Duffers’ Diaries: Wheatley deal can be a valuable lesson to big clubs

Adam Murray spoke highly of Jordan Wheatley, but it transpired he spoke too soon as the player went on to sign for Nuneaton.
Adam Murray spoke highly of Jordan Wheatley, but it transpired he spoke too soon as the player went on to sign for Nuneaton.

It’s been an interesting few days to say the least with regard to the Jordan Wheatley transfer deal.

On Saturday, I covered Mansfield Town’s pre-season friendly at Rainworth Miners Welfare for the Mansfield Chad, a game I was delighted to do having been starved of football for a while!

Anyway, I’d heard a few rumours that Wheatley was with Mansfield in one capacity or another and when his name appeared on the team sheet as someone the Stags would be giving match time to in the second-half, it seemed he may well have signed.

Nothing official had been announced at that point, but the Stags’ media team seemed pretty certain it was a done deal as well as - and this is what led me to put a story out on it - Mansfield boss Adam Murray.

He was happy to talk to me separately about Wheatley after the game, on the record, and was chuffed at having snapped up such a sought after player. Any Robins fans will know why he was pleased given the promise Wheatley has.

I had no reason to believe they hadn’t secured a deal so the story went out on Saturday evening.

My only concern was that Ilkeston had been quiet on the whole thing and although we were within our rights to go live with the story given what we’d been told by Mansfield, I obviously have a good relationship with the folks at the NMG and they’re usually pretty quick to tip me off when a big move is imminent.

The fact they hadn’t done so meant a few question marks were floating around my head, and sure enough, on Tuesday afternoon it became apparent why.

Nuneaton Town had done a deal to sign Wheatley. That had me firing e-mails over to my colleague in Mansfield to see if he could find out what the Stags thought about that, and as I go to press tonight I still don’t know how miffed Murray might be that a great prospect has slipped through his grasp.

Fair play to Nuneaton, they sensed that this was their chance to pounce and the player has also got his own reasons for going there which are perfectly valid, particularly given he’s so young and has plenty of time on his side when it comes to getting a move into the Football League in the future.

Kevin Wilson obviously knows Wheatley well, as does Steve Chettle, and the player’s comfort at working with the duo will have played a defining part in him wanting to go to Nuneaton, as was the case with so many Ilkeston players before him.

I’ve done a fair bit of reading between the lines on it all and my educated guess would be that Mansfield might well have been put off by having to pay what would have been a sizeable compensation payment for Wheatley.

Whether it was foolish of them to go on record talking about a player who evidently hadn’t yet put pen to paper is open to debate, but if they did so whilst not being aware quite what the terms of any deal would be then there’s certainly some questions to be answered there.

People I’ve spoken to in the game tell me that Football League clubs are quite often unwilling to part with cash for players they might perceive as being untried or shots in the dark, perhaps just assuming that their stature will be enough to persuade said player to sign up regardless.

But the reality is that if you have a talent that is worth something, be that now or in the future or even both, then you deserve to be paid for it. It’s the main reason the rule for under-24s commanding compensation fees even if they’re out of contract was devised in the first place.

Whether Mansfield were simply unwilling to do that or changed their mind on the player is unclear, but the evidence probably suggests the former.

Wheatley himself may not have been comfortable at Mansfield and maybe that too was part of his decision. Just because he’s at a professional club doesn’t mean the environment will automatically be to his liking, regardless of what cash he may earn or what level of football he might play.

At Nuneaton, I’d expect Wheatley will play plenty of first team football and another year of that could well prime him for a big move in the not too distant future, or indeed help Nuneaton to promotion and therefore give him the chance to go higher again in the National League.

Either way, despite Adam Murray saying he thought Wheatley would form part of his first team plans in the not too distant future, I’m pretty sure Wheatley would have been playing U21 or reserve football at best for a while and that may not have been the best option for him.

It has to be a lesson for professional clubs though. With the rise to stardom of players like Jamie Vardy and with some of the astronomical costs attached to buying often quite average players from this country or abroad, more and more clubs are looking to non-league for the next bargain that might in turn reward them on the pitch and then financially should the player move on for a big fee.

Ilkeston are always keen to insert sizeable sell-on clauses into these deals and one must assume that was done with Wheatley too.

Granted, a windfall from such clauses is far from guaranteed and might take a few years to materialise, but in the absence of any club being willing to pay a big fee for a rough diamond initially (and understandably so) it’s perhaps the best way to get a decent payment should things continue to go well for the player involved.

Anyway, best of luck to Jordan Wheatley who I believe has a great future in the game and Wilson and Steve Chettle will be the ideal people to help guide him for the forseeable future.

Ilkeston begin their pre-season campaign this weekend with something of an experimental game with Nottingham Forest U21s.

I won’t be able to make it to this one unfortunately but it sounds like it’ll be a chance for Paul Holland to try out a few things in a different way to how he might do it in the ‘official’ friendlies.

In the print version of this column I mentioned the friendly with Nottingham Forest’s first team that was due to be played on Wednesday. That now won’t take place as Forest have had change of plan, informing Ilkeston just seven days before their biggest fixture of the year in terms of gate receipts and allowing them little time to find anything like a suitable replacement.

Whilst one can understand Forest’s reasoning - that their new management team wanted to rejig their pre-season plans to suit - the late notice does Ilkeston no favours. Very disappointing.