Why Karl Oyston still doesn’t get it

Back in April, I wrote a post outlining a number of ways in which the club could begin repairing the damage done over the past few years of rudderless mismanagement. Step two was a call for chairman Karl Oyston to step out of the limelight:

“Communication is needed, but not from the chairman. He is now tainted beyond repair and many will no longer believe a word he says, regardless of how earnest he may be this time. Karl needs to extricate himself from the limelight as he has shown a recurring knack for putting his foot in his mouth. Whatever message the club want to deliver to the supporters, if Karl is the messenger, they may as well not bother.” Measured Progress, April 2014

As it happens, Oyston has opted to do the exact opposite and is now the author of a weekly column in the Blackpool Gazette with a platform to say whatever is on his mind. The chairman takes over from Matt Williams, the former club secretary who left the club in May to take the Chief Executive role at Shrewsbury Town. Williams’ column cast an eye over the inner-workings of the football club injected with a reasonable amount of humour and self-deprecation. It’s safe to say what was written wasn’t always something critics of the club would agree with, but there was enough of a human touch to at least see where Williams was coming from.

Oyston’s columns so far are rather less endearing. The three pieces penned to date are simply a re-stating of the stubborn approach to which we’ve become accustomed from Oyston. No humility, little acknowledgement of his shortcomings and most infuriating of all, rife with contradictions. The first two were disappointing enough, but in taking a shot across the manager’s bow, his third weekly column is deserving of further examination and dissection. With that in mind, let’s go through it bit by bit.

“There’s a lot of negativity around the club at the moment, some I understand and some I simply won’t accept. I’m fully aware of the situation we are in and of course us making the worst start for more than 100 years alarms us. But the statistics are largely irrelevant, what’s more important is our current position which I would have expected to have picked up by now. We can no longer use the excuse of not having a pre-season as we’ve played the games now, the players should be up to scratch now. We have a full coaching staff in who are doing the fitness work and the squad should now start to play more cohesively than they are.”

Expected us to have picked up by now? No longer use the excuse of not having a pre-season? The players should be up to scratch now? The squad should be playing more cohesively? Is he serious?! These expectations go against everything that has been developing in professional sport in the last decade or two. Preparation is everything and it’s something José Riga’s squad have had precious little of.

The majority of the squad arrived in the final week or two before the season began (some are still arriving in dribs and drabs), and in the two and a half weeks since the opening game at Nottingham Forest, Blackpool have had to cram in five competitive games. At what point does Karl Oyston suppose the squad have had time to gel in training and establish any sort of shape? The first real opportunity the manager will have is during the approaching international break, but for now it’s been a case of mend and make do.

What’s more, Karl Oyston said only last week that it was too early to judge. His previous article written only seven days previously contained the following line:

“We’ve had a summer which hasn’t been ideal but I’m drawing no conclusions based on where we are now.” Karl Oyston, 19th August 2014

So, let’s get this right. One week ago the chairman was saying that because of the chaotic summer, it was too early to judge. Then, seven days later the manager has had plenty of time to get the team fit and playing cohesively, and he expects that results right now should be better. Which one is it, Karl? Are you making this up as you go along?

Returning to this week’s column, Oyston then wrote about how negativity might be dragging the club down:

“And I don’t think the air of negativity around is helping. By that I don’t mean the fans as I understand their frustration, that’s only natural, I mean around the management and the manager. The manager is the one person who needs to be positive and I don’t understand the leader of any group or organisation being so negative. After the start we’ve had it’s not the time for finger pointing or blame, it’s time for action and we know exactly what’s needed.”

OK, let’s just digest this. He is not pointing the finger at anyone. Yet at the same time the manager and management team are being blamed for being negative. No contradiction there at all, is there? He then goes on to state that he cannot understand the leader of any group or organisation being negative. Given that it’s fair to say that the chairman of a football club can be perceived as a leader of that organisation, how does he square his statement with previous comments of his own, including the infamous “painting a bleaker picture than the reality” when interviewing managers. Does this give the impression of Oyston being an undying optimist? Hardly.

Then we come to the statement that it’s time for action and that the club knows exactly what’s needed. Well, do you Karl? Do you really? For the last three years the club has lumbered from one disaster to another, yet the approach has been unwavering in its lack of clarity. And why is it time for action now when your own manager was saying that he was telling you months ago that urgent action was required, as per his interview before the Wigan match, Karl? It is the chairman’s ongoing mismanagement that continues to be the biggest downer on the club – any negativity from the management, players or fans is simply a by-product of catastrophic club stewardship.

