Wingate’s new head coach Nielsen gears up for start of Ryman League campaign

Wingate & Finchley’s new head coach Daniel Nielsen is aiming to reproduce the spirit of the club’s historic treble-winning season as the Blues gear up for the new campaign with a fresh management team.

W&F won the Ryman League Cup, the London Senior Cup and promotion from Division One North via the play-offs in 2011, securing a place in the Premier Division for the first time ever.

Wingate were managed by David Norman and captained by Nielsen that season. And, although Norman departed last October – being replaced by Gary Meakin – the pair have been reunited in a managerial shake-up.

Meakin departed in May after just six months, and Norman has returned in a new role as director of football while long-serving veteran Nielsen – who has spent nine years at the club over two spells -–has been promoted to head coach.

Nielsen admits he is surprised to be starting the new campaign in the dug-out, but he is looking forward to creating a new era alongside some familiar faces.

“It feels a little bit like we’ve got the old gang back together,” he said. “We’ve got some of the playing staff back who played in that 2011 season – David Laird, Mark Henry and Garry Burrell – and we’ve still got people like Leon Smith, who’s been on fire in pre-season.

“What we had in that treble-winning season was a really good club mentality. Those who weren’t playing were still a big part of it all and they were really supportive. There was a nice feel about the club that year and that’s something we’ve been really keen to recapture.

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“It was a bit of a surprise to be asked to be the head coach. Aron [Sharpe], the chairman, spoke to me and explained what he was looking for, and I went away and discussed it with my family.

“It’s not something I’d really considered doing but the fact that David was coming back was a big factor. It worked so well when he was the manager and I was his captain, so that helped me to make my mind up, even though I wasn’t sure whether I was ready for it.”

Norman and Nielsen will be assisted by coaches Dean Smith and Gavin King, the Blues’ former goalkeeper.

“It’s very much a coaching team and we share the load,” said Nielsen, who has skippered Wingate for the past four seasons.

“It’s definitely been different for me. There are lots of different things to consider, but you have to use some of the skills when you’re coaching that you use as a captain, and the players have responded really well.

“I’m not officially retired, I’m hoping to get a few games this year, but sometimes you’re not as objective when you’re on the pitch and concentrating on your own game.

“When you’re the head coach you need to be able to stand back and take a different view of things.”

Wingate found themselves in the thick of the relegation battle last season, only securing their survival in the penultimate game. Nielsen is keen to avoid a similar struggle this season, but the mission he has been given has little to do with the league table.

“Aron said he wants us to play good attacking football and to be a team where young players get a chance, and where we can bring them through,” said Nielsen.

“Don’t get me wrong, we want to be successful, but he hasn’t told us where he expects us to finish in the league table or anything like that. The main aim is to play stylish football, to entertain people and to give these young players a chance.”

Wingate start their campaign at home against Carshalton Athletic on Saturday and then travel to face Metropolitan Police on Tuesday.