Weir off as Blades wield the axe

When David Weir was appointed back in June, fans were broadly very optimistic – unusually so given disagreement on previous appointments. After a number of candidates had distanced themselves in what felt like the longest managerial search in the club’s history, it appeared like the club had come across a diamond in the rough.

Early optimism…

On paper, we had a man that was keen to make his mark in football, had worked for the likes of David Moyes and Walter Smith, and who had been preparing for several years for the right time to enter management. He had apparently narrowly lost out to Roberto Martinez for the Everton job, and was all of a sudden unveiled in a fresh-looking managerial team – alongside assistants Lee Carsley (‘technical’) and Adam Owen (‘performance’).

A flurry of early signings followed. Some reliable performers in the league (Watford’s Stephen McGinn and Walsall’s Febian Brandy), while others were gambles that seemed like they might payoff, like 24-goal Lyle Taylor from Falkirk. Few came in that were experienced – this was to be a team that was younger, fresher, more attacking.

The performance on the opening evening of the season was one of the most positive I’ve seen from a new manager in years. Attack-minded full-backs that were so absent from Danny Wilson’s side last season; a fluid 4-2-3-1 formation; pace on the break that quickly disposed of memories of Barry Robson struggling to move last year. And the chances we created were intelligently created, albeit still in need of finishing. But keep playing like that and we were looking at a cracking season.

Then Kevin McDonald was sold to Wolves – the focal point to Weir’s new style. Whether it was naivety to model a team around a player with a fairly low sell-out clause, or just plain stupidity, Weir was simply unable to recapture the level of performance thereafter. And as the chances dried up, the defence that had looked so solid last year seemed incapable of a clean sheet – bizarre given Weir & Carsley’s defensive qualities as players.

As the slide started, the fans’ expectations were at the same time raised by the emergence of Prince Abdullah as a new co-owner of the football club. Further signings were made – good signings. Jose Baxter, Florent Cuvelier, Marlon King – all players that should be more than capable at League 1. And yet, the performances, save 45 minutes at Wolves, continued to be woeful.

…broken

The loss on Tuesday to League 2 Hartlepool marked his 7th defeat in all competitions – his only wins being on the first day, and a 0-0 draw that was won on penalties in the JPT against League 2 Scunthorpe. The interview he gave was just horrible to watch – a broken man. This wasn’t what he had spent years preparing for. Fan anger turned to fan pity – but in the end the general feeling had shifted to wanting him out.

You never like to see a change of this speed. But we’ve seen managers through Bramall Lane before that have inherited a good team, been able to bring in decent players, and yet hurtle down the table at alarming pace. The diabolical Bryan Robson era lasted until February – another man that had ‘learnt from the best’, who wanted to play a more passing style, and whose reign can be summed up by the fact he had ambitions of converting Nick Montgomery into ‘an attacking midfielder’. The difference then was that the fans knew Robson was doomed to fail – Weir’s inadequacies have come as a huge shock to the system.

The club is in trouble. The players’ confidence appears shot, their attitude appears to have been one of the key factors. Weir tried to impose a style on players that were either unwilling or unable to work in his system – with Weir himself refusing to budge on his approach mid-game, between games, or in the face of evidence week-on-week that it wasn’t working. Would it have improved in time? There was very little evidence to suggest this. What was a managerial career with promise 4 months ago appears in tatters. I wanted it to work, the fans wanted it to work, all signs were that it would work. It has been a disaster.

And in what is probably the most important decision of the club in my lifetime, the owners need to avert a further one.

Written by @josephclift

The slow death of sportsmanship

A tuesday night League Cup early-round tie between two Championship sides who’d probably rather have been resting their players ahead of the weekend’s fixtures. Hardly the natural backdrop for the talking point of the round – and yet it was Huish Park that played host to the latest scene in the painfully slow pantomime that is the death of sportsmanship in football.

For those that missed it, controversy struck late in the tie. Birmingham were minutes away from winning the tie when the keeper kicked the ball out so that team-mate Dan Burn, apparently injured, could be treated. Rather than return the ball, cheeky scamp Byron Webster spotted the chance to turn this match that barely anyone was concerned about into something special – deftly lobbing the ball over keeper Doyle to take the tie into extra time as Birmingham players switched off.

With Lee Clark retaining his habitual dullness and containing his mood, Yeovil boss Gary Johnson had two options: view the incident as an unsporting act that had to be quickly remedied, or view it as a just punishment for a team trying to wind down the clock with gamesmanship. The former would have seen most in the game praise Johnson’s honesty; the latter, his conviction.

In the event, he took a third option – acting neither swiftly nor decisively. Content with the situation that gave his team a late equaliser to force extra-time, Johnson instead waited 20 minutes until his side had taken the lead before any hint of guilt manifested itself. It was only then that Lee Novak was allowed to walk in a goal with all players remaining stationary. All bar Chris Burke, who escorted Novak up the pitch in either a vain hope Novak would square it at the last minute, or out of lack of trust that Wayne Hennessey wouldn’t try a last-minute Byron manoeuvre and save the ball on the line.

