Nine and a bit weeks is all it took for Michael Appleton to decide he would sooner take his chances at Blackburn Rovers than Bloomfield Road. This leaves Blackpool in a state of chaos for the second time this season. How did it all come to this?
History repeats itself
When Ian Holloway’s departure was announced I wrote a post explaining why a parting of the ways was inevitable. A key section of that post was thus:
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.
That is how it transpired as many rushed to label him ‘Hollowords’ and a variety of other ever so witty names. The key point they all missed was the concept of ’cause and effect’. Yes, the manner of his move to Palace was unbecoming but that was an effect – what was the cause? What led Holloway to go against some of his previous comments?
Over time, working with Karl Oyston had become a tiring and draining routine. The failure to land DJ Campbell appeared to be the tipping point and after that Holloway’s focus moved to planning an escape route. Not professional by any means, but forgivable based on the conditions he was working under and the unparalleled success he had overseen. It seems Appleton’s patience was exhausted much sooner.
Appleton’s two decisions
At the root of this, there are two key decisions made by Appleton. Firstly, why did he take the Blackpool job? In logical terms, the chance for a League One manager to join a Championship side should be a natural case of progression. Why wouldn’t you take an upward step? Add in the fact your current club have had a host of financial problems and a 10 point deduction for being in administration two seasons running and the case for taking that job becomes stronger. Then consider the Championship team have recently been in the Premier League and are reaping the associated financial rewards and the choice becomes a no-brainer, right?
Is that possibly how Appleton saw it? Did he do enough research? Anyone with a passing interest in Blackpool FC could have told him things weren’t quite so straightforward. Frugality reigns at Bloomfield Road and the influx of Premier League money has not changed that one iota. The playing budget is below that of the majority of divisional rivals and the transfer policy remains shopping in a market that nobody else is looking at. Pitch maintenance is still an afterthought with a chronic lack of investment.
All club stakeholders knew this was the modus operandi, but did Appleton go in with his eyes open? Or perhaps he was offered certain guarantees by Karl Oyston regarding the budget available which have since been reneged on? Ultimately, it’s unlikely we’ll ever quite find this out, with the move to Blackburn sure to be shrouded with the usual confidentiality agreements. The best we’ll get is the typical new manager platitudes upon his unveiling at Blackburn such as “It was a challenge too good to turn down” and “Blackburn’s a big big club” – the usual.
Appleton’s second key decision worth analysing is what has convinced him to take the Rovers job. To the wider footballing world, Blackburn are possibly seen as the biggest basket case of a club in the country. Many would question why anyone would take a job at a club that has largely been a circus ever since the Venkys took charge and dumped Sam Allardyce for Steve Kean.
One factor would appear to be a prior relationship between Appleton and Rovers’ managing director Derek Shaw. The internal boardroom battles continue at Ewood Park, but after Shebby Singh failed with the recruitment of Henning Berg, it looks like Shaw has had the decisive role this time around. Shaw will know Appleton well and that personal relationship cannot be underestimated.
Regardless, taking on the baggage at Ewood Park still looks risky. In comparison to Bloomfield Road where managers have total job security and asked only to ensure Championship survival, the hierarchy in East Lancashire (and India) is unstable at best. A pay rise may be on offer with the move to Blackburn, but it still indicates troubling signs on the Fylde coast that Appleton is willing to take that gamble after only two months in situ. What does it say about Blackpool that a manager who was able to stomach the turmoil at Portsmouth for nearly a year was eager to jump ship for another club experiencing instability like Blackburn?
The common denominator
As you have probably already guessed by now, the common denominator alluded to in the title of this post is none other than Karl Oyston. Neither Holloway nor Appleton will directly reference the chairman as a reason for their departure (as per the aforementioned confidentiality agreements always in place), but it does not require much reading between the lines. In between the praise for Karl, Holloway would often make the odd jab about lacking resources to sign the targets he wanted and make necessary improvements to the working conditions.
Despite only a brief spell in the hotseat, Appleton too was making these comments. “There’s no news about arrivals at the minute. It’s becoming very, very frustrating from my point of view,” he was quoted as saying in the Blackpool Gazette only this week. A dour 0-0 draw on New Year’s Day against Hull resulted in heavy criticism from Appleton regarding the pitch as well: “If there was one signing I could have in the transfer window, it would be a new pitch … but I’m not sure I’m going to get that. It’s out of my control.”
