Sami's the man for the Rocks - Charman chips in too

Sami El-Abd is the new Rocks player-manager / Picture by Tim Hale
Sami El-Abd is the new Rocks player-manager / Picture by Tim Hale
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Sami El-Abd was today named as the new manager of the Rocks.

The popular defender will be player-boss and will be assisted by another senior member of the squad, Gary Charman. Darin Killpartrick retains a vital role as coach.

The news was announced exclusively to the Observer and www.bognor.co.uk by general manager Jack Pearce, who said he wished El-Abd well in what would be a challenging season.

El-Abd, who has links with clubs across Sussex, is in his third year at Nyewood Lane and has become a big favourite with fans for his no-nonsense defending, which was a key factor in the Rocks winning promotion from the Ryman premier last season.

His appointment comes just in time for the start of the club's pre-season training, which begins this evening.

It's been seven weeks since manager Jamie Howell stunned Bognor by leaving for Eastbourne Borough less than 48 hours after the play-off win over Dulwich Hamlet confirmed promotion to the National League South.

The club have spoken - in detail or more casually - to around nine candidates for the job but have finally settled on appointing from within.

El-Abd has been with the Rocks for the past two seasons and has won players awards in each one.

He signed from Peacehaven for the start of the 2015-16 season having previously played for Crawley Town, Chelmsford City, Hayes and Yeading and Team Bath. He also had three successful years at Whitehawk where he won a Ryman premier title winner's medal.

The 29-year-old works at Brighton and Hove Albion FC and has been keen to develop the coaching and managing side of his football CV. He had attracted interest from Worthing since the end of the season and a number of Rocks fans feared him following the likes of Kane Wills and James Fraser to Woodside Road.

Bognor fans have been quick to congratulate El-Abd on the appointment and wish him - along with Charman and Killpartrick - well for the campaign ahead.

El-Abd did not appear to be in the running for the job when it became vacant in early May. Names like Michael Birmingham, Miles Rutherford, Stuart Tuck, Steve King, David Wright and Mick Catlin were mentioned as possible new bosses, while we highlighted Gary Charman as someone who could fit the bill.

Some will see El-Abd's appointment as a gamble as he will be managing in the sixth tier of English football with no previous boss's experience. But Bognor have a tradition of appointing from within - and in some ways, his move to the top job is like that made by Pearce himself when he took over as player-manager aged 26 in 1976. And he lasted 31 years in the hotseat.

Pearce told the Observer: "Sami will be player-manager and he will be assisted by Gary Charman and, of course, the rest of the coaching team led by Darin Killpartrick.

"The people we have spoken to about the vacancy, apart from one, did not have experience of being a No1 at the level we will be playing at, and one of the strengths of our club in recent seasons has been the team spirit, and we felt an appointment from within was the right way to go.

"This move helps Sami's development in football and puts a popular figure in charge of the team. We will assist him as a club in every way possible."

Pearce said there were some good candidates for the manager's who they spoke to in the course of deciding who should get the job. "There were eight or nine that we had long conversations, interviews or short conversations with," he said.

"I feel sorry for those who wanted the job and haven't got it and I thank them for their interest and their time. Now the proof, as with all managerial appointments, is in the pudding."

Pearce said El-Abd faced some big challenges as Bognor moved into National League South - where it is thought their playing budget will be about 60 per cent of the average in the division. Survival in the league seems to be the realistic aim.

"The biggest challenge will come with how everyone reacts if we are not successful," said Pearce.

"For the past two and a half years the players, the staff, supporters and the media have been used to success. If that changes - and of course we hope it doesn't - all components of the club will need to react to that challenge.

"It may well be that if that happens it will be no-one's fault.

"We will evaluate performances and if we're unsuccessful we will look at why that is. But what we won't do is thrown money we don't have at any problem.

"We'll be doing all we can to stay up but if we don't, we won't put the club at risk and in a position where it can't compete at the lower level again."

Read all about Sami the manager in this week's Bognor Observer - out on Thursday