The gesture appeared wholly tokenistic and seemed designed to save face for Johnson, rather than be born from a sense of sportsmanship. Had the scores remained level and Yeovil not taken the lead, would Johnson have gifted Birmingham a goal to start the 2nd half of extra time? Would he have instructed a player to sky a ball over to hand Birmingham an instant advantage in the shootout? One assumes James McAllister was not under instruction when he hit his woeful penalty over the bar…

This was similarly the case when I was at Highbury in 1999 for Sheffield United’s FA Cup tie in which the ball had been kicked out so that Lee Morris, whose legs throughout his career had the durability of a pair of breadsticks, could be treated. Kanu (“unfamiliar with our customs”) latched onto a throw-in meant for keeper Alan Kelly, before crossing for Marc Overmars (very familiar with our customs) to tap home. At the time, Arsenal had been on the back foot in the game – Marcelo had just equalised for the Blades and looked set for a home replay. History will recall that Arsene Wenger “graciously offered a replay”. A replay at Highbury. When key players he had rested, such as Tony Adams and the in-form Nicolas Anelka, could be restored to the line-up. Such generosity.

Johnson himself is no stranger to these situations. It was in another League Cup tie back in 2004 against Plymouth in which Yeovil took the lead, albeit unintended, when his son Lee overhit returning the ball to the Pilgrims keeper. This was perhaps far more clear-cut a situation, but given the speed at which Johnson acted to restore panity, you have to wonder why it took so long for him to reconsider in this week’s game. Taking immediate action would have handed Birmingham the tie and save them from a gruelling 30 minutes of extra time. Should Birmingham tire and lose their game this weekend, Clark will be justifiably pointing to events this week as a contributing factor.

The sad truth is that you can understand Johnson’s reasons for thinking ‘to hell with sportsmanship’, because he’s been on the receiving end lately where players seemingly feign injury to waste time. This isn’t new – it’s been creeping into the game for years. So while you can understand Johnson’s frustrations, it can’t justify the act of ignoring the game’s customs.

What would be fairer? There has to be a better way of reducing the scope for this rule to be abused. Part of it could be avoided by the players themselves just kicking the ball out of play as far away from their goal as possible – rather than like last night tapping it out about 40 yards from the goal. There are two obvious improvements:

  • leave it up to the ref to decide how play should restart and ensure that this is communicated to both teams when necessary
  • stop the clock that is visible for all fans, as happens in rugby, for stoppages so that it’s clear that attempts to waste time are eliminated

Football is in a sorry state when players and managers can no longer be trusted to correct these freak occurrences. Sadly, the time has now come for this responsibility to be taken away from those directly involved. Rather than continue to witness the slow death these customs of sportsmanship have been enduring, let’s put the whole thing out of its misery.

Written by @josephclift

The transfer saga is here to stay

The saga master

By @RKTweets

A big trend in the transfer windows of the last few years has been the ‘saga’.

This summer we have Bale, Suarez and Rooney, Lamela, Willian and the list goes on… In years gone by the names Fabregas, Van Persie, Ashley Cole and Modric have all been the main characters. But while the names and clubs may change the story remains the same.

With clubs ever more desperate for success higher and with fans begging clubs to spend the TV money to achieve it, the ‘saga’ is worse than ever.

As strange as it may sound, transfers in football are rarely simple and rarely actually planned.

Opportunism is a key driver, unless you have a director of football and manager working together to a single vision. Indeed, it’s not a coincidence that Spurs and Manchester City, who operate under this kind of structure, have already done business this summer in a manner which seems more planned – something that certainly wasn’t always the case for either club.

The role the media plays in transfers is both overplayed and underplayed. I know of cases where media stories have informed clubs about contracts and availability.

While some players have briefed newspapers themselves Bale and Rooney have all done their talking via others. Suarez has in fact done both, ironically using the very industry he cited (Has Uruguayan radio ever had a hotter summer in the UK?) as his reason to leave Liverpool as the tool to engineer his move.

But who is the puppet master of the saga? Is it the media? The agent, player or the clubs? Each though it pulling on the strings.

The media certainly has an interest in keeping the narrative going, which means clicks to their websites (no one buys newspapers anymore, do they?) which means more cash for them from advertisers.

The agent and player, if they let a saga roll on, can provoke a move and a cash payment or a new contract. Or sometimes just enjoy the benefits of a newly boosted media profile.

And lastly the clubs. While the selling club generally don’t want to be part of the saga, unless they are acting the damsel in distress, the buying clubs need it to continue because every backpage headline unsettles the selling club making it tougher for them to play hardball (see Real Madrid for case examples every year…)

One thing is for sure, the saga is here to stay. It’s not going to get prettier, it’s not going to get shorter, but it is going to get a hell of a lot more tedious.