Appleton was clearly in no mood to beat around the bush and it would be incredibly naive to think that these frustrations so soon into a new job didn’t make Appleton wonder if he had made a mistake accepting the job in the first place. The lack of a playing budget and playing surface befitting of a club recently in the Premier League and enjoying its associated riches is down to the owners, and in his role as chairman, Karl Oyston. The bare bones approach to maintaining standards both on and off the pitch is rank amateurism and the lack of investment is beginning to tell.
Karl Oyston is simply unfit for purpose as chairman of a football club. His vision is to stay in the black for the benefit of his family rather than to win football matches. A line trotted out on the message boards that sums up the Oyston approach is that they get the club to work for them, rather than the family working for the club. It is take, take, take with little regard to providing a club of which its fans can be proud.
Sadly, change at the top remains a pipe dream and it is an indictment of modern football that owners of a community club are able to act in this manner without the footballing authorities taking any action. Crowds will inevitably drop next season, but rather than force a change of heart from the Oyston family, it will simply result in a cut to the playing budget to offset that loss while the parachute payments roll in for two more seasons. Helplessness does not even begin to cover it.
The Appleton reign
Returning to the football, it’s safe to say we never really got chance to see what Appleton was all about. 11 league matches consisted mainly of draws with seven stalemates, two wins and two defeats, but it’s too short a time period to make any firm conclusions about his ability. The number of draws would indicate that he certainly made us harder to beat, but that it was perhaps at the expense of the maverick attacking approach we had become accustomed to under Holloway.
Conservatism also looked to be apparent in his approach to substitutions. Gone were the triple substitutions of the Holloway era to be replaced by fewer changes, and later in games. One particularly disappointing aspect of Appleton’s short tenure was the treatment of Nouha Dicko, who had surely deserved a chance to play more regularly, but eventually had enough of the odd 10 minutes here and there. With so many draws, one suspects that a high energy forward like Dicko may have been able to convert some of those draws into wins with more game time.
One must remember however that this was never Appleton’s team. Wes Thomas aside, it was a group of inherited players and we do not know how Appleton might have opted to shape the side in his image. It was reported that we missed out on several loan players before that window closed in November, while we were latterly unable to agree terms with a much-castigated Barnsley right-back.
Long-term, we will never know what Appleton might have been able to achieve with the correct backing, and as such it makes it hard to predict how he will get on at Blackburn. His two managerial jobs to date have been anything but ordinary ones and he looks to be continuing that trend by entering the apparent chaos at Ewood Park.
His time at Bloomfield Road is likely to be quickly forgotten and in years to come his spell will be a mere footnote in the larger history of Blackpool FC. There were no truly memorable games during his tenure and it’s possible that the nature of his departure will cause more stories around the club and unrest among the supporters rather than any abiding memories of the man himself. Michael, we hardly knew ye…
Once more, the club appears to be at a crossroads and all eyes will be on the club’s leadership for a change in policy. At the time of writing, no new manager is lined up and Steve Thompson will assume caretaker control once more. A quick-win for Karl would be to appoint the affable Thompson who currently looks to be the only man who can unite both the players and the fans. Some will argue he should have been given a chance in the wake of Holloway’s move to Crystal Palace and even if he isn’t the right choice, he would mainly be the popular choice.
A host of other names have been linked, including the usual list of available out-of-work managers who always crop up in the bookmakers’ odds. The question for those usual suspects is whether they would be prepared to work for the current chairman. Clearly there will always be people willing to take that risk to boost a flagging reputation, but anyone doing so should ensure they are in possession of the full facts about day-to-day life at Bloomfield Road so that we avoid a repeat of the last few days.
With that in mind, a Thompson appointment makes the most sense, even if only until the end of the season initially. He has stated an appetite for the job in the past and is clearly passionate about the club. He would command the respect of the players and the backing of the supporters. However, even Thompson is unlikely to be able to prevent a mass exodus of season ticket holders next season. The damage is done based on the owners’ actions of the last 12 months, and it will take a big u-turn based on visible action, not just empty promises, in the decision-making of the owners to change anything.