In the next paragraph of his column, Karl Oyston turned to the issue of player recruitment:

We now need to source players who are proven and capable of playing in the Championship, and quickly. I find it alarming that some of the targets we are chasing have never played in this country or a particularly high level abroad. We need tried and tested players who are UK based. We can only field and sign so many foreign players and I would much prefer experienced UK based players now – of which we have been offered many and are in a position to bring a sufficient number in. Overseas players will take time to settle into the country, culture and area and it’s not what we need at this point. We need players who can help us straight away.

There’s little argument that we need players capable of playing in the Championship, so his first sentence in the above paragraph cannot be questioned. From there though, the Oyston logic takes a strange turn. The chairman often talks about being hands-off and instead empowering his manager. So with that in mind, why is he even commenting on Riga’s choice of targets?

And yes, the drawbacks of signing foreign players Oyston mentions are perfectly valid, but on what basis was Riga appointed? As someone with only a few months’ experience of managing in England and more time spent working around the globe, the Belgian was never going to be familiar with the released lists of Barnsley and Huddersfield. Wasn’t the transfer strategy discussed as part of the managerial hiring process? One would imagine that the topic of foreign players should have cropped up, and if it was not a route Oyston wanted to go down, why was Riga given the job?

The recruitment policy discussion continues in his following paragraph:

Despite the accusations we are absolutely doing our job at the club but we need to be put in a position to sign players. We are endlessly passing on details of players who are being offered to us. My opinion on a player counts for nothing, and quite rightly. But many of the players we are being offered are proven at least at this level of football, at the moment they are all being dismissed out of hand. I just can’t understand that in our current plight.

At least Oyston has the self-awareness in this paragraph to admit that his opinion on a player is worthless, yet he then does a complete 180 degree turn in the following sentence by commenting on the fact the manager is choosing not to sign certain players that we are being offered. Yes, “being offered”! What other Championship club has their transfer strategy defined by a reactive approach of seeing who gets offered to them?

Surely it should be the other way around and the club should be proactive in going after players that fit its overall ethos and framework, rather than random players and agents phoning up asking for a job? Doesn’t this seem completely backward in 2014 for a supposedly professional outfit? Our competitors have full-blown recruitment strategies and scout players for years in some cases in an effort to mould their team in the pursuit of success. By operating in such a haphazard way, Blackpool are putting themselves at a massive disadvantage.

The chairman concludes his latest missive with a call to arms, of sorts:

Either way, we all need to work as hard as we possibly can to get out of the situation we are in. It’s not the first time Blackpool FC have had poor starts to the season and I’m sure it won’t be the last. What is important is we remain positive and get the very best out of each of the players we have at the club at the moment, and work together with the manager to add a couple more before the deadline. Then we’ll hopefully begin to see us move up the table and show real signs of progress.

Quite how a man who has a tendency to make excuses and sling mud around has the gall to demand positivity is mind-boggling. Going back to an interview in April 2014, Oyston admitted that our current plight was of his own making:

“I’m the head of the company and I’m the one to blame” Karl Oyston, April 2014

The strategies (or lack thereof) employed by the club since relegation from the Premier League fall squarely at the chairman’s door. He spoke before the summer of following a new continental approach, but it is yet to materialise and the snippets coming out now are that signing foreign players is too much hassle.

Michael Appleton perhaps summed it up best when referring to Blackpool as a club being run “on a day to day basis” and despite lurching from one crisis to another, little has changed. Recruitment is still unfocused, player preparation is grossly undervalued with an archaic training ground and now the chairman is turning on a manager he appointed mere months ago for having the temerity to point out the bleakness of the situation. A situation Oyston himself informs potential managers as being bleak.

Perhaps when it comes to future columns, Oyston can do away with the propaganda and contradictions and instead face up to the very real issues facing the club, including some of those frustrations outlined by his manager. Why exactly has Riga only been able to sign one of his chosen targets? Why is the relationship between the pair not like a ‘normal’ one between chairman and manager? Why has it taken so long to acknowledge action is required? If Karl Oyston can answer these questions, and make steps to remedy them, now that would be progress.

Right now, it’s very difficult to see where the points are going to come from. Riga has to try and mould a squad only partially of his own choosing, while being undermined by his chairman in public. At this point a parting of the ways would not be surprising. Quite where that would leave any incoming manager, if one could be found to even consider taking on the challenge, is a frightening thought. The rot may have already set in and with August not even over, the season ahead is verging on terrifying.

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