Intensity, commitment & belief in youth – what Johnnie Jackson brings to AFC Wimbledon

6 min

Just 13 days after his contract at Charlton Athletic was terminated, Johnnie Jackson was appointed as the new manager of recently relegated League Two side AFC Wimbledon.

While other candidates were linked to the role, it was Jackson who was directly contacted by the Dons, and not long after returning from a planned post-season break, the 39-year-old put pen to paper on a two-year deal with the club.

Jackson has swapped one club at a pivotal juncture for another similar one as Wimbledon’s ability to recruit and retain effectively on a limited budget this summer will define whether they can make an instant return to League One.

Regardless of the players at his disposal, Jackson can be expected to adopt a 3-5-2 formation which he rarely deviated from at Charlton and, according to owner Thomas Sandgaard, this inflexibility was one of the reasons why he lost his job.

The system consists of a standard back three, with one of the centre halves having the liberty to drive forward when the opportunity arises – such as Sean Clare with the Addicks.

The midfield three has a single pivot sitting in front of the defence, with former Wimbledon loanee George Dobson revelling in that role, with the other two midfielders having the freedom to be attack-minded and create through both passes and direct runs.

Off the ball, Jackson favours an intense press and expects his players to make every effort to win the ball in the opposition half. 

In comparison to Charlton, Jackson may find this approach far easier to implement at Plough Lane with Wimbledon’s squad having a much younger average age and therefore likely to be more athletic.

Once the ball is won back in the opposition half, or even when building from the back, Jackson also did not shy away from using a direct approach. 

At Charlton, his team would always aim to win the ball back and get it to the wing-backs to create overloads in wide areas which created space for crosses to feed target men such as Jayden Stockley and Chuks Aneke.

Furthermore, if his side were chasing a game, Jackson would put an extra man up front and shift to a 3-4-3 shape.

If Wimbledon can bring in a striker of a similar physique to Stockley, as they did with Sam Cosgrove last season, and provide him with ammunition, the direct aspect of Jackson’s plan could be potent in League Two.

READ MORE: AFC Wimbledon are sleep walking towards relegation – but Mark Robinson shouldn’t shoulder all the blame

With homegrown starlets Ayoub Assal and Jack Rudoni likely to leave for sizable fees, there should also be funds available for Jackson to reinvest in the squad. 

As well as a target man, a pivot of similar ilk to Dobson may be top of his shopping list – although both out-of-contract Alex Woodyard and Anthony Hartigan could do the job if Jackson wants to keep the role in-house.

Either way, with up to nine core players out of contract in the summer, decisions will have to be made quickly on who Jackson wants to retain or not.

Given their limited budget, Wimbledon are likely to be increasingly reliant on their academy for a sustainable flow of talent – with Jackson more than willing to harness this. 

Mason Burstow’s development at The Valley demonstrates Jackson’s belief in academy prospects, as Jackson rapidly progressed the 18-year old from cup competition squads to first-team regular with his faith in the youngster eventually seeing Burstow sealing a move to Chelsea.

One of the main problems Wimbledon experienced last season was their inability to make the most of promising situations – underlined by their inability to beat a Charlton side reduced to 10 men and their capitulation at home to fellow strugglers Doncaster.

In comparison, Jackson’s Charlton rarely gave away leads and he’ll be hoping to impart some of the same doggedness and concentration into his Wimbledon squad. 

After initially succeeding Nigel Adkins last season on a temporary basis, Jackson brought much-needed stability to the dressing room, building up a good rapport with the players – something that would also be a welcome addition to a youthful Wimbledon side.

Such was his popularity at Charlton, a number of senior first-team players called for his permanent appointment and, coupled with an upturn in results, he was duly appointed as permanent manager in mid-December.

Despite Jackson being in charge during a turbulent period at the club, he remained a fan favourite and dignified in his manner throughout his tenure at Charlton.

READ MORE: AFC Wimbledon supporting Cambridge United fan’s quest to make football more accessible for autistic son

His commitment to Charlton, not just as a manager but as part of the backroom staff through almost a decade of disarray shows him to be faithful and committed to the cause and a perfect fit for the tight-knit, community focused club that is AFC Wimbledon.

Some will have seen his departure from Charlton as harsh and it remains to be seen if it’s a gamble that will pay off for the Addicks.

What is Charlton’s loss is AFC Wimbledon’s gain, inheriting a young manager with a point to prove after his unexpected dismissal. 

Jackson has a very clear plan on the pitch, proved he can maintain harmony off it and, provided summer recruitment is in line with his philosophy, Wimbledon could be the place where he can really make his mark.


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