By Tony Leighton
"It was a bit tongue-in-cheek," says Wycombe Wanderers manager Gareth Ainsworth of his decision to match his team-shirt number to his age, and he keeps the smile on his face as he adds, "if you see the 40 shirt on the pitch at any time this season, you'll know things here have gone pretty wrong."
Lighthearted comments flow from the former winger, who a fortnight before his 40th birthday hung up his boots at the end of last term but retained his playing registration in case of emergencies. He is deadly serious, however, about leading Wycombe to Sky Bet League 2 success in his first full season of management.
"My playing career has definitely come to the end," Ainsworth told football-league.co.uk, "and it finished on a nice note because my last game was at one of my old clubs, Port Vale, and it was the 600th appearance of my career.
"I don't intend playing again, but me and my first-team coach Lee Harrison kept our playing registrations and decided to have shirt numbers that went with our ages - me 40 and Lee 41, although he's now 42. It was a bit tongue in cheek, but it's unlikely that either of the shirt numbers will be seen on the pitch in a match."
Just five months after swapping his playing kit for managerial garb, former Preston North End, Vale, Wimbledon and Queens Park Rangers winger Ainsworth - who has stepped up from the player-manager role he took on at Adams Park 12 months ago - admits he is missing playing.
"I'm missing it hugely," he said. "But I played for 22 years, so I had a good lengthy career. It's not as though I finished when I was 31 or 32 - but who knows, maybe my local Sunday league side might fancy getting themselves a new right winger.
"Seriously though, I'm really enjoying management. There's a great spirit and togetherness about the squad and I'm part of that. I can still enjoy a joke with the lads, but I'm manager now and they know there's a line they can't cross."
There may be lines that Ainsworth's players cannot cross, but when the Chairboys cross that proverbial 'white line' to kick-off a match their recent results suggest that they are giving their all for the manager.
Their last four games, one of them a Johnstone's Paint Trophy tie, have all been won and they are sitting fifth in the League 2 table. This after last term's 15th-place finish and a number of close season changes to the playing squad.
Ainsworth said: "We worked really hard on shaping the squad in the summer. The Supporters' Trust took over the club last year and unfortunately we had to dispense with the youth Academy, which meant we had to put together a squad where every single payer was capable of playing first-team football.
"We've done that - we've got a 25-man squad and every one of them has had minutes for the first team. That's testament to the players I've brought in, and we've made a decent start. If we can keep the squad together and stay injury-free, then we can hopefully keep ourselves at the top end of the table."
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