FEATURE: Boss Curle looks back on an 'excellent' and 'exciting' summer of rebuilding at the Cobblers
With the new football season just a matter of days away, boss Keith Curle has spoken of how enjoyable an experience he has found rebuilding the Cobblers squad - and paid tribute to everybody at the the club who has played their part.
From the moment the final whistle blew on Town's 5-2 win at Oldham Athletic back on May 4, Curle's total focus was on the overhaul of a seriously underachieving squad.
And ahead of Saturday's season opener against Walsall at the PTS Academy Stadium, it is fair to say the Town boss hasn't gone about things in half measures.
The relegation from Sky Bet League One in 2018, had been followed by an underhwhelming 15th place finish in league two 12 months later.
Appointed as manager in October, 2018, following Dean Austin's sacking, Curle had plenty of time to evaluate the players at his disposal, and from January onwards ther was plenty was going on behind the scenes as plans were put in place for the future.
Nothing was made public until the season was completed, with even the players kept completely in the dark.
But once the campaign had finished, the manager made his move, immediately releasing eight out-of-contract players, including fans' favourite and club captain David Buchanan, and transfer-listing three more, including the previous season's player of the year Ash Taylor.
Curle knew it was his chance to wipe the slate clean and start things afresh, and within days the squad evolution of the summer of 2019 had begun.
Matty Warburton was plucked from non-League, Joe Martin signed from Stevenage, the club bought Harry Smith from Macclesfield Town and Chris Lines joined from Bristol Rovers - and this was all before the middle of May.
The influx of players would continue, with Nicky Adams, Ryan Watson, Steve Arnold and Alan McCormack getting on board.
Things did then slow down, but the Cobblers continued to show their ambition with the cash signing of Charlie Goode from Scunthorpe United, while Vadaine Oliver, Reece Hall-Johnson and Scott Wharton also joined the party, the latter on a season-long loan.
In all, 12 new players have been signed, with 11 going the other way, including Taylor, who returned to Aberdeen, and last season's skipper Aaron Pierre, who was sold to Shrewsbury Town.
It means it is a new-look Cobblers squad preparing for the campaign ahead, an unfamilair team that will face the Saddlers this weekend, and that is exactly how Curle wanted it to be.
"The summer has been excellent, and it has been quite exciting," admitted the Cobblers boss.
"Identifying the players, going out and meeting the players, making decisions on the players and then finally getting them into the football club."
Since returning for pre-season at the end of June, the focus has been on getting the squad integrated, and getting the new players to settle quickly alongside the players retained by the club
And Curle feels it is a process that couldn't have gone much better, and one that was helped by the fact he insisted on meeting every player before he signed them, in a bid to get to know their personalities.
"I have said it before, and it is like having a jigsaw puzzle," said the Town manager
"You start with the key pieces which are the corner pieces, and we were very pleased to get the players in early, and then you build the frame around the outside before putting it all together.
"It has been good, seeing the relationships develop in the changing room, which is important.
"Having met the players I know their personalities, I know what they are going to bring to the squad, and it is then giving them the opportunity to express themselves within the changing room, and more importantly in training and in games.
"It has been good for myself and for the staff to watch the relationships build, and everybody is now geared up for the start of the season.
"You get the nervousness, and everybody wants to get out there and play, and the players we have brought in as well as the ones who were already here are all in contention.
"Everybody wants to be involved and that is pleasing because there is no pecking order, and no favourites - apart from Nicky Adams!"
Curle is obviously the manager of the team, and has the ultimate say on who is or isn't signed, but he paid tribute to the team around him for their efforts in unearthing the players to fit the bill.
"It hasn't been a one man job, I haven't been doing this on my own," said Curle, who has relied heavily on the input of head of recruitment Simon Tracey, as well as his assistant Colin West, goalkeeping coach Dan Watson, and others as well.
"The head of recruitment, the staff, the infrastructure at the football club, starting at the top from the chairman (Kelvin Thomas) and right the way through, we have all been involved in rebuilding and reshaping the squad.
"Those relationships are important, and I keep mentioning the word communication and it is key, because we have all been involved in the communication, even down to identifying the players who I am going to go and speak to, and when I am speaking to them.
"From the outset, everybody has known what the requirements are that I am looking for in players, and that has been important.
"Some of the staff have felt as if they know the players before they come in, because the communication goes both ways."
Curle has made it clear that his recruitment drive is not finished yet, and there are likely to be more arrivals as well as departures before the transfer window closes on Monday, September 2.
Three players remain on the transfer list in Junior Morias, Billy Waters and Joe Bunney, and this week he has confirmed he still wants to bring bodies in for certain positions.
But regardless of that and who goes and comes in, the Cobblers look pretty well set for the new campaign, and there is hope among the supporters that the team can at least challenge for the play-offs this season.
Curle says 'it is going to be a long season, there are going to be twists and turns, there is going to be highs and there is going to be lows', and of that there is little doubt.
So strap yourselves in and get ready for another nine months of league two battle.
Let battle commence!