Gillingham are a club stuck in limbo, not amongst the front runners for a League One promotion spot, but not amongst the favourites for the drop either.
The flirted with the latter last season, finishing six points clear of the final relegation spot.
They’ll hope this season to be a few more points clear as Steve Lovell continues his baptism of fire as manager of the club he scored freely for in the 90s.
This season they’ll be turning to a pair of old hands to help build their squad, using experience on the field as a starting block for progression off it.
Firstly, former captain Barry Fuller has signed up, arriving from AFC Wimbledon.
Fuller played 135 times across a five-season stay at Priestfield before moves to Barnet and Wimbledon, but at 33-years old he’s now approaching the latter stage of his career.
He once captained the Gills, but he’ll come back as a player with experience but will not take the arm band.
His influence will be vital around the training ground, especially after Lovell gave professional contracts to three exciting young players, Aaron Simpson, Ben Chapman and Bradley Stevenson. Simpson in particular is being touted as a star of the future and his development, in part, led to the departure of centre back Ben Nugent last month.
Those three followed in the footsteps of Noel Mbo and Finn O’Mara, who signed their contracts earlier this summer. O’Mara is another centre back, adding to the youthful look to Lovell’s defence.
It is at centre back where the second of Gillingham’s experienced heads will play, with Gabriel Zakuani accepting terms of re-engagement this summer and immediately being installed as captain.
Zakuani is an experienced defender having been with numerous clubs in the third tier including Peterborough, Northampton and Leyton Orient.
He’s 32 now and only in his second season at Priestfield, but his influence will help to develop the likes of Aaron Simpson. Between him and Barry Fuller, Steve Lovell will hope he has enough experience to help bring the fledgling squad on a little further than last season.
There isn’t going to be a title challenge from Gillingham, not with the likes of Sunderland, Barnsley and Charlton heading up the queue for Championship football.
With such a youthful looking squad, there’s every danger there might be a battle against the relegation, a time in which young players will have to come of age quickly if it is to be avoided.
Ultimately, the development of the younger players rests not only with the coaches and manager, but with the senior squad members on the field, which is why both Fuller and Zakuani could be incredibly important figures for Steve Lovell this season.
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