Peter Ridsdale exclusive as PNE director talks contracts, Ben Whiteman and January potential

The PNE director speaks to the Lancashire Post, with 16 games played and the January transfer window on the horizon
Peter RidsdalePeter Ridsdale
Peter Ridsdale

Preston North End director Peter Ridsdale has reviewed the Lilywhites' start to the season, summer business and looked ahead to the January transfer window in another exclusive interview with the Lancashire Post.

North End sit fifth in the Championship table after 16 games, having gone on two very contrasting runs of form. Victory at Blackburn Rovers sent Ryan Lowe's side into the international break on a high; now the busy festive schedule is in store, while contracts are a key topic of discussion ahead of January.

What's your take on the season so far? It seems like a good time to assess and reflect...

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"Yeah look, I think it's a long season and I've always said to people that you judge us after 46 games and not the first six or seven," said Ridsdale. "We've played 16 now and I think people feel that, after a dozen games, the table starts to settle down a bit. But, it's probably the most competitive Championship we've seen - where the gap from third to 18th or so is not great. So, anything can happen. But, we've played the top two teams away from home, so we've got those out of the way. I think some of the early games we won, you could argue we could've won or drawn. I think some of the games we lost, you could argue whether we really deserved to lose. I mean, West Brom was an awful performance, but I thought we played well at Leicester for 60 minutes and did well at Ipswich - but gave soft goals away.

"Then, there are some drawn games like Millwall and Southampton, where we should've had penalties. So, where are we at? We start off every season - and people say this is lacking ambition - wanting to get enough points, as quickly as you can, to stay in the Championship. Once you've got those points, let's get as many as we can and see where it takes us. I think, therefore, after 16 games we are pleased with the progress we've made. But, we've got another 30 games to try and stay in and around where we are now. If we do that and we end up in the play-offs, I think it'll be a good season."

You seemed content with summer business once the summer window closed. Has the impact from some of those players since then pleased you?

"Yeah, I mean it takes a while for new players to settle in doesn't it?" said Ridsdale. "I was getting abused at Bamber Bridge, when we'd just come back, about us not doing any transfer business - some of the comments were a disgrace, about me being the one stopping transfers, us not doing this or that and having no ambition. I then got quite a few WhatsApp messages from people abusing me, saying we hadn't signed the right players and it was all my fault. I haven't had anything since the window closed, saying that it was probably one of the best transfer windows we've had. These things take time.

"The manager has to say which players he fancies and then you've got to try and get them. It's no secret we were trying to get Tom Cannon for a long time - and actually put a bid in which would've blown any historic transfer bid out of the window. We didn't get him, but we had other tracks running and managed to get Milutin (Osmajic) and Liam Millar on transfer deadline day. So, it's hard work to get the right players and sometimes it's better to wait, than get the wrong players. Do I think it's been a good transfer window and season to date? Yeah, I do and the manager is very happy, which is what counts."

As you mentioned it, has the abuse continued at all?

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"It's stopped and in fact, those supporters who have communicated - and a lot do - have been very supportive of the work that has gone on, and the team, since the window closed," said Ridsdale. "Those who previously abused, they've gone quiet and are waiting to come back. Where I do get frustrated, I suppose, is when you look on social media - even when we were top of the league after eight games, there were a number of fans saying 'it will change' and 'it'll be typical PNE, it won't last'. Then, we lose a couple of games and it's 'told you so' and we're 'rubbish'. I don't know what we are supposed to do; Preston North End haven't been in the top flight for 60 odd years. We are doing our best, within the financial constraints of Financial Fair Play.

"We are stable, which I know people hate me saying, but there are a lot of teams around us that aren't. You just see what is happening elsewhere, whether it be the Premier League and some high profile clubs getting points deductions. Or, some clubs like Reading who were in our division last year and now scrambling around, trying to survive. You've got some clubs in our division going through ownership challenges. It's really sad to think that a well run, well funded club is criticised for being boring. If we're boring, we're boring. But, it doesn't mean we lack ambition. We want to be in the Premier League and will try our best to get there, but so is everybody else in the Championship. We are three points off Leeds, who have got parachute payments."

Going back to Milutin and Mads, you can see the quality is there. Is it important to give them time?

"Sometimes, and we don't shout about it, but what people don't see is that I went over to meet Mads in Denmark in this beautiful town," said Ridsdale. "He cycled to meet me and it was tranquil - so different. He suddenly flies over here and his partner couldn't get an entry visa for weeks, to come and join him. So, he had that disruption, but we are expecting him to hit the ground running. He is a talented footballer and it will take time. It's difficult to change country, settle in and hit the ground running, but I think people are seeing the talent. It might just take a while to get the best out of him.

