days prior. The Seals had looked promising until half-time, holding their promotion-chasing hosts to a goalless draw, before conceding twice in eight minutes and appearing very uninspiring for the remainder of the second half.
The same can be said for both the home game against Leyton Orient and the away match against fellow East Londoners, Dagenham and Redbridge, drawing until half-time in both, before losing come ninety minutes.
But why is this the case? As I say, game management. Since this has happened for four matches in a row, it’s fair to assume that Bignot is having trouble coaching this to his youthful Chester side, a squad with an average age of 23.
For me, game management is the large blockade between Chester’s inevitable drop to the National League North, and safety – it’s difficult to drill this into a group of inexperienced youngsters, three of which have come through the academy at the club.
Chester’s loanee goalkeeper, Andy Firth, hadn’t played a professional game before Tuesday night, whilst academy prospect Matty Waters was on loan at Sutton Coldfield Town just a couple of months ago. These young players play their heart out for the badge every single week, but it’s far too difficult to coach them for a relegation battle, when they’ve been thrown straight into the deep end after the rather experienced but underwhelming talents of John McCombe and Paul Turnbull had to be released due to financial constraints.
For me, Bignot’s problems all come back to recruitment, and not his own. Previous manager Jon McCarthy was given a £450k budget last summer, a budget that he opted to spend on experience, for example the previously stated McCombe and Turnbull, as well as Andy Halls, Ross Hannah and Harry White. Unfortunately, also as previously stated, McCarthy’s recruits were nothing short of ordinary. That left Bignot with a budget so tight and a squad so poor, that he could only afford to sign players on loan, on incredibly low wages, or with the help of sponsorships.
If Bignot is given another season, whether it be in this division or the lower, he has the opportunity to finish offloading the current crop of players on two-year contracts, that the club simply cannot afford to keep paying, before using his given budget to build a team around Chester’s youth. As good and as spirited as they’ve been, the squad has next to no experience for these prospects to bounce off of, even club captain Ryan Astles is only 24.
As a result, Bignot should be given the chance to recruit experienced talents, who also possess National League North quality, in order to support Chester’s academy products, as this is, initially, the only way they can flourish within the team. After this summer, it’s fair to assume I would trust Marcus Bignot with a transfer budget, a hell of a lot more than I would Jon McCarthy.
Bignot has a proven talent for signing talent good enough to succeed at Conference North level. His transformation of Solihull Moors’ title winning squad was quite brilliant, and only a tight budget says that Bignot can’t do it again. He’s already worked with a lower amount this season, and convinced excellent talent such as midfielders Dominic Vose and Gary Roberts to join for little incentive, the former playing for just fuel costs.
Chester are most likely going to be playing National League North football next season, a prospect that doesn’t excite me but a realistic one that I have to accept. If there’s one man that I can trust, to start fresh with a tight budget and build a promotion chasing sixth-tier outfit, it’s Marcus Bignot – a man who’s done it all before.
Do you share these thoughts Chester fans? Let us know in the comments below!