OK so all jokes aside, when Steve Cotterill was named the new manager I was genuinely excited. Gone were the days of wheeler dealer transfers bringing in cheque book players who’d kiss the badge one week and sell their soul to the devil the next for a few more quid in their back pockets. SC was going to be a manager as far removed from Harry Redknapp as you could get. I hoped that he was going to be the new Alan Ball and that on a modest budget he would be able to start to turn the clubs fortunes around once more. I dreamt of an honest, battling side who’d give their all for the shirt once the clubs highest earners has been removed from the wage bill. I didn’t expect big things. I didn’t expect to be pushing on towards a return to the Premier League or to grab a playoff spot. But things couldn’t be as bad as they had been. We would rise like a Phoenix from the flames.
I mentioned the club retaining the services of TBH, this was because with the new owners providing a different budget we could now afford to keep him. I think it’s safe to say he stayed because no one wanted him and that he’s quite happy to keep picking up such high wages compared to everyone else. Surely the top wage earner at a club has to be the best player? That’s not such a weird notion to think is it?
During the summer months we are told that SC missed out on over 15 targets that he wanted to bring into the squad. Four or five would have been one thing but questions remain unanswered over why so many players didn’t want to come to the club or why we missed out on the deals? Were the fee’s way off the mark? Were the wages on offer not good enough? Did they not want to come because of what had gone on previously? Someone knows the answers to these questions but they’re not saying in public what they are so as fans we all have to guess. Did they not want to play for SC? We just don’t know.
One thing that seems for certain is that unlike Harry Redknapp, SC doesn’t seem to have contacts in the world of football. I’ve heard from scouts that he doesn’t trust their opinion either which I find a bit worrying. I worry that he has a somewhat naïve and archaic view that as the gaffer he knows it all and doesn’t need the help of anyone else. No one knows it all quite frankly and we all need help in whatever walk of life we’re in be in football or any other form of business. As someone famously said there’s no I in team.
SC chooses not to employ an Assistant Manager. I find this is confusing as the fact that the Ipswich Town Manager Paul Jewell not employing a defensive coach and then watching his side concede 12 goals in two games to Southampton and Peterborough within the space of a week. I’ve spoken to parents of lads in the academy who tell me that SC doesn’t go to watch them play at all which is very disconcerting if you’re trying to break into the first team and the five year plan of the club is to make the academy one of the very best in the country. There’s an air of insistence that the current crop of lads and the one’s from the past couple of seasons aren’t good enough. Anyone who’s seen anything of any of the current lads first hand would know that the total opposite is in play and that we have a great crop of youngsters coming through right now. With the emergence of Ryan Williams into the first team squad I hope that SC will drop his stance of the first season that the squad cannot accommodate academy players into it.
A worrying sign for me is that only two players; David Norris and Greg Halford have played in every minute of football this season. SC seems to becoming the new tinker man as he tries to get to grips with the squad of players that he can now get to call his own. Last season and the first couple of opening games you could somewhat forgive SC for being pigeon holed into having to play a 4-4-2 formation or a 4-5-1. I do worry though that’s the extent of his tactical knowledge and that this is how we will see the side line up every week. We haven’t scored in the first half for 14 matches in all competitions now which is a worrying statistic for me. Surely we can take the game to the opposition in the first 45 more and certainly when we’re playing at home. We don’t have any players that put the fear into the opposition. We don’t have a recognised goal scorer, we don’t have a play maker like Merson, Walsh, Preki or Prosinecki that can provide much needed link up play for the forwards to benefit from. The most skilled player at the club King Kanu cannot roll back the years every week and last a full 90 minutes. Worrying times until the emergency transfer window opens. But when it opens who will come? SC thought he’s done a deal with Chelsea to bring in Patrick Van Aanholt to the club but he instead went out on a season’s long loan to Premiership Wigan Athletic who under manager Robert Martinez, play an attractive variation of football. Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas it seems doesn’t think that SC will be able to bring any benefit to his youngsters by coming on loan. SC for him isn’t a manager who is able to bring out the best in players. The form of Richie De Laet this season is the Premiership is a good indication of that in comparison to his form at Pompey last year. It can be levelled at SC that he’s too old school and unwilling to embrace anything new that breaks the age old English tradition of the 4-4-2 formation.
