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
The football is scintillating at present in West London. A consecutive string of dominating performances and goals galore has resulted in the blues sitting points clear at the top of the table at this early stage of the season. Chelsea? No, I was talking about their Championship neighbours Queens Park Rangers.
Expectation is a dangerous thing in football; the pressure it places upon everybody involved within a football club to achieve results can ultimately become more detrimental than beneficial. In recent years, there are arguably no other fans who have been more acquainted with the destructive nature of aiming high than those at QPR, although I’m sure Newcastle fans would probably argue to the contrary.
In 2007, when Formula One supremo Flavio Briatore rolled up outside Loftus Road with a suitcase full of money and promises of Champions League football in W12, fans of QPR must have thought their prayers had been answered. The promises made by the Italian seemed far more appealing than the current dark period of the clubs history which had been much associated with positional decline and financial instability. When Briatore relinquished ownership of the club earlier this year, allegedly of his own accord although the burning torches and pitchforks wielded by the fans added a little extra incentive for him to get out, he left behind a desolate wasteland of managerial casualties and the club as a bigger laughing stock than they had ever been before.
However, since Briatore’s departure the team has been unsurprisingly playing with a lot more freedom. Experienced manager Neil Warnock was granted with the task of steadying the Loftus Road ship, which at times looked as if it may capsize under its complete mismanagement. Quite remarkably, Warnock steadied the ship, brought in his own crew and has made no hesitation in setting sail towards the Premier League. QPR, under Warnock, are demonstrating genuine promotion credentials for the first time since the takeover and the feeling around the club is now of patience rather than overwhelming expectation.
The team’s start to the league campaign does seem to suggest that Rangers have the ingredients in place for a good season. Three wins, nine goals and none conceded in the league is undoubtedly the form of a side seeking automatic promotion but, with no disrespect to Barnsley, Sheffield United and Scunthorpe, there will be far sterner tests to come this season. For now though, all of those at the club are enjoying the exquisite talents on show at Loftus Road. Players to watch out for this season include Alejandro Faurlin with his pinpoint passing and Adel Taarabt, a player who if tamed, could terrorise defenders at the highest of levels.
Despite some impressive results so far in the league this season, Queens Park Rangers 2010/11 scorecard is tainted by a 3-1 home defeat in the Carling Cup to League 2 side Port Vale. Although some of the club’s best players were indeed rested for this game the side was still made up of a good chunk of first teamers. It also included the fringe players who Warnock would be expecting to call into his side when the hectic Championship season becomes too demanding for his regular players. The squad, from this evidence, is lacking in depth and Warnock has been tirelessly working to enhance it with more attacking talent before the transfer window slams shut.
The new arrivals at the club, whoever they may be, could very well prove to be the difference between Neil Warnock’s side powering their way into the Premier League or tentatively snatching a play off spot. In all honesty, Rangers fans won’t be too disappointed with either outcome as both equate to a vast improvement upon their previous league positions under renegade ownership. Finally now, the fans can look forward to a potentially bright future. With the club being run in the right way and mouth watering talents wearing the blue and white hooped shirt there is reason to be optimistic that the Hoops will deliver this season. Attendances remain low but that is sure to change when the old stay-aways realise just how enthralling the football currently on show at Loftus Road is. A ticket to watch Queens Park Rangers: £20. Witnessing the genius of Adel Taarabt: priceless.
- Paul Richards
Recent Guardian piece heralds Watford’s new youth development programme as a potential hotbed for new English talent
In a recent article in the Guardian spotlighting the unique and innovative nature underpinning Watford’s youth development programme, the system was hailed as perhaps the beacon of hope for the English national side, that finally a system had been devised where clubs would be able to spend enough time with young players to compete with their continental rivals. And convincing the article was; the crux of the new programme is that it incorporates players’ school education with their football education within the same Harefield academy, drastically reducing the transfer times between the two dominant activities in a young football scholar’s life, and thus providing countless more hours for the Watford coaching staff to imbue new skills within their young pupils.
Watford, however, seem far from the best example to celebrate England’s future of youth development. Ashley Young is the only current notable graduate of the Watford academy, having been sold to Aston Villa from the Hertfordshire club for £10m in 2007. He’s a player who looks well at home in the Premier League, and has at times dazzled within a predominantly homegrown Villa side, but has only seven England caps to his name, a paltry return for the 25-year-old once considered a shoe-in for the national team. He was deemed surplus to requirements when Fabio Capello chose his 23-man squad for the World Cup, indeed, he wasn’t even worth a mention in the 30-man squad, beaten to the position by the inconsistent Aaron Lennon and the toothless Shaun Wright-Phillips.
Having attended school near Watford in nearby Rickmansworth, I had an admittedly uninformed but interesting working knowledge of the goings-on within the Watford camp. A classmate eventually came through the youth programme to earn a professional contract; he was a phenomenal athlete and good footballer as far as our untrained eyes were concerned, but his career at Watford was short lived, as were virtually all the others of his generation in the academy. This of course was before the recent innovations regarding the Harefield academy, but the experiences we heard of did not instill confidence in the Watford system of education. “Quality Street” was one primitive training method we caught wind of and had a laugh at it’s expense, whereby, as we understood it, channels were marked down both wings of the pitch, the proverbial “Quality Street,” for defenders and central midfielders to lump the ball into for wingers to latch on to the ball. Whether this was just the best tactical approach to maximise output from a limited set of talents or whether this was retrograde thinking is hard to distinguish, but one hopes that with the increased contact time Watford will now have with their scholars, this kind of negative approach will be phased out.
And therein lies the problem with the Guardian’s article. Whilst celebrating the admittedly great achievement of working around practical barriers to increase training time with teenagers, it assumes that this alone will result in a greater talent pool. As we have seen with the Spanish and German teams of this World Cup gone by, as well as domestic success stories such as Barcelona and Ajax, the key to their success regarding youngsters is the way in which they teach them, focussing on technique and ball retention. Spain simply passed teams off the pitch on their way to World Cup triumph, whilst Capello had to settle with setting England up for a direct, and ultimately outdated style of play. The legacy left behind at Barcelona and Ajax by Johan Cruyff is often credited with their teams’ success, where they teach youngters how to play football in ‘the right way’, or Total Football. Teams in the Premier League aren’t doing too badly at trying to replicate this style; Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger have built some gloriously good sides in their time but have done so with the aid of foreign talent. The philosophy has yet to properly embed itself into the English mindset, and is absent at grass roots level (how often have you heard the cry of “Get rid!” at a children’s or amateur football match?), and until this is changed, Watford can have all the time they want with their young recruits, but all it may do is increase the quantity of the English talent pool, instead of the quality.
- Ciarán McManus