So, it’s finally happened. Ian Holloway has left Bloomfield Road after three and a bit seasons in charge to take up the managerial position at Crystal Palace. The rumour mill had been in overdrive for a couple of weeks and it comes as no surprise that Holloway has eventually decided it’s time to move on. When linked to the Burnley job, prior to Sean Dyche’s appointment at Turf Moor, I wrote a piece for No Nay Never about what might be motivating Holloway to seek a potential exit – I’d like to expand on some of the points raised there to establish some background as to why today’s events have come to pass.
As is always the case with football fans of any club, not just Blackpool, fickleness is often the order of the day. In the wake of Holloway’s departure just wait for the tide of opinion to turn against our best manager in a generation from a certain cross-section of the Blackpool support. “He’s a greedy bastard, he just wants more money for himself,” they’ll say. “He was losing the plot anyway – it’s time to move on,” they’ll opine. So rather than beat around the bush, why don’t we address those points individually?
Is Holloway motivated by money? Does he think he can go and earn more elsewhere? I have no doubt this is the case, but those on their moral high horses to suggest it makes him greedy are forgetting that is what football is all about today. Nobody does anything in football without money being a key factor. It’s the nature of the beast and to kick up a fuss about this is a nonsense argument. Other non-financial factors combined can create a situation where discrepancies in money can be overcome, but Holloway must feel these other factors are not in place.
Was Holloway losing the plot? Had his magic started to diminish? Again, quite possibly, yes. An article I wrote for The Two Unfortunates pointed to lessons of past mistakes being revisited – whereas last season Holloway was able to halt the slide that appeared inevitable at Turf Moor, it may not have worked out as well this time around. The policy of a large pool of development players looks completely illogical from the outside looking in, and results since the start of September have been very disappointing. If Holloway has indeed ‘lost the plot’, then what was the cause? As stated in my contribution to No Nay Never, the integral factor is Holloway’s relationship with Karl Oyston.
The Holloway-Oyston relationship is a highly unusual one, littered with contradictions. Holloway would profess to buy into Oyston’s frugal ways in one press conference, before having a pop at his chairman’s methods in the next. It may be erratic, but it showed that tension has always existed between the pair, regardless of how many times both would try to claim they had a healthy working relationship. Under many constraints, Holloway has arguably over-delivered in each and every season with the club. In terms of the budget provided to him, Holloway had no right to get us promoted in his first season, no right to get us anywhere near safety in his second season and no right to get us anywhere near Wembley last term.
However, there comes a point when one wonders if Holloway feels he can continue to exceed expectations and considers the damage his reputation may suffer should he be unable to do so. Shamelessly quoting my own No Nay Never contribution, “Blackpool’s modus operandi of doing things on the cheap requires the full buy-in of the manager. If Holloway has lost belief or grown tired of the chairman’s methods, then a parting of ways would be a logical outcome.” Holloway has made no secret of his frustration at missing out on key targets in recent weeks with several comments highlighting DJ Campbell, Stephen Dobbie and Charlie Austin as players who Blackpool could have signed but refused to sanction the funds.
The issue of funds available must be the biggest bugbear for Holloway, given it was his leadership which took Blackpool to the Premier League and its associated millions. While the owners clawed back their loans and took at least an extra £17.5m on top out of the top flight rewards, Holloway was still asked to largely resort to raiding the bargain bins. The targets he had in mind to keep the Seasiders in the top flight were not delivered by the chairman, nor were the men Holloway wanted to secure an immediate return following relegation.
It’s clear Karl Oyston feels players are over-valued, both in terms of fees and wages, and he has spoken out about not wanting money to flow straight out of the club into players’ pockets. Yet it is rank hypocrisy when the Oyston family have extracted millions themselves. With this in mind, Holloway clearly has grounds for complaint at the lack of financial backing. Given the club could afford an £11m salary for Owen Oyston and an inflated £6.5m price for some land that the club sold to the Oystons a few years prior for just £650,000 – it is plain wrong to suggest the club could not afford the players who were Holloway’s first choices.
Additionally, Holloway must be disappointed with the lack of progress with regards to a new training ground. It was one of his first demands after being appointed, yet despite public assurances from Oyston that a new facility would be provided, there is still nothing in sight. If there was ever a way in which to spend the Premier League windfall to secure a legacy for the club, then a top-rate training facility should have been it. As it is, Holloway has had to make do with a dilapidated and wind-swept Squires Gate – hardly ideal when the squad is as big as it’s ever been.
And of course, there’s the contract issue – the reason some will be quick to suggest Holloway is making this move out of greed. Holloway has said in recent interviews that he feels his contract is unfair and is too much in Oyston’s favour. Given Holloway was happy to sign the contract originally, there should be little room to complain. However, when it seems as if every day is a battle for Holloway, be it trying to keep current players happy, attempt to sign his targets or worry about how training will be conducted in adverse conditions, it may be that it’s simply reached the point where Holloway wonders if all this fighting is worth it.
If Holloway feels he’s undervalued, and that the chairman is unwilling to budge on any of the issues affecting him, then who can really blame him for wanting to move on? It must be a draining experience and one he felt was no longer worth it. Holloway is not perfect – no manager ever is – and some of his behaviour in the final stages of his tenure hasn’t been particularly becoming, but what he has achieved at this club should and will not be forgotten. Whoever follows him has big shoes to fill.
Over the coming week I’ll be posting a few articles reflecting on the Holloway years, comprising a look at his seasons in charge, how he did as a manager, the character of the man and the legacy he leaves behind. For now, I would simply like to thank Holloway for the service he has given the club. It hasn’t always been a smooth ride, but his best moments by far eclipse any of the rare negative stuff. Ultimately, he simply deserved more from a club he almost single-handedly transformed – a club which now faces uncertain times.