Wonder week epitomises Saints progress

Image

Nicola ‘the don’ Cortese: makes players offers they can’t refuse

Last year I wrote about the potential of Southampton’s youthful team, and their ambitions for the Premier League. After Nigel Adkins was sacked, I also described the canniness of the Chairman, Nicola Cortese.

Now, at the start of the 2013 season, Southampton FC are ready to explode into the Premier League.

And what a contrast – seven year’s ago, Southampton under the charge of Chairman Rupert Lowe, were plundering towards Premier League relegation for the first time in 20 years. Lowe then masterfully led them to League One and into administration, while selling off some of their popular young stars – Walcott and Bale – along the way. Southampton woke up in 2009 in League One with -10 points. Dark days for the club.

But from the depths of despair came a new Saint – Markus Liebherr, a Swiss millionaire, whose wealth manager, Nicola Cortese, found him Southampton FC. Marcus agreed the purchase only if Cortese took charge as chairman. Liebherr sadly passed away a year later, but with his daughter’s continued financial backing, two years later in 2012, Southampton charged back to the Premier League.

Now a year on, Southampton have had a week that sends a warning shot to the rest of the league.

Wednesday 14 August, on a train ride from London to Southampton

You could sense the excitement in the air (twitter air that is, not on the train – Southampton folk aren’t the most flamboyant).

Rickie Lambert, who epitomises everything that’s great about the squad – under-estimated skill, humility, hard work, had just been called up for the England squad for the first time, to play Scotland. That evening, subbed on for Wayne Rooney, with 30 minutes remaining and both teams level, he scored a powerhouse header to win the game for England. First call up, first cap, first touch of the ball.

Rickie’s story says a lot about Southampton. He credits the club for changing his mentality from an over reliance on natural ability, but without care for fitness, to the serious athlete he is now. Even in League One, Southampton were raising ambitions.

Something about Rickie scoring on his England debut inspired the nation. The Olympic spirit never seemed to translate to football – Wayne Rooney or Frank Lambert’s cagey drones don’t capture the same excitement as Mo Farah or Jess Ennis. But Lambert, bursting with enthusiasm at a post match interview: “I was trying to act cool all week, but inside I wanted to scream” brought the goosebumps back. Now the English know how it feels to be a Saints fan.

Thursday 15 August, reading the press stories about Southampton transfer activity.

Pablo Daniel Osvaldo, Italian international, was as you would expect, rejecting a move to Saints. Spurs were ready to pounce. Saints vs Spurs. vs London. Kaos vs Mahiki. 14th finishers vs Europa league qualifiers. No contest.

Saturday 16 August, first day of the Premier League 2013-14.

Southampton v West Brom. 3 debuts.

Cortese spent the summer filling in the gaps in the squad, not by looking for bargains in the leagues of journey men, or fading Premier League stars. When Don Cortese says he wants to play in Europe he means it. The hard negotiator snapped up two of the young Champions League stars from 2012 – Victor Wanyama, midfield powerhouse, who scored for Celtic against Barcelona last season. And Dejan Lovren, Lyon central defender who impressed so many against Tottenham last year.

The final debut was for Calum Chambers, 18, right back, product of Southampton’s famous youth academy. He wasn’t the only 18 year old on the pitch – with midfielder James Ward-Prowse, and left back Luke Shaw having established themselves last year. One of The Don’s ambitions for Southampton is to emulate Barcelona’s youth success with 50% of the first team taken from the academy. With four academy players in the starting line up (the fourth being 25 year old Adam Lallana) that isn’t looking too far off.

Not long ago, our youth were enticed by the bright lights of Arsenal or Tottenham, now they want to stay. Not long ago, we were bullied by the big boys for our talent – if Bale’s £100 million transfer goes ahead we will receive no benefit as Lowe sold the sell on clause to Tottenham. Now The Don out-wits them. Arsene Wenger only brings Oxlade-Chamberlain on 72 minutes or more into the game as The Don has a clause in his contract for a £10k payment every 20 minutes he plays (although as Wenger didn’t factor injury time into his calculations, we’re still demanding the cash).

The West Brom game ended with hero Lambert finishing off his amazing week with a penalty to win the game. Lovren, Wanyama, and Chambers all dominated on their debuts.

Sunday 18 August – train back to London, following breaking news updates

The media, reporting on the unliklihood of Osvaldo joining Saints, didn’t factor in the tenaciousness of The Don, or Southampton manager, former Argentinean international, Mauricio Pochettino.

Pochettino joined the club in January 2013, bringing a new explosive style. Inspired by Argentinean coach Marcelo Bielsa, he became a disciple of the high pressing, aggressive attacking style at his previous club Espanyol. He also brought with him a level of international respect that Adkins could never compete with.

