Blackpool continue to upset the odds as they work to prove that the team bears more importance than the individual.
The rise of Blackpool football club was initially viewed as somewhat of a phenomenon. Most fans of the game have simply treated their ascent to the Premier League as a footballing anomaly, the likes of which will probably not occur again for many years. However, the minnows from the seaside have made it to 2011 without ever falling into the relegation zone and have regularly forced themselves into the top half of the table, with early season highs of second place. The Tangerines are currently sitting pretty in thirteenth place, joint on points with the almighty Liverpool. With a few games in hand over their nearest rivals Blackpool are looking very well placed to upset the odds and survive the threat of relegation. It is now time to abandon any preconceptions made about the lack of quality at Blackpool Football Club for irrelevant reasons such as the size of their stadium and lack of a prestigious history. Ian Holloway has built a very effective team at Bloomfield Road.
The Blackpool success story has arrived as a consequence of the imbalance of wealth which exists within English football. It is true that certain clubs, such as Manchester United and Liverpool, have always had more money available for the acquisition of players; however the sheer enormity of wealth which has been bestowed upon Chelsea and Manchester City in more recent years has caused an overly inflated market within English football. With seemingly average players, such as James Milner, moving to the top clubs for fees which in the past would have bought you any player in the world, it had become obvious that it would be virtually impossible for the smaller clubs to acquire talented individuals for anything that even remotely resembled value for money.
Blackpool have indirectly profited from this over-inflated tranfer market. The financial constraints which existed within the club meant that entering such an expensive market would be hugely inadvisable. Consequently, the club were forced to work with the resources which were already internally in existence. The Blackpool transfer policy was now directed towards assembling and uniting a team of players whose individual talents were not glaringly apparent but collectively, their stock was much higher. Their team was initially tipped for relegation into League One in the 2009/10 season. This was largely due to the fact that they had appointed a manager, in Ian Holloway, who had recently overseen the demise of Leicester City but also because they had not strengthened their squad as significantly as their league rivals.
Ultimately, these supposed faults manifested themselves as strengths. Ian Holloway had learned how destructive a negative approach to football could be and had reinvented himself upon an attacking philosophy. As for the team, a few clever additions such as Charlie Adam and David Vaughan were added to a core of familiar players with limited football ability but a great team ethic. The value of persisting with a familiar unit of players was ultimately proven as Blackpool gained promotion by, rather ironically, beating a team of talented individuals in Cardiff City, to gain promotion to the English Premier League.
As the average player continues to command extortionate amounts of money in the transfer window ‘the Blackpool effect’ will become a lot more frequent within the game. Only the seriously rich will be able to attract the real game-changing players therefore it would not be such an awful idea for the lesser teams to follow the blueprint of Blackpool’s success. In fact, a similar transfer model has been put into place at both Leeds United and Norwich City. Following relegation into League One, both of these clubs refused to press the panic button and splurge in the transfer market in an attempt to gain the upper hand in a league in which both clubs were significantly larger than the majority of their rivals. Instead they retained the core of their team and gained promotion back into the Championship, continually growing in strength by remaining loyal to their starting eleven. Neither side made massive changes in the build up to this season and both now find themselves on the cusp of a return to the Premier League.
Whether Blackpool can be considered pioneers of this system is obviously debatable. I am definitely not suggesting that they invented the concept of ‘the team’ as since the initiation of football, highly effective teams have been recording success throughout the game. However, the current trends that exist within the English game suggest that success is directly related to a clubs outlay on talented players. For Blackpool to have crafted a team of players whose individual talent should be seeing the majority of them playing no higher than The Championship, to be competing with some of the best players in the world is truly commendable. A real victory for teamwork and comradeship and it is a welcome change to applaud the merits of a united group rather than the exceptional individual. Blackpool may just have instigated a shift in emphasis away from the importance of having great individuals and towards the importance of having a great team.
- Paul Richards