Craig Hignett assesses his budget at Hartlepool United

Craig Hignett’s focus at Hartlepool United this summer has been on ‘value for money’ as he looks to assemble a competitive squad while carefully managing his budget.

By Dominic Scurr
Thursday, 04 July, 2019, 06:00
Craig Hignett during Hartlepool United's 3-2 win over Salford City in the Vanarama National League.

Hignett has been able to tie down the majority of last season’s squad with Scott Loach the only player offered a new deal to go elsewhere. The former United number 1 joined Barnet last month.

Carl Magnay’s future is still up in the air as he’s yet to agree a new deal at Pools though a move to National League North side Spennymoor Town is an option for the defender.

In addition, Pools have recruited six key targets, Nicke Kabamba, Michael Raynes, Ben Killip, Luke Molyneux, Gime Toure and most recently Gus Mafuta.

This has Hartlepool’s squad arguably looking stronger going into the 2019-20 season than it did last season – despite operating on a smaller budget.

“We’re never going to compete (financially) with the top paying sides in this league,” Hignett admitted.

“But that’s not a bad thing as it just means we have to be smarter and a little bit cuter with how we do things and how we try and recruit and bring players in. Maybe look at using the loan market to our advantage, but it has to be the right player.

“Every penny counts and I don’t want to waste any of the chairman’s money because he’s spent a lot of money getting the club back to a good level on an even keel and we want to build from that, I want to make sure I get value for money for everyone.

“We’re doing our homework on our signings and making sure we bring in people who are right for this club who are within our budget.”

This season, Pools’ playing budget is believed to be around £700,000 – roughly £200,000 fewer than last season’s reported budget which yielded a 16th place finish in the fifth tier.

With some of the money being touted around the National League in recent years, Hignett’s budget may restrict him with certain players. But it also lends itself to a pragmatic and frugal approach that can often breed success on the pitch.

“Money doesn’t guarantee you’ll get out the league but I think it goes a long way to helping teams challenge for the play-off spots,” Hignett added.

“You look at Salford last year with the money they spent and they still only finished third – although they still went up!

“My budget is sensible, it’s what I’ve got and we’re working well with it.”

Pools currently have a fairly large squad of 20 senior outfield players following on from Mafuta’s arrival last Friday.

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And Hignett has suggested that in order to bring in more players, he may have to let some leave.

“We’ll have to see whether that will be it until the start,” continued the Hartlepool manager.

“I’ll be looking to run with a squad of around 18 to 20 outfield players and we’re right at the top end of that at the moment.

“There might be one or two of them who leave and one or two may come in. I’m sure we’ll start getting interest now pre-season has started but that’s something we’ll deal with when it comes.

“The main focus for us is getting the players ready and focused themselves and knowing exactly what is required of them this season and how they need to be positive and work as hard as you can and see where that takes us.”

While Pools’ budget is around average compared to other National League clubs, Hignett believes teams should be taking inspiration from sides who have been able to compete at the top end of the table despite having very little financial backing.

“There are teams who’ve done really well on small budgets,” said the 49-year-old.

“Macclesfield won the league with one of the smallest budgets in the league and last season Gateshead almost made the play-offs with 14 players and a non-existent budget.

“Macclesfield is slightly different because they’re in an unbelievably good location, they’re right in the middle of everything so they can easily attract southern players and players from Liverpool and Manchester. There are so many clubs around them and so many players who get released and can go to Macclesfield without moving.

“With Gateshead, it’s slightly different because they’re restricted by their location like we are so you have to have a look at what went on there. At the end they didn’t quite make it but you could probably put that down to what was going on off the pitch.

“But those are the teams you’ve got to look at because it can be done and our budget is still a lot bigger in comparison. I’m an optimist really, I’m looking at what could be and I want the players to be like that as well.

“There will be ups and downs in the season, there’s no doubt but it’s how you cope with that.

“I think I’ve got a really good squad who are all together and seem to be in a really good place where they work hard for each other and socialise together which I think is important.

“As long as they stick together, they’ll be alright.”