Osvaldo once a player at Espanyol and managed by Pochettino, was quoted at the time: “He makes you work like a dog. Sometimes you feel like killing him, but it works.”

And here the dots start joining, and Osvaldo after numerous calls with his former boss, signed up for the lowly Saints ahead of Europe-fighting Spurs. Southampton fans were euphoric (although they hid it well on the train) – a rock and roll football star; a long way from the days of Jonathon Forte.

Watching Chelsea tear apart Hull, its clear there’s still some way to go to turn Southampton FC into a ruthless winning machine. But the promise and money is there, the set up is strong, team spirit is thriving, and that makes for a pretty exhilarating ride for Southampton supporters. 2009 seems a distant memory.

Written by: Louise Kyme

Mid-table obscurity looms for Match Of The Day

ImageThese are troubled times for Match Of The Day.

The BBC’s flagship football programme has, in recent years, attracted a steady drip of criticism: too cosy, too cliquey, too complacent. A haven of hackneyed cliché, lazy punditry, and bar room banality.

These rumblings of dissent suddenly registered much higher on the Richter scale last season with the biggest earthquake in punditry since Andy Townsend’s tactics truck last parked at the back of a stadium: the arrival of Gary Neville as a Sky Sports pundit.

His impact, in the cosseted sofas of football guff was like the colossal Chiccxulub asteroid which wiped out the dinosaurs. In one short season he laid waste to the ‘say what you see’ school of punditry, all through the revolutionary concept of providing actual analysis.

Against this backdrop, shell-shocked Match Of The Day producers have responded with what they no doubt consider heretical radicalism, but what to the rest of us looks like fiddling around at the edges.

Mark Lawrenson, whose sour, world weary jibes made him sound like a embittered spinster, has had his role on the programme “reduced“. A decision, that with delicious irony, he has taken in typical lemon-sucking, ill-temper.

In has come Danny Murphy another in the long line of ex-Liverpool players who enjoy a handsome, superannuated retirement on the programme. In place of Lawro’s dour drollery, Murphy gave us a furious, knitted brow concentration, like a commuter trying to focus on a Sudoku whilst failing to hide their irritation at the sound of the latest Rhianna album leaking from the headphones of the passenger next to him.

Unaccountably, Alan Shearer has been retained. Throughout his time on the programme he has specialised in a peculiar form of emphatic blandness, which is perhaps to be expected from a man who celebrated winning the Premier League by creosoting his fence.

Shearer was in doggedly flavourless form, sharing with us the wisdom accumulated through 313 career goals, that strikers need to have a desire to “get in the box”, illustrating the point with a series of clips of Danny Welbeck running in a straight line towards this footballing Shangri-La.

Murphy chipped in to attribute this new, snorting, ‘British Bulldog’ aspect to Welbeck’s game to Roy Hodgson. The England manager, Murphy informed us, does a lot of drills aimed at getting strikers into the box – raising the interesting question as to where, left to their own devices, untutored forwards would choose to run.

The other innovations saw Gary Lineker interviewing the new Everton manager Roberto Martinez via satellite link. A gimmick which offered almost as little as the twitter poll of controversial incidents and the inclusion of the back page headlines at the end of the programme.

On the basis of their 2013/14 season debut, were I to liken MOTD to a Premier League team it would be Arsenal. Myopically unaware of their own failings, and with no significant signings, the gradual decline looks set to continue. And like Arsene Wenger you have to wonder how much longer it’ll be before new management is brought in.

Written by James Albion

New season. New look.

 

Hello One Foot In The Game readers, we’ve been wearing our clothes for awhile. So with the MOST EXCITING PREMIER LEAGUE SEASON EVER (SkySports trademark) we thought it best to give ourselves a spruce up.

First of all, you’ll notice our new font and blog design, we think it’s much more in keeping than what we were looking like before.

You’ll notice the same on our Twitter site too. Thanks to @adamkoehli for work on the branding and logo. Check him out, he makes cool football stuff.

This season we’ll have a crack team of writers for hire giving a slightly different view on football from as many divisions as we can. We’ve got Ex-Everton, Preston and Spurs employee Roberto Kusabbi, Sheffield United fan and co-Editor Joseph Clift and lots more writers from the unknown to the secretive.

So bookmark us, follow us and make sure you get involved in the comments. The season just got real.

2013/14 predictions from 1FITG

Pre-season comes to a welcome end this evening as the first Football League fixture opens up another 10 months of glorious action. And what a season it looks like on the face of it. The top of the Premiership hasn’t looked this unpredictable in years, which is mirrored in each of three divisions below.

Ever keen to stick our collective neck on the line, we’re hoping to accurately predict some of the stories for the season ahead. Last year we successfully predicted Andy Thorn to be the first boss to lose his job – while one of our bloggers bizarrely suggested it was going to be an awful year for Swansea….

