Scunthorpe United cannot talk about contracts for next season with anybody, says boss Brian Laws
ROLL up those sleeves for three more months.
Passengers will not be tolerated when it comes to the long-term future at Scunthorpe United according to Brian Laws, the Iron manager not afraid to speak his mind in times of adversity.
The biggest worry for Laws is that when it comes to planning ahead, potential budget cuts mean it's the drivers that may not be able to be recruited.
Sat in one of the executive boxes at Glanford Park, looking out over a snow-covered pitch, the Iron manager talks openly about how his ability to begin making decisions on the future are similarly out in the cold.
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Laws is a fulcrum of indecision when it comes to assessing how the remainder of this struggling season will pan out for Scunthorpe United.
January was supposed to be a season-defining month in the Iron's increasingly-fraught fortunes. Four weeks of six-pointers. A period in which they went head-to-head with five-sevenths of their supposed rivals for relegations.
Two draws and a postponement, ahead of Saturday's trip to Carlisle United, another club considered to be in danger of the drop, despite improved recent results, have somewhat clouded the situation.
"Sitting on the fence" is the metaphor Laws uses to describe his side's current position, on the back of having dragged themselves out of the bottom four last week.
"We've got a leg over," he continues. "But we're still only sitting on it."
Fence-sitting usually carries splinters. So too might the Iron boss' bluntness when it comes to talk of new contracts.
Fifteen members of the Iron's current squad, among them eight of whom started the potentially landmark victory at Colchester United almost a fortnight ago, see their current deals expire in the summer.
Scunthorpe have options to extend seven of those by a further year, on their current terms – Niall Canavan, Mark Duffy, Robbie Gibbons, Matt Godden, Damien Mozika, Jimmy Ryan and James Severn.
Having had to face up to austerity as much as anyone in light of their exploits of the recent past, earning a contract at Scunthorpe United will be as hard as it has ever been.
"Look at Tom Newey, who was looking for a club in the summer," says Laws, as an example of the sort of uncertainty that awaits hundreds of decent professionals come the end of the campaign.
"He spent a long time here on trial, but he earned himself a contract.
"I think you're going to see a hell of a lot more of that, but he's a prime example of what can be achieved if you knuckle down and work hard.
"I'd like to see a lot of our players with the desire to work that he has. It's first class.
"But with the way finances are in football, players are going to have to work harder than ever before to earn contracts – both here and at other clubs."
The perfect case study of such a situation already pounds the snow-laden perimeters of the Iron's Gunness Wharf training ground.
This time last year Eddie Nolan was a first-team regular at Glanford Park, a Republic of Ireland international and with experience to defy his years given he was still a young enough age to command a fee should he have walked away.
Twelve months on – eight after Nolan and the Iron parted company at the end of his contract with the club – he is back with United, desperately trying to prove he is worth at least a chance, a somewhat incomprehensible scenario to most who've seen him play.
Laws says it is a 'sad state' that the Irishman may have to consider accepting a pay-as-you-play contract at Scunthorpe, something which was due to be discussed by the United board at their monthly meeting today, Thursday.
It is also one which the Iron boss predicts will become more common.
"He's a good player and has done extremely well for himself, yet he finds himself, at the age of 24, with no football club," the Iron boss said about Nolan earlier this week.
"That's quite alarming, but with the finances of most League One and Two clubs it's not surprising either.
"Quality players like him are finding themselves in no-man's-land.
"I think it's shocked him, like it's probably shocked a lot of people, but that's the reality we have to get a grip of."
Whether he has a long-term, short-term or even no future back at United, Nolan's personal plight should serve as inspiration to those occupying the once-prominent role he enjoyed in the Iron dressing room.
But fearing the future, to those without the security blanket of a deal until at least 2014 that the likes of David Mirfin and Christian Ribeiro could well have an impact on it.
With much work to be done to avoid relegation to League Two – a scenario which would, unsurprisingly, result in 'another cutback', according to Laws – negotiations and offers of new deals are on hold.
The Iron announced last week that they would be taking up the option to extend the stay of Duffy by another year – be it through the desire to hold on to their prized asset, or to bump up his value should the vultures begin to circle while the transfer window remains open.
Laws though is much more non-committal on the other six.
"We've got to look at our assets and that's a discussion we'll have at board level," he says on the subject.
"The options are in our favour, but we don't have to make a decision on that until the end of the season.
"If we stay in League One, it gives us a better chance of keeping the likes of Mark Duffy and Damien Mozika. If we don't, I don't know. I can't give a settled answer on that.
"Certainly, when you've got assets you don't want to lose them. I think that's a fair comment.
"The most important thing from our point of view is to sort this season out, because it will dictate the budget we're going to have for next year.
"We can't talk about contracts for next season with anybody. It's too difficult a situation.
"I think the players understand that and will get on with it. If we lose players because of it, that's the way it's going to be unfortunately.
"Everybody has to wait to find out what the outcome of this season will be."
For now, both off and on the pitch, the uncertainty continues. The two go hand in hand.