Joe Jacobson interview: Wycombe's League One surge

Watch Wycombe vs Ipswich live on Sky Sports Football from 2.45pm on New Year's Day; kick-off is at 3pm

When Joe Jacobson arrived for Wycombe pre-season training this summer, he did not expect to see the Chairboys sitting at the top of Sky Bet League One by the start of 2020.

The 33-year-old left-back has spent over five years at Adams Park and last term his team finished 17th, but in October 2019 there was a seismic change. Wycombe were bought by American millionaire Rob Couhig. It was a monumental moment in the club's history and has inspired the players.

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Mixed with the ability, and stability, of manager Gareth Ainsworth, Wycombe have mounted an unlikely Championship promotion push, a league they have not reached in their entire 132-year existence.

Even after losing three games in a row over the festive season so far they still have a four-point lead at the top of League One heading into their clash with Ipswich on New Year's Day - which is live on Sky Sports Football.

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Highlights of the Sky Bet League One match between Wycombe and Burton

But there is far more to the story than that.

"It's not just about football here," Jacobson told Sky Sports. "It's not just about Saturday's results. There's loads more that goes into it.

Sky Bet League One Player of the Month Joe Jacobson of Wycombe Wanderers with his award. - Ryan Hiscott/JMP - 10/12/2019 - SPORT - Wycombe Wanderers Training Ground - Wycombe, England - Sky Bet League One Manager and Player of the Month Awards
Image: Jacobson was named Sky Bet League One Player of the Month for November

"We've literally just left a team-building exercise with a guy talking about his experiences of climbing Mount Everest. We do a lot of these things throughout the season - not just talks - but we go to different places. We do things just to work on how it is to be a good human being.

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"For a lot of clubs it is just focused on being in the best physical shape for Saturday to play 90 minutes. That's it. There's no character building or trying to build people. They are very conscious of that here. The gaffer and his assistant, they want to create a culture. A culture where people want to come into work everyday.

"There's no egos, no one who thinks they are big time or any different. It's a nice place to come into work everyday. The gaffer is never too up or too down and he is honest with you. We are a family.

"If people have things going on at home, there is no problem getting time off. They want to make sure your home life is good as well. They just care about you here and it's not just about football. A lot of boys who come here on loan want to come back because of that."

Wycombe owner Rob Couhig completed his takeover in October
Image: Wycombe owner Rob Couhig completed his takeover in October

It would be foolish to suggest that Couhig's takeover has not played a part in Wycombe's success this season. His company invested £2.2m to settle Wanderers' existing debts, made an additional £1m available and funded a new 15-year lease on the stadium at £150,000 a year.

What does that mean for Wycombe's long-term future? Perhaps they will follow in Bournemouth's footsteps and climb all the way to the Premier League. Russian businessman Maxim Demin has shown smaller clubs that anything is possible after becoming Cherries co-owner in 2011, taking full ownership in 2013 and then seeing the team reach the top-flight in 2015.

Of course, the Championship is a difficult league to navigate, and that's if the Chairboys can even get there, but there is a lot of the old Bournemouth in the current Wycombe. Two clubs previously plagued by financial uncertainty, who have spent their history in the lower echelons of English football, taken over by rich foreign investors with faith and trust in a young English manager who commands a glowing, and growing, reputation.

Image: Bournemouth have shown clubs like Wycombe that anything is possible

"The start of pre-season when I came in, we only had nine or 10 players that were ours that were training," Jacobson added. "There was a bit of uncertainty around the club with the financial situation. We didn't know if we could sign anyone and it was really tough coming in, thinking it was going to be another tough season.

"But we started signing players, and with the quality that we signed, we started believing. We didn't have a big budget last season and we beat some really good teams. We just thought with that extra bit of quality, and a bigger squad, we had the belief. Obviously with the new owners coming in that has helped mentally too.

"As a player, when you're signing good players, good names, you're excited to play with them and then playing with better players makes you a better player yourself. You've got to be on it every day as there's more competition for places. It definitely gives you confidence.

"The new owners, they're really ambitious and really infectious. They want success and they want to achieve something special here. You can tell that with the way they are, they are businessmen and they have been successful. They know what it takes and it excites you, you want to be a part of it, taking the club to the next level.

The new owners, they're really ambitious and really infectious. They want success and they want to achieve something special here
Joe Jacobson

"As players you want to be a part of it. You know it's special. I want to play as high as I can. Who knows what can happen. They want to bring a bigger fanbase to the club. These guys want to improve the matchday experience and bring more fans in. That creates a bigger atmosphere and brings in more money too."

Despite the takeover, much of Wycombe's success this season is down to Ainsworth - the EFL's longest-serving boss, recently targeted by Sunderland and Millwall - and his assistant Richard Dobson. As Jacobson reveals, the pair have taken inspiration from Ainsworth's military background to build a dressing room that thrives on army values such as integrity and loyalty.

Players are encouraged to be as open and honest as possible, and have several dedicated team-mates they can talk to if they have any problems or are feeling low, for footballing reasons or otherwise.

Ainsworth led Wycombe to promotion from League Two in the 2017-18 season
Image: Ainsworth led Wycombe to promotion from League Two in the 2017-18 season

"The gaffer has a little team - 'generals' he calls them," Jacobson explains. "There is a couple of us, me, Matt Bloomfield, Adebayo Akinfenwa, Darius Charles and Dominic Gape. The gaffer wants us to run the changing room.

"It creates a bigger link than just one captain to the manager to the players, because there can be pressure with that. Rather than one person looking after 25 players you've got five looking after a couple each. We make sure everyone is okay, we discuss our personal lives and that breeds the culture.

"We are experienced boys who have been around, seen good times and bad times in football, you get to know what works. The way they do it here with the 'generals' - that is something I have never seen before and it really works here. You have four or five guys who are totally different characters. We can give advice in lots of different ways."

It is a testament to the culture that Ainsworth has created at Wycombe that when asked to pick his favourite moment at the club to date, Jacobson opted for something outside of football altogether.

Not even his hat-trick of set-pieces against Lincoln in September, which put him among the national headlines, although Jacobson admits he was "pretty shocked" about that as he "had never even scored a brace before".

Image: Jacobson made headlines with a hat-trick of set-pieces in September

"We had a trip to the Sommes in France," he explained. "For a long time it wasn't released to anyone, to the fans or the press or anything. It wasn't about that. The gaffer is big on the military and people serving for their country.

"We had a two-day tour of the battlefields and went to different places where there were a huge number of burial sites. It was powerful to see what people had given for other people. That was in my first few months at Wycombe and I just thought 'wow, this place is so different'.

"You go into work everyday, yes you are looking to get three points on a Saturday, but there's a lot of different ways of preparing yourself mentally. They really think about these trips that we do; there is always a meaning behind it. The Sommes for me was an incredible experience."

Will Wycombe be playing Championship football for the first time ever next season? Only time will tell, but either way, Jacobson is not thinking about leaving Buckinghamshire anytime soon.

"I'm really happy here," he admits. "I love the environment, that's the biggest thing for me. I come into work everyday and enjoy it.

"For me personally, I'm happy to stay here as long as possible. If an opportunity presents itself where I am able to stay longer I definitely would be happy to do that."

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