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Friday, December 17, 2010

A Silly Season in the Barclays Premiership by Adam Howard

by Adam Howard for World Football Commentaries

Chris Hughton dismissed mysteriously by the Newcastle board despite a pretty fair start to his tenure as a Premier League manager and Sam Allardyce shown the door by Blackburn’s new(ish) owners despite being just five points behind his old club Bolton, you know, that club that is having a great season, and who everyone is currently raving about – what’s going on?

Indeed, with Newcastle in 8th and Blackburn in 13th in a Premier League table where 5th and 16th are separated by just nine points and less than midway through a season which promises to be as open as any in memory, the decisions to sack Hughton and Allardyce look pretty unreasonable. What more did these boards want? Did they expect to be challenging the top four come Christmas?

Christmas-time Football

No, what we see here is simply the beginning of the silly season. There’s something special about Christmas time in football, the fixtures come thick and fast, there’s a huge scramble not to be the victim of the ‘bottom at Christmas’ curse, the League table finally starts to have some real relevance, and soccer jersey clad chairmen, drunk on sherry and wild with power, liberally wield the metaphorical axe.

The truth is, we’re currently in what is actually a reasonably slim window of opportunity. Few chairmen are bold enough to send their manager packing prior to December. Though the season starts in mid-August, many squads are only finalised on September 1st when the transfer window closes, and three months is really an initial, settling in period for a manager working with new players and rebuilding a team.

There are all of the old clichés; he’s trying to get them to play his way, he hasn’t had chance to coach them yet, he doesn’t yet know his best side, the players are still adjusting to the new system or tactics. And these are clichés for a reason: they hold water. With the beginning of a new season it is inevitable that a manager will have new players and ideas and methods, and these things won’t kick in overnight.

By force of necessity though, the beginning of advent also sparks the end of that period of immunity afforded to managers by all but the most fidgety chairmen. Because of course, if a manager is to be changed midway through the season, it makes sense to do so prior to January 1st. If you’re going to have a new man come in to shake things up a bit, you’re going to want to give him a chance, and that means letting him change things a bit.

New managers need to be able to come in, assess what they’ve got and identify some areas of weakness that need improving, see where the club is going wrong, what’s causing them to struggle, and then have an opportunity to rectify that. Sometimes, that can be done tactically or strategically or even by careful man-management, but usually it will also require at least a little shuffle in personnel. And with only the one small window of opportunity in January, that means December is head-rolling time.

Were Changes Necessary?

But, even with all that in mind, did Newcastle and Blackburn really have to change things up? What did their owners see that suggested that a new man could come in and make use of the transfer window to really kick start their seasons? While both sides had had their ups and downs under Hughton and Allardyce, they both held respectable positions in the League, positions that I think Pardew and whoever Allardyce is replaced with will do well to match come the end of the season.

Hughton’s plight is particularly confusing. While the men in Newcastle jerseys represent what everyone likes to refer to as a ‘big club’, we can’t forget that it’s their first season back in the top flight. And though his exit may have come after a run of five games without a win, that run was preceded by a sequence of four matches unbeaten which included an impressive win away against Arsenal as well as a mauling of north east rivals Sunderland at home.

Then there’s the fact that Hughton had seemingly brought some much needed stability to a club that had been shrouded with chaos for some time. He had even seemingly tamed the wild natures of players like Kevin Nolan, Joey Barton and Andy Carroll, and – most importantly – had them playing well together. There were questions defensively, but Newcastle under Hughton were always a threat going forwards.

All in all, I simply can’t fathom what prompted Mike Ashley to hand him his P45. Hughton showed himself to be a genuinely down-to-earth manager, not getting carried away with the good results nor panicking with the bad and he had the players playing well, and playing for him. Pardew may well do well there, but I can’t help but class this sacking as a prime case of Christmas silliness.

Big Sam: An Unsympathetic Figure

It’s hard to feel quite so sympathetic towards Sam Allardyce. Anyone who reads my blog will have garnered over the years that I am not Big Sam’s biggest fan, but even attempting to put personal feelings aside, Allardyce is a divisive figure. He plays - and this is beyond argument or question - a brand of football that while effective, is extremely unsightly. He packs his teams with big, strong players, and plays to very literal strengths – not most fan’s cup o’ tea.

Then there’s the fact that just back in September Sam himself actually claimed that he was “not suited to Bolton or Blackburn” and that he “would be more suited to Inter or Real Madrid”. Placing the extremely contestable truth value of this statement to one side, it does not exactly suggest a great deal of respect for Blackburn. It seems like Allardyce considered himself too good for the likes of Blackburn, waiting for bigger and better things to come knocking.

Of course, that is almost entirely a delusion, but hey, maybe Jose Mourinho should be quaking in his soccer cleats. What I’m sure of though, is that Blackburn’s new Indian owners probably wouldn’t have enjoyed discovering that their inherited manager had made such a disrespectful remark about the club they’d just shelled out for, and I think it’s well and truly probably that Sam’s enormous ego may not have endeared him to them.

New Indian Owners

Then there’s the fact that new owners will often invoke change in a club. And doubtless these particular owners feel they have bought into not just Blackburn, but a little of the glamour of the Premier League. And if that’s the case, it’s no wonder that they fancy a change. There’s nothing too glamorous, undoubtedly effective though it can be, about the way Allardyce’s teams play football.

So despite what you could call a solid start to the season for Allardyce’s Blackburn, I can well understand the decision to show him the door. It contrasts to Hughton’s sacking because clearly things have changed at the club since he was appointed. While the old owners saw Allardyce as the way forward (undoubtedly via Route 1), the new owners clearly don’t, and that for me, is fair enough. Whether or not you agree though, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a few more managerial casualties before December is out. Avram Grant looks to be half out of the door already and if Fulham and Wigan don’t see an upturn in their performances soon, Hughes and Martinez might well find a P45 in their stocking.

Rightly or wrongly, it’s always an interesting time of year in the football calendar. With the fixtures coming thick and fast and January approaching, no Premier League manager will be feeling entirely sure of themselves. For us though, the humble fan, it’s a time of year with plenty to offer. So put your feet up, wrap up warm, eat plenty and enjoy the football action both on and off the pitch.

Merry Christmas and best wishes to all.

About the Author

Adam Howard
is the founder of They Think It’s All Over…

Adam Howard Archive

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1 comment:

Steve Amoia said...

Adam, on behalf of our readers at World Football Commentaries, thank you for your excellent contributions this year.

We will look forward to more of your commentaries in 2011.

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