1. The Champions question: who will win the Premiership, Championship, League 1 and League 2

@rktweets: Chelsea. Jose comes back with a more mellowed demeanor (for now) and brings the title back. City a close second if not pushing for top spot. So really I’m saying Chelsea or City. Or Spurs (not Spurs).

I like the look of Brighton and intrigued what their tikka takka manager will bring. But Wigan for the title… QPR may be down to the bare bones but they could challenge too

James Albion: Chelsea, Watford, Peterborough, Scunthorpe

@josephclift
: Chelsea, Watford, Peterborough, Portsmouth

Dan Northcote-Smith (@dnsandnick)
: Man City, Wigan, Sheffield United, Fleetwood

Nick Moss (@dnsandnick)
: Chelsea, QPR, Peterborough (have to I’m afraid, place of birth), Fleetwood (heart over head this one but love the story)

2. The Ron Atkinson question: who will be the first manager to be sacked in the top four divisions?

@rktweets: Paul Ince (Blackpool)

James Albion
: Harry Redknapp (QPR). Relegation rarely stops the rot and I’m not sure Harry’s got the energy to turn the club round. With Steve McClaren recently joining the QPR coaching team, Redknapp may find his successor has already been recruited.

@josephclift: Nigel Pearson (Leicester City). Pearson’s been on a steady decline since January and simply hasn’t delivered despite being backed with funding. Their lack of activity in the transfer market this summer does not bode well.

Dan Northcote-Smith (@dnsandnick): Gary Bowyer (Blackburn Rovers)

Nick Moss (@dnsandnick): Not sure why but I think that Paul Ince is a bit lively in the boardroom and could well walk/be pushed. Avoiding the customary Blackburn manager answer.

3. The Guy Whittingham question: who will be the top scorer out of the top four divisions?

@rktweets: The boy Rhodes, or if he stays Doyle at Wolves.

James Albion: I expect Matt Tubbs to return to prolific form now he’s been reunited with former manager Steve Evans at Rotherham.

@josephclift: Fresh from his cracking season at Easter Road, I can see Leigh Griffiths setting League 1 alight at Wolves.

Dan Northcote-Smith (@dnsandnick): Charlie Austin

Nick Moss (@dnsandnick): I’ll plump for Jordan Rhodes again. Honourable mention for big Grant Holt. Failing that, a sensational season for Gary Hooper would be a joy to see… Honest.

4. The Marco Boogers question: which new signing will completely flop?

@rktweets: Arsenal’s Higuain. Oh wait. Despite every media (especially goal) pretty much announcing he signed, he never did. Really, Vito Mannone at Sunderland, Helanius at Villa and maybe Van Wolfswinkle.

James Albion: Dave Kitson. Looked ready for the glue factory when I saw him for Sheffield United last season. Has continued his descent down the leagues by signing for League 2’s Oxford. I don’t expect many goals.

@josephclift: Charlie Austin. Had a quite brilliant season at Burnley, with no expectations, before picking up a bad injury. He failed a medical as a result that ended hopes of a move to Hull. He’s now expected to deliver what Hooper would have done at QPR, where they are expected to be promoted – I can’t see him reproducing the form he had at Turf Moor.

Dan Northcote-Smith (@dnsandnick): Danny Graham – could be another goalless season.

Nick Moss (@dnsandnick): I’m gonna bend the rules here and say that Arsenal’s signing of Absolutely No-one may not turn out to be the hard hitting presence on the field they hoped for.

5. The Titanic question: which club is going to have a nightmarish disaster of a season?

@rktweets: I don’t like the shape of Sheffield United. Wonder how Stoke will do and Norwich rode their luck at the end. I don’t see a QPR of slides though this season. Pompey are supposed to win the league…not sure about that.

James Albion: Assuming they even start the season, Coventry look doomed to another awful season courtesy of their ongoing off-field problems.

@josephclift: It’s already happening at Coventry sadly, but I reckon the wheels will ultimately come off the Di Canio roller-coaster at Sunderland.

Dan Northcote-Smith (@dnsandnick): Coventry – they are already.

Nick Moss (@dnsandnick): It’s just looking worse and worse for Coventry.

Sent to Northampton: the sad demise of Coventry City

Big Ron's view on a Coventry relegation was, like some of his other views, decidedly wrong

Big Ron’s view on a Coventry relegation was, like some of his other views, decidedly wrong

Big Ron once quipped that if the Titanic was painted Sky Blue it would never have gone down. Like many of the big man’s insights this proved wide of the mark, and in 2001, after 34 years in the top flight the Sky Blues were relegated to the old Division One.

And if relegation was impossible for Big Ron to imagine, then I’d love to know what line he would have come up with if you’d told him the Sky Blues would be plying their trade in Northampton just 12 years later.

