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Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Blackpool All At Sea

‘We are starting 20 million miles behind (everyone else)’, sighed Ian Holloway in July, with the slightly desperate air of a man who has been juggling red apples and red onions for a while and now that it’s come to the moment he has to take a bite from one of them, is struggling to tell the difference. And Blackpool, with just one signing so far this summer and few seemingly in the pipeline, could be forgiven for feeling the same way.

Will it be adrenaline that takes over, or apprehension? A lack of reinforcements is Ian Holloway’s most pressing concern. Even though it’s Blackpool – a club at which it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a couple of donkeys to throw on up front – they are offering Premier League football. However, no player there has ever been signed for more than £500,000. And even with funds available for investment in playing personnel this summer, Blackpool’s wage bill in the Championship last season was a fairly meagre £4.8m. Tempting players might not be an issue, but rewarding them with appropriate contracts almost certainly will be. Depressing proof comes from the fact that the playoff winning squad are still waiting for their anticipated promotion bonuses. The options for 'Ollie' are limited, but what can he do? Sign newly-promoted-team go-to-guy Neil Redfearn?* I think not.

Blackpool need their manager, a universally popular figure in the game, to generate goodwill in the dressing room similar to that which has attached itself to the club in light of his achievements – all attained with a support staff of just four people. Holloway has to keep his squad believing; his players committed. Controversial ghosts, including being placed on gardening leave at QPR and leaving Plymouth Argyle a year later under something of a cloud to become manager of Leicester – an assignment that ended with the Foxes in League One and Ollie on a year’s sabbatical – appear for now to have been put to rest. However, while a whimsical and entertaining a footballing personality he may be – as those privy to his post-match interview after the playoff final will testify – he will have to display more hard-headed and ruthless qualities as a manager if Blackpool are to survive.

While asserting that he is loving the education of a Premier League pre-season, Ollie has also admitted that, 'If I had to go in with this (squad), I would be packing my bags and packing it in to be fair because we're not ready – we won't be ready, I don't expect these young lads to be ready'. It’s this sort of comment that means I don’t know how to feel about Blackpool’s chances. Is it refreshing realism or damaging defeatism? A bit of both, I suppose. It is realistic – of course he isn’t going to proclaim that Blackpool will finish seventh and Brett Ormerod will score 20 goals – but it also adds to the pressure. The Blackpool players now know that almost to a man, they will be replaced should a replacement become available. The season is edging ever nearer and on the surface, it doesn’t seem a pleasant situation to be in. The clock is ticking and there is much to be done.

There is, potentially, light at the end of the tunnel and it isn’t in Blackpool being ‘a difficult place to go’. Arguments like that say more about the perception of the Premier League’s employees than it does about its teams’ capacity to beat each other.

Hope can be found in Blackpool’s traditional resilience. They never do things the easy way, having been the only team ever to have been promoted through all three tiers of the Football League through the playoffs. They are good under pressure as a result – they have won their last nine playoff matches. Last season they came from a goal down three times over the course of their playoff semi-final against Forest to win 6-4 on aggregate, before doing the same twice at Wembley to beat Cardiff 3-2. This is their 100th consecutive season in league football.

All is not lost then – Blackpool were the third highest scorers in the league last season. But it certainly won’t be plain sailing – they had the leakiest defence in the top 8 and the ‘we’re gonna score one more than you’ attitude might not seem so buccaneering when camped in your own half and 3-0 down at home to Everton. And at the moment, Blackpool don’t seem to have the players for the job. But then, that’s what we all said about them last season – and I hope they prove me wrong. Good luck Ollie – hope you pick the apple. Rob MacDonald

*Redfearn, would you believe, is still playing. At Salford City. Aged 45. What a man.

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