The notion of 4-3-3 would be alien to SC but this is how Villas-Boas wants to set out his Chelsea side. 4-3-2-1, 4-2-4 … say any of these to SC and I think he’d look back at you quite blankly. Why is it that players under SC don’t seem to want to give their all for him and only start to play when we have to chase the game having gone behind? It’s only when SC finally admits that Plan A has failed again that we seem to come out firing. Perhaps he should trust his players more and show more faith in their abilities? Yet when the final whistle has gone all we hear is how we should have won, how we deserved more out of the game. SC is starting to sound more like Paul Hart, Tony Adams and Avram Grant the longer he stays with the club. The list of excuses readily at hand as to why we’ve gone another week without winning; players over trained, players missing. Wouldn’t it be really refreshing to have heard during the mid week defeat to Betis that we were actually just played off the park by a team with far more quality than ours? We all knew that with six players away on international duty, one injured and two who couldn’t get work visa’s, that with four academy players in the squad it would be a tall ask to get any sort of result. He could have just given credit where credit was due in my opinion and changed the record. What was great to read was the reaction of players like Sam Magri and Lewis Stockford who took so much away from the experience. Why weren’t we hearing from the Manager more encouragement at the end of the 90 minutes that highlighted the jobs the youngsters did at times during the games? Give them more self confidence to take back into the next game at academy level?
Quite frankly there’s no shame losing 5-1 to Real Betis in a friendly with a weakened squad. There is however real shame in losing 1-0 to Barnet with a full first team out.
Player discipline wasn’t something that SC was keen to tackle during his first season with the club. It’s something he needs to address now in his second season though before we start carrying suspensions into the winter months, something with the smallest squad in the league we cannot afford to have happen to us. As my previous blog alluded to, I don’t think we have the depth or quality to be able to see us through when the inevitable injuries and suspensions start to come. The club picked up a staggering 18 bookings in August alone. Only Dirty Leeds have a worse disciplinary record than Pompey in the league as it stands but only by virtue of having had people sent off. Whilst the neighbours might be flying high in the league, we’re flying high in the wrong league chart. In the opening games of last season it wasn’t until the 13th game that Pompey picked up 17 bookings although they had also seen a player sent off. How many bookings we’ll have by round 13 of the league is anyone’s guess unless the issue is sorted out. That’s got to come from the Manager down to the players and quickly that it won’t be tolerated and its going to cost the club if it isn’t sorted out.
The change in rules by the league which see’s the number of substitutions being able to be named has been typical of SC’s luck so far. Unable to come close to fielding seven subs at any stage last season, he know has to tell players that they’re going to miss out now he can only name five which means the likes of Ryan Williams missing out which is a crying shame if you’re chasing the game and need a young pair of legs to come on and the enthusiasm to be able to change a game.
Ask yourself why the club has falling attendances this season? Cost is one issue but we hardly have the most exciting squad to go and watch either. Take into account the style of play and results and SC has a big part in why numbers are falling so fast in comparison to last season. The players he’s brought into the club aren’t setting the league alight just yet although players like Pearce, Halford, Norris and Varney are showing real signs of quality. The signing of Benjani is somewhat of a smoke screen to me to take the reality away that the players that have come in aren’t exactly good enough at present to take us forward and upwards. Bringing in a fans favourite when 15 players didn’t want to come is papering over a lot of cracks that are beginning to appear. Still at least we didn’t pay £2.5 million to Burnley for Patterson as he sits in the physio room once again.
This argument that the kids aren’t ready worries me. Luke Nightingale didn’t always get a host of opportunities but he did well when asked years ago. If you don’t give players a chance they can’t show you what they can do. With games like Barnet the ideal opportunity to bed in youngsters, SC fielded a strong team that let him down. Big black mark for the players and the Manager for me. We may have only lost two in all competitions so far this seasons, but we don’t look like a side capable of winning games either. It’s a worrying sign, SC worries me with his comments as well. Going into the final days before the transfer window we were told by him that he was looking to bring in another three players, then one or two, then admits that no business would happen and then we’d be looking to the emergency loan window. It’s reminiscent of HR churning out the same story that he had no idea how much the players earned playing for him. After a while it all becomes very dull.
At Arsenal Arsene Wenger has brought through 48 players from the academy to the first team in his time. If SC was to stay with Pompey for the same amount of time I would think we’d be lucky to see him bring 10 players through in the same period. Yesterday the new owners announced that their five year plan has a strong emphasis on the academy which is great to read, but when your manager never watches them play how do the two marry up? Let’s be honest they don’t. So you have to ask yourself how the manager fits into the plans of the new owners in that case. Will SC have to change his ways or will the club change the manager?
Yes when your options are limited it’s difficult to please everyone as a manager. But as a manager you have to be held accountable. When it’s your call to take the players to America without any commercial benefits to the club and things go wrong then the finger of blame has to be placed somewhere especially when it results in a game with commercial benefits like the Betis one having to be re-arranged away from home and fulfilled for commercial reasons.
Time will tell whether SC is the man for Pompey. I hope he is. I hope I can find the excitement I had when he first came in again. I hope the players gel quickly for the manager and that we start to win games. It’s what every fan wants for their team – success. Sometimes though success is achieved at a cost. Could the cost be the manager’s head come the start of January? Time will tell.
I say it’s only fair to give him until January before he can be fully judged. You can expect an update from me on the subject come the New Year though.