That though is the reality. Two days ago the club announced that for the next 3 seasons, Coventry City Football Club would be playing their home games, 34 miles away at Northampton Town’s 7,600 capacity Sixfields Stadium. During which time the club intend to build a new stadium within the city limits, leaving their previous home the Ricoh Arena.

Fair enough you might think. Except there is no evidence that a planning application for a new stadium has been submitted, never mind permission being obtained. How on earth did a club, once a mainstay of top flight football, end up here?

The history as to how and why is long and complicated. In 2007, Coventry narrowly avoided administration when hedge fund managers SISU took over the club with twenty minutes to spare before the deadline.

At the time, the acquisition was widely welcomed; there were promises of squad investment, clearing of debt, a “3 year back to Premiership” plan and eventually a move to acquire a share in the part-council and part-Higgs charity owned Ricoh Arena.

As promised with the acquisition, the initial investment was forthcoming with quality young players such as Keiren Westwood, Aron Gunnarsson, Scott Dann and Danny Fox being brought in. However, within a few seasons the cracks began to appear. Managers came and went, the team refused to gel or offer any consistency, attendances fell and the downward spiral commenced.

The sale of these newly acquired players soon began, along with a worrying fire sale of youth players who had been bought through the academy – generally for below the going rate or for “undisclosed fees”.

This short term and short sighted profiteering, coupled with criminal mismanagement of contract negotiations (effectively letting the most valuable and bankable assets leave on a free transfer at the end of their contracts) reduced the overall playing ability of the squad.

Holed below the waterline, there was only so long Coventry could remain afloat in the Championship, and in 2012 the inevitable relegation to League 1 happened. Unfortunately the worst wasn’t over.

The situation plunged to new depths in December 2012 when SISU became embroiled in a high-profile dispute with Ricoh Arena operators, ACL, over the rent arrangement and unpaid rent (backdating over a year). SISU were demanding £200k as annual rent for the Ricoh and not the current £1.2 million being paid, strangely this is despite having been paying the rent rates for the last 5 years.

SISU claims it is paying the highest rent for a football stadium outside the Premiership. A winding up order was enforced through the High Court, with SISU eventually putting the club into voluntary administration 24 hours before a mandatory order would have been enforced.

During the weeks which followed various front men and consortiums came forward with potential offers and it was announced that there were 4 “serious” bidders. Giving hope to the Sky Blue faithful that the club might change hands and we would see the back of SISU.

The SISU appointed administrator eventually put the club up for sale with three parties making a bid (Preston Haskell, ACL and SISU).

The eventual “winning” bid was accepted from the previously unheard of Otium Entertainment Group Limited, a company based in Mayfair and whose directors include the current and permanently dressed down, Chief Executive Tim Fisher.

Fisher, was duly despatched on a PR tour to address fans forums, but he offered little more than excuses and convoluted answers and quickly found himself as the new whipping boy.

Otium’s other directors include ex-Sky Blue directors Onye Igwe, Leonard Brody and Ken Dulieu. Dulieu was previously CCFC’s “Head of Football Operations” under SISU, who resigned from the club following a “gross error of judgement”. (Following the cringe worthy decision to sit in on manager Andy Thorn’s team talk and then take a seat on the bench during the home defeat to Hull City in 2011).

Ironically, “Otium” being an abstract Latin word, which has a variety of meanings – some might say, given the rogues gallery of director’s quite apt.

Since the takeover the club Otium/SISU pushed on with plans to move away from the Ricoh, exploring options such as Walsall’s Bescot Stadium and former Rushden & Diamonds stadium Nene Park. This has led to outrage amongst the Sky Blue faithful, whom in the last month have had to stomach the resale of the club to Otium and now witness the club being rehoused outside of the city.

During the last week, protests have taken place at SISU’s Mayfair headquarters, at the Ricoh Arena and as of last night the Sixfields Stadium. There is also a Sky Blue Trust run petition with over 11,200 online signatures and a fans’ campaign “Not One Penny More” (to Sky Blues owners SISU).

The Football League as always have been typically quiet on this and have left many supporters amazed as to how a company formed in 2011, which have yet to file accounts and contain prominent directors who have worked under SISU, have passed the Football League’s “fit-and-proper-person test”.

The supporter’s best hope is SISU/Otium bow to fan pressure and sell up (ideally to American property tycoon Preston Haskell). However, this seems very unlikely with the drama likely to rumble into the new season and beyond.

Whether the Sky Blues continue with the move to Northampton, perform a “U” turn and stay in Coventry, acquire new owners or we witness the formation of an “AFC” or “United” remains to be seen – however, for most of the Sky Blue army that sinking feeling remains.

Written by Stew Lauder

Hanging up the boots for the bench: 5 of the worst starts

In the follow-up to our piece on players that had decent starts to their managerial careers, here are five who encountered real difficulty in their first year in management.

