After a managerial search enduring close to six weeks, Karl Oyston finally acted today to appoint Michael Appleton’s successor. The new man in the Bloomfield Road hotseat is a matchday regular, with Paul Ince often in attendance to watch over his son Tom. What took so long for Ince Snr. to be installed, and what sort of challenge does the incoming manager face?
There all along
The farce of the last month or so is exaggerated further when one considers that ‘Pool have turned to a manager who was just as available when Appleton departed for Blackburn Rovers in early January. If Paul Ince has the attributes Oyston was looking for, then why the delay? Ince Snr could have been appointed when Appleton left, could have been appointed when Sean O’Driscoll opted instead for Bristol City, or could have been appointed when Billy Davies decided to pursue the opportunity granted to him back at Nottingham Forest.
All of this makes clear that Paul Ince was far from the club’s first choice. Having spent around two years out of club management, on his own merits and previous jobs there is little to suggest that he is deserving of an opportunity at a Championship club. However, so numerous had been the knockbacks from seemingly more suitable candidates, Blackpool obviously felt they had got so far down the list that they had virtually nowhere else to turn.
The Thompson factor
If Paul Ince feels in any way aggrieved at being very much a contingency option, then spare a thought for the man who was eager to get the job all along, Steve Thompson. The phrase “I’m ready to be a number one” has come to be heard so often that one can’t help but feel a little bit sorry for a loyal club servant who has been in caretaker charge in trying times. Results have been hard to come by for Thompson but with a lack of leadership from above, and little support in the transfer market, it’s been a case of getting by with what’s available.
Thompson will form part of Ince’s backroom staff – a condition imposed upon the former England captain by Oyston – but with others arriving, including Alex Rae, Thompson could find himself marginalised. Many saw Thompson being edged out when Appleton brought Ashley Westwood in alongside him in November, and a repeat could be on the cards. After the weekend’s defeat at Portman Road, Thompson virtually confirmed the arrangement:
“I think Paul wants me to work with his team. I’ll keep my head down and work as hard as I can for him”.
However, he made clear this is not his ideal scenario when he proceeded to add:
“Further down the line I want to be a no.1.”
If Oyston would not appoint Thompson as manager – even if only until the end of the season – during the inactivity of the last five and a half weeks, then unfortunately for Thompson it’s unlikely he will ever fulfill his ambition at Bloomfield Road. Whether he is suitable is open to debate – in fact many would argue his record in caretaker charge proves he is not – but it would not be a surprise to see Thompson depart for pastures new if an opportunity comes his way given the way he has been treated in recent months.
The Tom factor
Another interesting angle to the appointment is the presence of Paul Ince’s son in the team he is taking over. Paul appears to be a strong influence in Tom Ince’s career, and it looked to be partly down to Tom’s father that no move took place in the January transfer window with Paul happy to see his son getting regular first team football at Blackpool. Now the appointment has been confirmed, the way this relationship develops will be something to watch.
Although Paul Ince has watched the majority of ‘Pool matches this season, Tom will be able to provide insight to the dressing room to ensure he is immediately up to speed with the current situation. One would also imagine that the new manager will pick his son in whatever happens to be his favoured position, so we may see Ince Jnr. shift from his regular position as an inverted winger on the right to either switch to the left or take up residence in the Number 10 role behind a central striker.
One thing that is unlikely to change with Paul Ince’s arrival is the fate of Tom in the summer. Regardless of whether his father is manager or not, a move to the Premier League is surely inevitable, and perhaps if anything more likely with Ince Snr. wanting the progress his son’s career in the most appropriate way. Without any bias, it’s clear Tom Ince would be best able to develop away from Bloomfield Road after this season.
It’s also abundantly clear that without Tom Ince being a Blackpool player, there would have been no reason for Paul to be even linked to the job, let alone get it. Yet despite his managerial stock being so low he has been out of a job since April 2011, chance, through his son, has dealt him a hand back in. His last three jobs – Blackburn, MK Dons and Notts County – have all been unsuccessful, and one suspects this could almost be his last chance saloon.
The key task for Paul Ince in his in-tray will be to try and reverse the slide in which Blackpool currently find themselves. Arguably the biggest factor in this downward momentum is the attitude of short-termism which pervades everything the club does. This is of course the approach that was all set to change with the windfall that accompanied our quickly-fading promotion to the Premier League. Karl Oyston is quoted on the record as saying:
“The Premier League has given us that opportunity financially to plan for the future over the next four years with absolute certainty.”
“It’s removed a lot of the day-to-day burden that’s been present for the past 10 years.”
However, it’s not an approach that has been seen in the club’s actions, with no plan or strategy being communicated, if such a method even exists. If former manager Appleton is to be believed, the club continues to take each day as it comes, as reported in his interview with The Guardian this weekend:
“Karl openly admits the club is run in a certain way and that has got them success in recent times,” Appleton says. “Whether it continues to do so, only time will tell. It felt like a slightly more attractive opportunity than the one I was in at Pompey but I wouldn’t have left Blackpool to come to Blackburn if I was completely happy, or felt I could take the club to the next level and keep it there. The club is certainly day-to-day.
Appleton went on to confirm that despite the windfall awarded to the club, of which a significant portion has lined the pockets of its owners, club facilities continue to lag behind:
“You need the right infrastructure, training ground and facilities, and for things to be done in the right way so the players feel loved.”
Will Paul Ince have demanded any red lines for improvements in these areas upon signing on the dotted line, or will the malaise around the club continue? Regardless, in the immediate future it may well be a case of a short-term approach to at least get through to the summer with Championship status retained. From there, a revamp of policy is an absolute must.
Next season into the unknown
As things stand, Blackpool’s season is in limbo. While only six points off 7th place, the same gap to the bottom three will be of more concern, and getting to 50-52 points as soon as possible needs to be the immediate aim. It’s a target that should be achieveable, particularly with so many other sides also struggling at the wrong end of the Championship. However, it’s what happens to the club in the summer and beyond that is of the biggest concern.As covered in the previous post, the end of season contract situation is wide open, with only two players (to have actually played some part of the 12/13 season) definitely contracted next season. Options are likely to be taken up on some of the 12 players in this situation, but depending on their current deals, could be limited to a handful. Elsewhere the club may attempt to negotiate reduced terms with some players as the parachute payments half, and season ticket renewals sure to take a substantial hit.
There will be a large turnover of playing staff, and while this can be viewed negatively if formerly-integral players do leave, it also provides Ince with an opportunity to mould the side to his own ideas. Virtually every player can be dispensed of if Ince opts to do so, and this provides him with a blank canvas. Crucial to any success on the back of this though, is the budget provided to him to replace the squad en masse. Past form would indicate a budget reduction and a budget towards the bottom end of the Championship pay structure.
All of this points to a 13/14 campaign embroiled in a season long relegation battle. Ince could well follow the footsteps of Ian Holloway and get an underpaid side to overachieve, but the odds are massively stacked against him. The sum ambition of the chairman will be merely to keep Blackpool in the second tier. Is that target ambitious enough for Blackpool fans who have every right to expect the club to maximise its potential? Many will decide not, and accordingly vote with their feet. Others will stick around, but can they really honestly tell themselves that this scenario is what they dreamt of when Blackpool won at Wembley in May 2010?