After a dreadful season in which Orient went out of the league for the first time in their history, it is time to reflect.
For the new season the O’s must get back together as a club and bring in one or two seasoned veterans to stabilise the team. The young team that played the final game of the Leyton Orient league era was totally unrecognisable from the team that started the season last summer.
Manager and ex Arsenal forward Omar Riza who was the 5th manager in a traumatic season for the club had a few crumbs of comfort for the long suffering supporters.
“The positive of the season is of course the youngsters. There are positives for them to have had so many games and to have played together,” said Riza.
“Usually it is one or two, but they have all had the opportunity to step out onto the pitch and play together in very tough circumstances, so I think that is a positive. The academy is another positive because that is still thriving this year and doing well, but other than that it is hard.”
After a moment to gather his thoughts, Riza highlighted the support of the O’s fans as something to remember in 2017. The Orient supporters’ have pulled together and they do say nothing brings people closer than a common enemy.
Riza added: “Obviously the fans have been brilliant, but this season isn’t a positive for them because they have had to deal with a lot. For me, I have had the honour of managing Leyton Orient and my goal is to be a league manager and to keep growing and become better.
“This has given me a great foundation to build on and confidence too because even though I have played the game for 20 years, when you step into a managerial role sometimes you question things. I had had a lot to deal with over the last two months, but I feel I have been strong and it has been a great experience.”
So there weren’t too many positives to this campaign but Omer Riza was frank and realistic about the current campaign and it’s consequencies.
No doubt some of the performances of the young players have been a rare bright spot in a black season for O’s. Although to say they were chucked in at the deep end is a huge under statement. They had no choice as managers came like buses over the course of the season and key players disappeared to leave hardly any first team players left. You could say it was like watching rats leave a sinking ship but many would argue the only rat was the owner and chairman.
For Riza though, the chance to manage in the Football League has also been a personal high, as he started the campaign with the academy so although his appointment was a shock at least it gave a man who had Leyton Orient credentials the chance to shine. It was never going to happen in the two months of the league season Riza had to ignite the club and when he took over the reigns the O’s had not a cat in hell’s chance of staying in the league. So no blame on Riza.
This season is without doubt the worst in Leyton Orient’s history, but the only way is up now following an experience that was at minimum dreadful and one that everyone will remember for a long time.
Orient are set to lose virtually all of their senior players this summer either due to their contracts expiring or relegation release clauses allowing them to leave for free. Riza is also well aware of the need to bring in several players with more experience.
He said “I don’t want the youngsters to go anywhere, but they do need senior players around then and we need a total rebuild of the squad. A lot of our older players have their contracts up at the end of the season or clauses which allows them to decide if they stay or go, but I feel the young lads have bright futures.”
Riza is right. It’s all very easy to blood one or two youngsters into a team towards the end of a season but having six teenagers in the team for the Blackpool match is simply ridiculous. Still, several of Orient’s teenagers have impressed despite being unable to prevent the club suffering relegation and they are going to need the kids next season.
Don’t expect a joyride in the National League though, Omer Riza believes the crop of young players at the club can enjoy bright futures despite a tough start to their professional careers. Sandro Semedo and Freddy Moncur were also involved from the off and they only turned 20 this season so look at it in perspective. Eight players aged 20 or under started the Blackpool game.
The Blackpool game wasn’t a one off though. Orient have used current academy players or graduates a lot over the last two months, but Riza hopes it will make them stronger.
Riza said: “I think the youngsters have handled relegation well, but nobody really knows because it is not like we have psychologists at the club who talk to them on a regular basis. Of course it is tough, but I think they are old enough to understand the situation and what they have gone through this year. This will make them stronger and they have had a lot of games, which will be good for them going forward, so for me it has all been a positive.”
With no plans put in place as of yet for next season, Riza expressed his ambition to keep all the youngsters at the club. It is likely a fair number of them will be needed but a couple of older leaders are needed to bolster the group or the O’s will struggle again.