David Platt – Nottingham Forest (1999/2000 season)

Destined for management…

Throughout his career, you couldn’t help but look at David Platt and think he’d be the perfect candidate to move into management. After a potential managerial career was scuppered due to his lack of coaching qualifications (though in retrospect, perhaps a convenient excuse), Platt was installed at the City Ground to lift a Forest team just relegated from the Premier League.

A dreadful season saw them labour to a mid-table finish. This was despite being backed financially – Platt was somehow allowed to shell out millions on the Italian Gianluca Petrachi, Salvadore Matrecano and Moreno Mannini based on his extensive knowledge of the Italian leagues. This knowledge turned out to be as solid as his coaching qualifications as all three flopped. He left a legacy of a Forest club that had badly overspent, and was also unable to affect his team on the pitch in the games he played. His frustration spilled into the handful of his appearances on the pitch, seeing red in one match for a horribly late challenge on Sheffield United’s Paul Devlin. A similarly average following season saw him leave for the England U21s and out of club management thereafter.

Tony Cottee – Barnet (2000/01 season)

On paper, Cottee was another ideal candidate for management. A successful career in the top division, a number of medals, and the experience of working for the likes of Howard Kendall, Martin O’Neill, and Harry Redknapp. What’s more, he was prepared to earn his stripes towards the lower ends of the football league.

Unfortunately, Cottee’s one season in charge at Underhill didn’t quite go to plan. When predecessor John Still was “moved upstairs” 3 months into the season, Cottee came in with promotion a realistic aim for the club. And it really was a dream start – a thumping 7-0 win at home to Blackpool and a goal for Cottee himself on his debut. It really couldn’t get any better than this, could it?

Well, no as it turned out. The following month saw a 6-1 drubbing at Hartlepool, and as the wretched results continued, Barnet crept towards the relegation zone. A miserable 4-1 defeat at Brighton proved to be Cottee’s last game in football management, resigning with the club in 18th and 5 points ahead of the drop zone. John Still was hastily moved back downstairs, and Barnet finished bottom of the league. Meanwhile, Cottee signed for Millwall after his Underhill exit, which alonside spells at Leicester, Norwich and Barnet, meant that he played a game in each of the four divisions that season. Truly memorable stuff.

John Barnes – Celtic (1999/2000 season)

The dream team…

Like David Platt, another England legend coming off the back of a glittering playing career. Like Platt, he was appointed the same summer for their first proper managerial job. And ultimately, like Platt, it was a dismal failure.

After replacing evil henchman soundalike and one-time Villain Dr Josef Venglos, Barnes was to set the world in motion alongside newly-appointed Director of Football, Kenny Dalglish. It sounded like an ideal set-up – a promising manager under guidance of the wise old master, coming off a season which couldn’t have been more disappointing. Or so the Parkhead faithful thought.

Barnes was sacked in February following a result labelled the “worst result on 30 years of the club” with their shock home defeat to Inverness. The same defeat that led to the superb headline “Super Caley Go Ballisitc, Celtic Are Attrocious”. He wasn’t helped by tensions in the dressing room (Mark Viduka reportedly refused to appear for the 2nd half vs Caley) and a double leg-break to Henrik Larsson, but it was a truly miserable spell. Barnes’s solution to replace Larsson? 36-year-old Ian Wright – signed from Platt’s Forest team. Inspired.

Tony Adams – Wycombe Wanderers (2003/04 season)

In contrast to the names above, Adams hadn’t really been widely tipped as an future manager. His appointment at Wycombe Wanderers a year after retiring raised some eyebrows. One Director at Adams Park said: “Tony is not the average up-and-coming manager. There is something very different about him.”

Indeed. He just didn’t look at all comfortable in his post-match interviews, and it always looked like the weight of the job at hand was too great. As it proved to be – Adams, presided over a turbulent spell, getting rid of around 18 players and many of the backroom staff in the season. John Gorman lasted two weeks as his assistant before deciding unemployment was preferable to remaining.

In his post-match interview following a 2-1 defeat to Tranmere, he triumphantly declared: “It’s not mathematically over yet so we’ll keep going.” With that kind of determination, perhaps there was a glimmer of hope to the season? Sadly not. Bizarrely unknown to Adams, Wycombe were at that time already mathematically relegated, he’d failed to factor in the fact that two of the teams above them that had to lose their remaining games to give Wycombe a chance were facing each other in the remaining games. A team he took over at the bottom were relegated in the same position with 4 games to go.

Steve Bruce – Sheffield United (1998/99 season)

As Brucey is set to embark on yet another season in the top flight, it’s easy to forget what a damp squib his first job at Bramall Lane was. While United were in the midst of a turbulent spell off the field, Bruce was appointed with a clear aim of promotion, and inherited a squad that at the time was still littered with talent.