"With Milly, we were slightly better off there with getting his entry visa. He managed to come in, get his wife and young lad here quickly and is now settled in to a house. I saw him in Spain before he came over and it's a massive change. So, people want us to go overseas and broaden our transfer market, but it does take a while to settle. Liam Millar came over from Switzerland and is Canadian, but of course he'd been at Liverpool and has more awareness. So, if you have this conversation with me at the end of the season, I think it'll be a different one than to now."

Do you think there will be deals to do in January? Was the bulk of the work done in the summer?

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"Well the challenge we face - and I don't think people quite understand when I keep saying this - is that we're right up against FFP," said Ridsdale. "We publish our accounts and we're only allowed to lose £13million a year over three years, which is £39m. We are right up against it because of our losses, so we're very cognisant about that - which doesn't mean to say we won't do any refreshing in the January transfer window. And to some extent, that drops down next year because we had one bad year during Covid. But, we are talking about trying to refresh and there are some tweaks we can do. It would mean reducing the wage bill, to add back to it if you see what I mean.

"There might be a couple where we think, if there long-term future wasn't to be here, then we might have to decide what to do. But, what we are never going to do is stand still, so I've already started planning with the manager about what we could do 'if'. Having said that, I think we've got a very good, balanced squad at the minute. I'm never saying we're finished, because you don't finish, but I think we've got as good a balanced squad - with Emil (Riis) back shortly. There are a couple of injured players coming back like Ali (McCann), who's back any day now, Andrew Hughes and Jack Whatmough. So, we're in decent shape, but we will always look to add and refresh, within the parameters, if it'll improve us."

Ryan Lowe really feels the squad has progressed, compared to the one he inherited - he labelled it 'chalk and cheese'. Do you share that view?

"I think the difficulty, at any moment in time, is that you try and help put the squad together that the manager at the time wants," said Ridsdale. "And, as you change managers, they've got different perspectives and views on players and playing styles etcetera. What I do think we've got is the best balanced squad we've had - and therefore you can say that without being disrespectful to any players who've been with us in the past. We've obviously got some exciting talent emerging - Kian Best played three times for England Under (19s). So, when you see players like that emerging and adding to what we've got - there's Noah Mawene, who is a real talent and Felipe (Rodriguez-Gentile) who has just signed his pro-deal.

"So, we've got everything from experience, to an international flavour, to young players and five strikers - which I don't think we've ever had. So, do I think we've progressed? Yes, I do and we also do not have a track record of hiring and firing managers. We try not to. Some of the most successful managers, in recent English football history have been there for a number of years - whether it be Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Arsene Wenger, even Mikel Arteta. There were calls for him to be sacked at one stage. I think we try to give our managers time.

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"Ryan is coming up to his second anniversary and we always said to him that this was a project - you are not going to just fix it overnight. And, as every month passes by, I think he's learning and doing a better job. I know I've said it in the past, but he is a pleasure to work with. He gets the financial parameters within the club, has given youth a chance and other players. So, yeah, I think we're progressing well and I'd like to see him here for a number of years in the future - because it'd suggest he's doing a decent job if he is and in every window, we will try to improve."

Was there any interest surfacing around Felipe?

"We've had interest in a number of our young lads, including Felipe," said Ridsdale. "To be honest, he was under contract anyway, because he's only a first year scholar. All our scholars have two years and normally, we have options in our favour for a third. But, the scholarship is a relatively modest pay rate and we felt it was important to get him on to a pro deal - because he'd been in and around the first team, on the bench regularly and was watching everyone else get paid a lot of money for appearance fees, which scholars don't get. So, we tried to be fair and his family respected the fact we were being fair with him. He's a talent and let's see whether is talent is potentialized with us or elsewhere, but it was the right thing to do."

With Kian Best on the England stage, is it on your mind to get a new deal sorted for him soon?

"Well, we are talking to people all the time, so when people say it's a disaster you've got 'X' number of people out of contract at the end of this season - Kian has got 18 months to go and it's only four months ago he signed his last deal," said Ridsdale. "But what's important is, as people progress, we make sure they are rewarded properly, within our pay structure. And, by definition, young players are at the bottom end of it. So, will we be talking to Kian soon rather than later? Yeah, of course we will, because it would be right to try and move him up the pay scale. There is no urgency, but it is the right thing to do."

Going back to Liam Millar, is it just a straight loan deal where he will go back to Basel in the summer? Or are there any options or clauses in there?

"It is a straight loan deal," said Ridsdale. "The answer to whether he will go back to Basel in the summer depends on what I do between now and next summer."

Do you get the impression he wants to stay in England? He is an exciting player...

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"Well, I get the impression that he loves being at Preston North End and, if that is the case and there's a deal to be done with Basel, we will be talking to them," said Ridsdale. "At this stage, I would not presume he's going back to Basel at the end of this season. But, there is no deal done yet. He's a good player, a young player and an international. He's exactly what we want and people love to see players with pace, taking defenders on and that's what he does. Funnily enough, I think we've someone on the other side who's one of the best in the division.

