The four-week enforced cessation of Premier League and Championship fixtures has allowed Blackpool to step back from an appalling run of defeats, several of which were fully merited. It is indeed without doubt that the World Cup came at the right time, with on and off the field issues at Bloomfield Road in need of some serious top-down attention. Whether that comes to pass remains to be seen, but the current common consensus amongst the vast majority of fans suggests a lack of confidence in the squad at Michael Appleton’s disposal and the manager’s own ability to get the best out of his players, whilst the board and owner Simon Sadler have also attracted what in my view is fair criticism for assembling a weaker squad than last season’s in what is this time out a tougher division.
What has probably been overlooked by many supporters is the likely large churn of personnel at the club during the next six months. Not only are several players out on loan – Owen Dale, Rob Apter, Bez Lubala, Doug Tharme, Reece James, and Oliver Casey – a glut of incoming loans – Rhys Williams, Theo Corbeanu, Charlie Patino, Lewis Fiorini, and Ian Poveda – are by no means certain to last the whole season at the seaside. Of those out on loan I would suggest only Tharme and Apter have a future at Blackpool, although Owen Dale may yet be recalled in January. I would though expect to see Dale, Lubala, James, and Casey officially leave the club in the summer, along with the aforementioned five Premier League loanees currently within Appleton’s squad.
Elsewhere, much will be decided by which division Blackpool will be in next season. For example, Gary Madine is more likely to have the option taken up on his contract if Blackpool are relegated. That is by no means a criticism of the player, especially one that has stood out in recent weeks, but I don’t foresee the 32-year-old being able to stand up to the rigours of another physically intense Championship season.
Those under long term contracts – Daniel Grimshaw, Jerry Yates, Andy Lyons, Callum Wright, Jordan Gabriel, Marvin Ekpiteta, Dominic Thompson, and Jake Beesley – are in theory far more likely to be at the club next season but it doesn’t stretch the imagination too far to suggest that Grimshaw and Yates will attract attention from further up the division. Much will though depend on Grimshaw regaining his place in the team, and if Yates can score 20 Championship goals. Ekpiteta’s stock has fallen after what has by his high standards been a very poor first half of the current campaign, although Richard Keogh’s absence playing alongside the Londoner in central defence cannot be underestimated.
It is not unfeasible to suggest that most if not all of the remaining players under contract could leave in the summer. Those most likely to be gainfully employed elsewhere are Luke Garbutt, Grant Ward, Liam Bridcutt, Kevin Stewart (he and Bridcutt may by then have retired due to persistent injuries), and third-choice goalkeeper Stuart Moore whilst Keshi Anderson, CJ Hamilton, Chris Maxwell, and Kenny Dougall may seek a final big(ger) contract elsewhere. There are also question marks over the futures of Shayne Lavery, James Husband, Sonny Carey, and Jordan Thorniley, all of whom will have their admirers elsewhere in the Championship and within the upper echelons of League One.
One such synopsis that including those loaned to Blackpool and who have been lent to other clubs is that as many as 23 players currently attached to the club may no longer be plying their respective trade at Bloomfield Road by the beginning of June 2023. With increased concern of what is occurring on and off the pitch including a distinct need for stability as many of those around start to lose their heads, a lack of continuity and one to such a degree as this possible numerical scenario further adds to the transient, almost ephemeral image of those involved at the sharp end of professional football. Or, quite simply, a perfect storm of poor recruitment and a lack of forward planning has brought about such a likelihood.
Blackpool have to blend a business model of looking to the future with what is best in the present. Neither are mutually exclusive, but just to retain its place in the Championship some short-term decisions may have to be made that run contrary to the club’s modus operandi. Whether they decide to keep the divisive Appleton is therefore only one of the big issues within Sadler’s in tray, with the risk of keeping an unpopular manager to a point where revenue significantly drops having to be balanced with any theoretical new manager wanting his own squad of players which results in an entirely different context to churn in personnel. Either way and as it stands, there will be significant upheaval at Blackpool during the next six months which will require skilful negotiating and more than a dash of good fortune for the club to be in better, or no worse shape on the pitch by the time the current season draws to a close.