The arrival of Colin Calderwood at Bloomfield Road as Assistant Head Coach – or should that be assistant to the head coach – will presumably be an appointment thrust upon incumbent head coach Neil Critchley and not one of his choosing, or something he has requested of Blackpool’s owner Simon Sadler.
In keeping with the Seasiders’ transfer policy over the summer it is not clear, the silence once more being deafening, as to who has initiated Calderwood’s appointment, but the feeling is of it being more a ‘Red Adair’-esque attempt to steady a ship dangerously listing only weeks after the delayed start to the 2020/21 season, something which Sadler would have been keen to address without resorting to the obvious conclusion to dispense with Critchley’s services only months into active service.
There are though concerns as to who is responsible for the decision making at Blackpool, or at least the motives behind those recommending their opinions to Sadler. Critchley was a left field appointment, one that few if any would have foreseen. After knock backs from Oxford United for their manager Karl Robinson and an unrequited flirtation with Nathan Jones, later to return to familiar Luton Town territory, there was a danger of Blackpool casting their net too widely in what looked an increasingly desperate attempt to secure Simon Grayson’s permanent replacement. If though someone within Sadler’s circle is a staunch Liverpool fan, and who wished for his friend’s club to play the Jurgen Klopp way as an antidote to Grayson’s attritional, archaic approach, it would not take a genius to look further down the food chain at Mellwood to find the first available adherent to the German’s modus operandi.
When Blackpool secured promotion in 2007 back to the second tier of English football, ironically under Grayson, it was aided by the club, specifically using the money of Valeri Belokon, signing players who many fans had heard of. Think Ben Burgess, Claus Jorgensen, Andy Morrell, and Michael Jackson. These and others weren’t the most gifted individuals to ever grace Bloomfield Road but collectively formed a team that was unstoppable in the latter stages of the 06/07 season. Now, as Blackpool seek a return to the club’s natural habitat it is expected to happen on the strength of adding Bez Lubala, Keshi Anderson, Jerry Yates, and Oliver Sarkic to a squad almost completely decimated at the behest of Critchley, or whoever at the club has demanded it. League One was there for the taking last season, but was ultimately conquered by three no nonsense, ‘up and at ’em’ playing styles of Wycombe Wanderers, Coventry City, and Rotherham United. If Blackpool thought an admittedly laudable approach of buying in those earmarked for potential but not guaranteed future success infused with a tippy tappy, gegenpress-lite ethos would reap immediate dividends, the first weeks of the season have emphatically said otherwise.
Despite Critchley’s post-match protestations that there hasn’t been much in the majority of the games Blackpool have lost – if that is the case why is it almost always the opposition who come out on top – there has been little evidence that the experiment, and that’s what it is, to dovetail an untried coach at elite level with an ethos of sourcing players almost entirely without the nous and experience to mix it in League One, will prove to be success. All football fans want results yesterday, and many will protest that we are only nine games into a 46-match season. There have though been worryingly few signs of improvement, as weeks on the training ground suggest that anything but happens between matches. The same problems resurface game after game, often characterized by baffling team selections and substitutions, without the necessary flexibility in system to get the best out of certain players such as Gary Madine.
Has Critchley been dealt a bum deal by those above him? Has he had any say of who to sign from a theoretical list put before him? When he repeatedly says about new signings that ‘we’ve been tracking <add name> all summer’ does that mean him, Jonathan Gibson, Tommy Johnson, and/or CEO Ben Mansford? Or, have the club placed too much faith in Critchley by buying in to, literally and figuratively, his footballing methodology and a raft of players brought in at his behest? Far from answering these and other questions on recruitment and decision making, the appointment of Calderwood, whilst roundly seen as a positive move, does little to fill in the many blanks since Critchley’s pre-lockdown arrival.
Football is nothing without fans, but in the sense that the world government’s will be loathed to impart what they know about extraterrestrials to the general public, much of what goes on at clubs will never make the public domain. Many supporters understand little about the game other than what is plonked right in front of them, and react purely to results. Whilst football is a results industry what goes on behind the scenes, and even how to read an unfolding game and decipher tactical preferences and formations is beyond the ken of the average fan. As harsh as this sounds, most do not want to know or care what occurs if results are favourable. A stick often used to beat many Blackpool fans by opposition supporters suggested they didn’t complain about the Oyston regime when the times were good, nor were there many or any dissenting voices about him owning the club from a prison cell in the mid to late 1990’s. Whilst there are some inconvenient truths to these accusations some are based on ignorance and goading, with the changing landscape of a society drenched by Social Media’s ‘say everything you think’ credo never more exemplified by how users of, for example Twitter, think it acceptable to say things online which they would never do in person.
Nevertheless, a fine line of telling supporters what the club believes they need to know must be trod, but the feeling among many fans is that Blackpool are not publicly detailing who at the club is responsible for what, and where they must ultimately be accountable. The arrival of Calderwood should in my view have been accompanied by a statement by Sadler, considering such a poor start to the season has precipitated the Scotsman’s arrival.
It is again my personal view that Neil Critchley has two games to save his career at Blackpool. Should his charges lose, or even draw, today another highly winnable game, this time at Burton Albion, a decision will be there to be made by Sadler and Mansford. Even a win today might not save the head coach should it be followed up by a reversal to Wigan Athletic this coming Tuesday, much in the same way Grayson was sacked after a home defeat against Gillingham which had followed a fortunate but turgid victory over Southend United three days earlier. Win both and Critchley will then be confronted with two other games Blackpool will be expected to win but that represent potential banana skins, away to Eastbourne Borough in the F.A. Cup and back at headquarters where Leeds United’s Under-21 squad will be the opposition in the EFL Trophy.
Four games in ten days will either bring Critchley’s time at the seaside to a swift conclusion, or buy the 42-year old more time to implement his ideas in a league that’s not exactly fertile ground for alternative schools of thought. We will also by then have seen if Calderwood’s influence and experience has made a positive difference, or if the former Cambridge United-manager was brought to Bloomfield Road should a smooth transition of power be required.