In addition to being left on his arse as Michael Bridges secured his first career hat-trick (a game resulting in Bruce’s retirement), Bruce’s team were never serious contenders for promotion, finishing a disappointing 8th. He will be best remembered for mis-managing a number of popular players at the club. Captain David Holdsworth was swiftly moved-on to Birmingham after an alleged bust-up in the dressing room. Worse in the long-run was Bruce’s inability to find a role in the team for the clearly-talented Traianos Dellas. For a 6’4 player that could tackle, pass and shoot, Big Tri’s repeated under-use was mystifying. It led to the frustrated Dellas heading back to Greece in the summer – before embarking on an illustrious career that saw him pick up a winners medal in the European Championships in 2004. As a pundit at those Championships, Bruce was quick to mention he’d been his manager.

Written by @josephclift

Hanging up the boots for the bench: 5 of the best starts

With James Beattie (Accrington Stanley) and David Weir (Sheffield United) stepping into their first managerial roles this summer following successful recent playing careers, this week we consider the best and worst starts for those fresh from their playing careers that have headed into the chaotic world of football management. First up, here’s our list of five managers had very decent starts to their careers – initially at least…

1. Kenny Dalglish (1985/86 season)

Big expectations met with two trophies – beat that

While his recent stint at Liverpool is best forgotten, Dalglish enjoyed six very successful years at Anfield during his first spell, winning three league titles and two FA Cups.

Following Bob Paisely and Joe Fagan, Dalglish was the third managerial appointment from Liverpool’s legendary ‘boot room’. With the club having won 4 European Cup titles in the past 8 years, expectation on Dalglish to deliver was sky high. He duly served up a league & FA Cup double, made all the sweeter for Reds fans as Dalglish’s men pipped deadly rivals Everton to the title before beating the Toffees in the FA Cup final.

2. Steve Coppell (1984/85 season)

After injury cut his career at Manchester United short at the age of 28, Coppell went straight into an eventful managerial career that saw success at both Palace and Reading – and a bizarrely brief spell at Maine Road where he lasted just 33 days.

Coppell arrived at Selhurst Park with a clear task of ensuring survival for a Palace team with little funds or grander expectations. A strong finish in the last two months of the season saw Palace sail clear of the relegation zone and finish a comfortable 15th. Importantly, in his first season Coppell had put down the foundations for the long-term, ensuring that unlike some on this list this was the start to a period of success rather than a lull before ignominious failure.

Coventry stayed up in dramatic fashion. The points deduction for Middlesbrough also helped…

3. Gordon Strachan (1996/97 season)

Long tipped to go into management, the pint-sized Jock was added to the coaching staff at Highfield Road by the then manager Ron Atkinson, with an agreement that he would become boss in 1997. But with the club struggling early on in the season, Big Ron’s move upstairs was accelerated, and in November 1996 Strachan took full control as player-manager.

An excellent run of form saw Coventry soar to 11th and Strachan gain a manager of the month award, with new signing Darren Huckerby proving a deadly foil for a resurgent Dion Dublin. However, a poor run of form saw them slip back into the relegation zone going into the final day. A final day win at Spurs though, coupled with favourable results elsewhere, saw a survival secured in dramatic fashion.

4. Roy Keane (2004/05 season)

Unable to get a job in management and reduced to staring daggers at Adrian Chiles as an ITV pundit, it’s easy to forget that Roy Keane’s first season after retiring from Celtic was a managerial triumph. Recently-relegated Sunderland were struggling early on under the direction of chairman/manager/overlord Niall Quinn. After four defeats in the opening league fixtures, Quinn voluntarily relinquished his totalitarian grip by standing down as manager, to allow Keane to take over a club now propping up the league.

What followed was a remarkable turnaround. After a flurry of activity at the end of the transfer window, including signing ex-teammates Dwight Yorke, Ross Wallace, and Stanislav Varga, Keane’s team began a rapid ascent. After the New Year, they went on a superb run, winning 16 of their 20 games, losing just once, securing the title in imperious fashion by thumping Luton 5-0 on the last day of the season.

5. Eddie Howe (2008-09 season)

Has any manager had a tougher start to their career than Eddie Howe?

Relegated from League 1, a financial crisis at Bournemouth had seen the Football League almost bar their entry to League 2. Instead, the club were hit with a 17 point deduction before a ball had even been kicked.

After the sackings of first Kevin Bond and then his successor Jimmy Quinn, Bournemouth looked to be in complete disarray. The appointment of their 31-year old youth team coach seemed only further evidence that the club was fatally doomed.

Taking over at the end of the year, Bournemouth were on 7 points and still 7 away from safety. Howe re-signed club legend Steve Fletcher – then languishing in non-league – and led the team on a near miraculous run of results including wins against ultimately promoted sides such as Wycombe and Exeter. In a crucial end to the season, Bournemouth won first at fellow strugglers Chester, before securing safety at home to the similarly relegation-threatened Grimsby, with Fletcher in true fairy tale style scoring the crucial late goal.

Written by @josephclift

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