IIt’s Monday morning at the AFC Wimbledon training base and as the team walk up the stairs to the clubhouse to the sound of the ’80s before a team reunion, it’s hard to believe they’ve lost their Last match. An eclectic playlist of songs chosen by all players and staff, from Rapper’s Delight to Bob Marley’s back-catalog, is blaring from the speakers and last week head coach Mark Robinson added another success in the mix. “I was listening to Heart 80s and Kool & The Gang’s Let’s Go Dancin ‘is Here,” he says. “At the office, everyone started dancing. I thought it might do a bit of an anthem, win a game, play it after. I want people to like to come to work.
Wimbledon is on the sidelines of the League One play-offs after an impressive start to the game, but this week he has focused on his visit to Arsenal in the Carabao Cup third round. If they score at Emirates Stadium on Wednesday, there’s a good chance it came from a free kick. They’ve had nine set-piece goals so far this season – more than any other team in the first four levels – and it’s no coincidence. One of Robinson’s first decisions on permanent takeover in February was to appoint academy coach Andy Parslow as the restart coach, a role focused on touches, free kicks and corners, for and versus.
“Make sure you yell at me,” Will Nightingale says, smiling, as he walks towards the training grounds. The Defender is a shining example of hard work that pays off. He has four set pieces this season, eclipsing his tally of three in the previous six years. “My wife is tired of hanging the corners on the TV, rewinding and then looking back at them,” Parslow said with a smile. Inspired by Liverpool’s throw-in coach Thomas Grønnemark, he spent the first lockdown analyzing Wimbledon corners on InStat – he watched everyone from the interrupted 2019-20 season – and compared their drop rate conversion (just under 2.5%) with that of their league rivals. . Whenever Wimbledon or the opposition have a set piece, Parslow can be seen orchestrating things from the technical area. “We’re not wild and wacky, it’s just about being efficient.”
Wimbledon also has a performance mindset coach in Steve Sallis and is testing a backup coach, Sammy Lander. On the whiteboard behind Robinson are the words ‘starters’ and ‘finishers’, the latter term coined by England rugby union head coach Eddie Jones for his replacements. A few years ago, Jones visited Robinson, then Wimbledon Academy Coaching Director. “I was so excited because I met Eddie Jones,” he says. “But he’s so humble and he was asking me questions. I thought, ‘Stop asking myself questions because I want to pick your brains out!’ There were little things he liked. All of our academy players wear a white sock on their weaker foot because we want to develop two-footed players, so they’re trying to earn the right to wear two blue socks. It’s always like that. “
Wimbledon’s innovative approach doesn’t stop there. In addition to signing Henry Lawrence on loan from Chelsea this summer, Robinson has made a presentation to the Premier League club about the secondment of one of their coaches. Last season Justin Cochrane, now Manchester United’s player development manager, spent time at the club on secondment from the England setup and this season Chelsea Under-18 assistant manager James Simmonds is working with Robinson , Rob Tuvey, who started last season as Wimbledon’s Under. -18 years old manager, and the rest of the staff. “It’s good to have someone come and challenge you and add to what you’re doing,” says Robinson.
Robinson believes that standing on the Arsenal sideline at the helm of the club he has worked for since 2004, when he coached the Under-nine, will be surreal. Before becoming a full-time academy coach, he held a number of jobs. He collected royalties for the Performing Rights Society in London’s West End, started a soft-play business and worked two days a week as a tour guide from Chelsea to Stamford Bridge to develop his presentation skills. One of the other guides was an Elvis Presley impersonator and another went on Mastermind with Chelsea his specialist subject. “I can’t help but think sometimes that I wait for someone to knock on the door, tell me it’s all over and it was all just a dream,” says Robinson.