Published: 06:00, 03 February 2021
Jordan Graham and John Akinde weren’t the only Gillingham players attracting interest as the transfer window closed on Monday.
The club also had an offer tabled for captain Kyle Dempsey that they rejected but manager Steve Evans said the player who was creating the most interest was fit-again midfielder Stuart O’Keefe.
Midfielder Jacob Mellis was the only player to leave the club as the window for contracted players closed. He joined League 2 Southend United. The Gills could have let several others go but opted against cashing in.
Evans commented: “The chairman said to me he had never had so many calls in a week about players he has had at Gillingham.
“We had five or six players subject to offers of some description and it was very good to keep what we have.
“These are difficult times, we have to make sure there is a football club for next season when supporters come back and it took strength from the chairman to turn those offers down. If we had of sold one or two it would have left us in a real difficult position (on the playing front).”
The Gills are down to 20 fit players.
Midfielder O’Keefe is back from a leg-break and has been coming off the bench in recent weeks. He replaced Dempsey early in the second half on Saturday at Sunderland after the captain limped off injured.
“Probably one of the hottest lines on Monday was on Stuart O’Keefe,” said Evans.
“They see he is back fit, playing 40 minutes at Sunderland and what a good player he is and they all think they can come in and take him. Of course you would want a player of that ability and again, all through January there were the normal phone calls about a number of them.
“We had a real good offer made for Kyle Dempsey but the chairman turned it down after we both spoke to the player. We said he is still working and developing his game and being educated here.
“The kid feels he has improved no end since he has joined us.”
Akinde was subject to an enquiry from Southend United but the Gills missed out on a couple of strikers themselves, holding talks with two players but unwilling to break the budget for a fresh face.
Evans said: “If I had £50 for every time the phone rang about John Akinde in the January window I would be rich!”
Fellow striker Vadaine Oliver has caught the eye this season while winger Graham was reportedly a target of Charlton Athletic.
The Gills boss said: “Jordan was a player that lost his way a bit, we spent a lot of time with him in the summer, convincing him and reminding him what it takes to be a player capable of coming into League 1 and being on top of your game, earning the right to go back to where he has played a lot of football, in the Championship.
“Every player in League 1 wants to play in the Championship and if they don’t then they shouldn’t be playing football. Every manager in League 1 should aspire to be coaching in the Championship, it is just the way it is. If you are in the Championship you should aspire to be in the Premier League.
“Jordan is a good player but we have some other good players. You look all around our squad. We have Bonham, Robbie Cundy who has joined us and was outstanding at the Stadium of Light managing the boy Wyke, he got taken off. He got no joy."
Defender Connor Ogilvie also remains a popular player with Evans adding: “There has been huge interest in Connor but I don’t think there was any danger of him leaving unless something got absolutely ridiculous.
“We have lots of quality around us. Dempsey has been sensational with Slattery and that is why we have dominated games when they have been paired together. We have identified the players and we give them a wonderful platform to play.”
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