Willie McKay, the agent provocateur of Donny's demise.

by Liam McConville

“Nobody has tried harder than myself to keep this club up.”

Football Agent Willie McKay on Doncaster Rovers’ relegation.

If ever there was a quote to sum up all that is wrong with modern football then this is it. After a season of turmoil Doncaster Rovers finally succumbed to relegation against Portsmouth last week but for much of the season it has all been about one man, Willie McKay.

Hopes weren’t high for Donny after a dismal end to the 2010/2011 season that saw them narrowly avoid relegation. The season began with a huge injury list and little cheer, with just one point from the opening seven games. That was enough for Chairman John Ryan who sacked the man who brought the club back to the second tier of English football for the first time in fifty years, Sean O’Driscoll. Dean Saunders was immediately brought in as a replacement despite his lack of experience at managing in the football league.

Then Ryan revealed his master plan to arrest the slide, he handed over control of all transfers to agent Willie McKay. The ‘experiment’ as it was dubbed consisted of McKay bringing a combination of high reputation aging players and talented youngsters to the club for low wages on short term contracts. Rovers would benefit from new quality players helping their battle against the drop and McKay would see players on his books given valuable playing time in the hope that they would earn a move to a bigger club.

McKay stayed true on his word as the likes of El Hadji Diouf, Pascal Chimbonda and Habib Beye all moved to the Keepmoat Stadium albeit on short-term deals. For a while it looked as though it could work, Diouf showed flashes of his old quality and Rovers managed to grab a few wins to keep them in touch with safety. Off the pitch there was trouble in the boardroom as the Chief Executive and four other board members quit over the course of the season.

As the season progressed wins dried up with a run of one victory from nineteen games seeing the inevitable relegation confirmed. The turning point was undoubtedly the sale of top scorer Billy Sharp to Southampton in January; without the goals of the influential hitman, Donny never stood a chance. The revolving door of players throughout the campaign can’t have helped as fans began to wonder who would turn up next. Rumours of stars such as former Real Madrid midfielder Mahamadou Diarra arriving at Doncaster proved to be false, as supporters got more used to seeing aging has-beens who in all honesty had probably never heard of the South Yorkshire club before arriving at the Keepmoat.

This week Ryan has confirmed that the club is likely to return to a more traditional transfer policy and with twenty players out of contract, a summer of upheaval seems very likely. The club have signed five youth players to professional terms and if the club want to make a quick return to the Championship, then youth may well be the way. Meanwhile it is clear that the ‘experiment’ has been an abject failure that’s only purpose is to serve a warning to other clubs who might be willing to take a similar gamble.