Wycombe Have Shown That You Don't Need Glitz & Glamour to Be Successful

Tom Gott
Wycombe earned promotion to the Championship by beating Oxford in the playoff final
Wycombe earned promotion to the Championship by beating Oxford in the playoff final / Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Wycombe Wanderers weren't far off imploding in 2012. Financial instability and disappointing performances had them all the way down in League Two and flirting with non-league football.

To save the day, former club captain Gareth Ainsworth was appointed as caretaker manager on 22 September, before earning himself the gig on a permanent basis just a month later.

The 2017/18 season brought an unlikely promotion to League One, and just two years later, they're in the Championship.

A 2-1 win over Oxford United in the playoff final earned Wycombe the final spot in the second tier for the 2020/21 season, and they fought their way there without any regard for how the club were viewed. They're a football team who only care about football results.

There was a fascinating stat which surfaced in the build-up to the game which told you everything you needed to know about Wycombe. Out of the 23 League One teams, Wycombe ranked 23rd in average possession, passes, short passes, sequences of more than ten passes and width per passing sequence.

Wycombe don't play attractive football. They play effective football.

It's hard to blame Ainsworth, who is affectionately known as 'Wild Thing' for his rockstar looks and second job as a singer, for that style of play. Wycombe might have escaped financial uncertainty, but that doesn't mean they're swimming in cash.

Fans know Gareth Ainsworth as 'Wild Thing'
Fans know Gareth Ainsworth as 'Wild Thing' / Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Wycombe boasted the lowest average attendance of all the League One sides, and that lack of money means there is no reserve or youth side at Adams Park. There's no big-money signings (there's barely even small-money signings) and there's no youngsters coming through to help. All that Ainsworth has to play with is directly in front of him.

The boss sensed a need for change but did not have the resources to do so. Instead of moping around and blaming his surroundings, he set about fixing things. Ainsworth pulled together a motley crew of lower-league rejects and told them to do nothing but play hard.

The defenders stand tall and firm and are rarely scared to put their body on the line to recover possession. Once they get the ball, it goes straight up to the striker, whose job is to bully defenders, win headers and let his teammates get forward away from possession.

Why waste time passing the ball up the field when you can just hoof it in one go? You don't win games by not getting the ball into the final third.

Ainsworth knew that was the style he needed to play, so he found the perfect man - Adebayo Akinfenwa, the behemoth who bears a striking resemblance to a monster truck and who many believed couldn't make it in football because of his size.

At 38 years old, Akinfenwa looks set to enjoy his first taste of second-tier football next season, and like Ainsworth, he hopes to prove why people were so wrong to doubt him.

The boss knows that this isn't the most fun way of playing football. In a world in which tika-taka, gegenpressing and all those other hipster terms have taken over, people laugh right in the face of long-ball specialists.

Sam Allardyce gets a lot of criticism for liking a long ball, as does Sean Dyche at Burnley. On the whole, fans don't like watching it and players don't always like doing it. So why does it work so well at Wycombe?

Ainsworth's lovable, no-nonsense style of management has turned him into somewhat of a cult hero. He regularly speaks of his love for the club and ensures each of his players know that they are wanted at Adams Park. It's a culture of positivity which is bred by the most negative style of football.

Fans want to be involved. Players are happy to put their bodies on the line for the cause. It's the kind of atmosphere you want at every club, even if you don't agree with their methods.

Wycombe will be playing in the Championship for the first time
Wycombe will be playing in the Championship for the first time / Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Wycombe's style of play isn't new to the Championship, but it is slightly alien. The best teams all want to play with the ball - Marcelo Bielsa's Leeds United are the perfect example - so finding a way to deal with Wycombe won't be easy.

Ainsworth, who is the Football League's longest-serving manager, knows he has upset the odds by bringing Wycombe this far. He's under no illusion that the next year of his life could be the toughest, but that's what the Chairboys are all about. They thrive on adversity.

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