Forest Green had over a hundred candidates for the managerial vacancy earlier this year, but they opted for a man who had never taken charge of a Football League game before. The choice of 38-year-old Rob Edwards is paying off.
Forest Green leads League Two. They are the top scorers in the division, adding another five to Oldham last weekend. Unlikely, they also conceded five in that match, from an expected figure of 0.86 goals. It was a bizarre result that won’t change their approach.
“We want a culture where people can be brave and not be afraid to try things,” says Edwards Sky Sports. “We don’t care if they make mistakes. It will happen, it’s human nature. I’ll make more mistakes than anyone else. But let’s try to learn from that.
“There is a long way to go but we have put ourselves there. We want to stay there. We have to work hard and understand what has brought us to where we are so far. The word we continue to use right now is relentless and be consistent. This is what we are. we must do now “.
Edwards left his England U16 role to join Forest Green, having previously worked with Wolves’ U23. His only senior role had been with Telford. He would not stray from the coach of the best young talent in the country for any job.
“You could already see that there was a plan, there was still an identity in this club. The manager has time. This attracted me. From day one, me and [assistant] Richie Kyle felt nothing but support. Everyone is pulling in the right direction. You need it.”
There was an awareness that things needed changes rather than revisions. There was no need for a change of manager, not a change of philosophy and after suffering a play-off defeat last season, Edwards’ appointment was the catalyst for an even stronger season.
“It wasn’t a case of having to tear everything up and start over. We had enjoyed a really good year. I had to understand why, then, I had to rely on that. my way. “I had to continue like this and add something to it.”
Forest Green has a reputation for doing things differently under the presidency and eco-campaigner Dale Vince. Vegan burgers are nothing new. Recognized by the United Nations as the greenest football team in the world, there are plans for a wooden stadium.
Is Vince different from the other presidents?
“I haven’t met that many presidents,” laughs Edwards.
“We talk once or twice a week and just have a chat. He’s very relaxed. He likes to come to the game and he’s been so supportive. He allows me to get on with things. His attitude is that he hired this person for one. right, so let them go on. “
Now he has earned that trust. November brought his second manager of the month award of the season. “It’s embarrassing isn’t it? It’s beautiful, of course. A great recognition for the club. But it’s a great team effort from all the staff and players.”
There is a dedication to details with Edwards. The story of him and Kyle studying Exeter throw-ins for three hours looking for some tactical advantage proves this.
“There are 40 or 50 games per game, so there is an opportunity there. We had noticed that the Exeter restarts were very good. Richie and I spent a night in Cirencester at home to make sure the setup was right. This one. it’s the boredom of life as a football manager. “
It has already been an exciting coaching career, actually. At Wolves, he worked with Pedro Goncalves, now the star man of Sporting, aimed for a huge move into the Premier League. With England, Emile Smith Rowe immediately distinguished himself as a potential superstar.
“I’ll never forget the first session. I just thought, ‘Wow, this guy.’ He passed it in a small-court game and then ran. People talk about passing and moving, but the shifting of gears, the speed of passing, the pace at which he did things were just on another level.
“People like that don’t need to be told to lift it. They don’t need motivation, they’re just about it. They argue, not in an arrogant way, but there’s just an inner belief. They take risks and deliver every day. really lucky to have been with them. “
Telford in the sixth level was a different experience, but it still draws on today. When Forest Green dropped to 10 men against Bristol Rovers last month, he recalled an FA Cup draw when Telford lost to Hereford. He was determined to learn from that.
We got a little passive that day. We let in a shot, the goalkeeper saved and they scored the rebound. We lost the game 1-0. This time I spoke to the boys and reminded them that we still had to be aggressive and get to the ball. “
Forest Green not only held out, but doubled their lead by winning 2-0.
“That was an experience in Telford. But I’ve had eight years of experience with different coaches and players. It’s about dealing with people. You build knowledge and you learn.” At Forest Green, he learned to trust his team, allowing them to thrive.
“We try to keep it simple by putting the players in their best positions and basing the team on what the boys are good at. We don’t need to put square pegs in round holes when everyone is fit. We just want them to be good. in what they do.
“You are on the team because you are good at it, so keep doing it. Our outside players are good at crossing the ball. Our forwards are good at standing between the posts and scoring with a finishing touch. So let them do it. C ‘is a good balance “.
This mindset is helping players thrive like never before. Matty Stevens scored once in 18 appearances for Stevenage last season. He already has 17 this season. Jamille Matt, 32, is 14 and is on course for the best scoring season of his career.
“He is a great striker, a huge focal point for us. We have creative players and scorers which is clearly a great thing. Thirteen goals each for Jamille and Matty in the league with goals and assists in wide areas and by Jack Aitchison in midfield.
“They are a great group to be with. Not only to work with because what we do is more than just working. We laugh at each other, but we also work hard and ignite when needed. There is balance on the pitch but balance also on. Everyone has the feeling of being able to breathe “.
The program does not allow for a lot of downtime.
“With England there was a lot of time to plan, you could go into a big detail. The turnaround now for us is quick. It’s relentless. I love this challenge. You have to manage your time well and get the information as simply as you can. “
Saturday’s match against Mansfield is the first of five in 14 days. Four of them are at home, an opportunity for Forest Green to extend their lead by four points at the top of the table. Avoiding the playoff lottery must be the goal for them now.
“I hope the difference this time around will be that some of the guys have lived through it and won’t want to relive that disappointment. We can’t give up. We have to be relentless. There are a lot of good teams and everyone is shooting at us now.
“We have had good times so far, but winter has come now and we know there will also be difficult times in the future, there will be battles. That’s when we need everyone to stick together. But I felt nothing but support from everyone. They are a fantastic football team.
“If we want to stay on top we have to stay down to earth and do business every single day. The kids know that. They are hungry, they are ambitious. They want to achieve something as a group. They don’t need to be remembered. They drive themselves. . “