"But, he was here already and sometimes that's unexciting. Pottsy has been one of our most consistent players for the last two or three years so, of course, having Brad, Liam, Kian if he plays at left wing-back, Robbie Brady who is very experienced - in any game, particularly with five subs, you need people who can get you through the game as a whole. So, that's why the squad strength is so important and I think they have added to that quality."

How is Emil Riis? It's been a long time for him...

"Yeah, he's good," said Ridsdale. "He should be back in the next couple of weeks. In two or three weeks, he should be in full training and we expect him to be back and involved before the end of the calendar year. I was with him yesterday and he's in good shape, saying his knee feels better than it's ever felt. He went back in for a tidy up on the operation, which was successful. There was a bit of irritation, which has been solved now and he says he feels fitter than he's felt for years. So, I am looking forward to seeing him back."

Back to contracts, can you update us on the Ben Whiteman situation?

"I talk to Ben most days and I think he loves it here and would want to stay here," said Ridsdale. "It is like any negotiation - you start off with a number and it's trying to find whether we can meet somewhere which works for both parties. Do I think there's a good chance of doing that? Sitting here today, I think there's a very good chance of doing that. But, it's not done yet."

Are you keen to get that done before January? There would then only be six months left and you'd imagine a player of his quality will demand some attention.

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"Do I think we'll do it before the end of January?" said Ridsdale. "I do. Is there any rush? Not really, it is one of those classic cases where he's contracted until the 30th of June and, if all else fails, he is likely to be here until the 30th of June. And he will put his heart and soul into it, arguably because - if he doesn't sign with us - he's trying to prove to somebody else how good he is. So, we'd get the benefit of that. I would be surprised if it's not resolved before the end of January."

Have you ever had to bat away any interest in Ben? Has there ever been a bid?

"I've had no bids for Ben in the last couple of years," said Ridsdale.

With Alan Browne, are you confident he will sign on? He has said he'd be happy to sign.

"I would be shocked if Alan wasn't with us next year," said Ridsdale. "The interesting thing about Alan is that he doesn't have an agent, so he does it himself. And that, you think, would make it easier. But, if anybody has tried to negotiate with Alan, it doesn't. He wants to stay and has made it clear to every PNE fan he wants to stay. His performances have been outstanding, which is not very helpful when negotiating with somebody - but helpful for the team. So yeah, I think Alan has made clear where he wants to be and I think that is where he'll be."

How rare is that, for a player - an international footballer too - to not have an agent in this day and age?

"Very rare," said Ridsdale. "Of course, I went over and did his first deal with him in Ireland, when he first signed, on a couple of hundred quid a week. He's been here for a long time and is part of the furniture. He knows us, we know him and we've got a good relationship. I suppose his attitude is 'what value is an agent going to give me other than taking money off me?' So, it is rare, but he's fine and everything is fine."

Ryan talks about the competitiveness in training every day. Is there a good mood there at the moment?

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"I think the difficulty is comparing any moment in time from the past, to how you feel today," said Ridsdale. "If you'd have asked me this 18 months ago, I'd have said the mood is great and if you ask me today I'll say the mood is great. Do I think it's better than in the past? I do and I think the reason for that, is I honestly believe everyone in the first team squad at the moment wants the team to do well - even if they are not starting.

"Sometimes, you will find players who think they'll be in next week if someone doesn't do well and that can create a bit of tension. At this moment in time, I've probably seen the best spirit I've known since we got promoted in 2015. I think that is good, but you can only answer at any moment in time based on what you see. It's tremendous. Ryan comes in with a smile on his face every morning, so do the players and there's a very good team spirit at the moment."

What have you made of the support this year? The manager believes it's been better at home this year and away has been brilliant again hasn't it?

"Well look, the single biggest issue we faced last year was that our home form was awful," said Ridsdale. "When I say form, certainly results. However good the away following is, and it's been outstanding, the fact is that the majority of our fans see home matches more than away matches. So, if you are not winning at home, it's tough because supporters obviously get frustrated. This year, it's the opposite where we've been getting results at home. Our supporter base, quite rightly, want to see winning football and the best for the club. I think it's been reflected in their response to us all, so I think they've been fantastic at home and the results have assisted in that I think.

"The away support is just unbelievable, absolutely unbelievable. Just look at the numbers we took on a Wednesday night to Leicester; just look at Blackburn. I'd like to think that the deal we've done with Leeds - which is £17 cheaper than they were going to charge for the game in mid-January - means we will take as many tickets as they give us. I think they are going to give us about 2,800 in the end, if we want them. And hopefully there is a chance we sell those out, as opposed to at £45 when we probably wouldn't. So, we are genuinely trying to do the right thing, to say thank you - because our supporters have been absolutely great."

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