FAREWELL KENNY JACKETT

Leaves with his head held high and can largely be proud of his time at Wolves – but time was up

Late on Friday evening, the news broke that Kenny Jackett had been sacked by Wolves after just over three years in charge. Walter Zenga has already been announced as his replacement. At this point we shall steer away from discussing the new man in charge – there’s only so much to be gleaned from potted Wikipedia biographies, and anyone without a working knowledge of the Saudi Arabian and UAE leagues can’t really pass much informed comment on his recent work – and concentrate on assessing the reign of Ken. Although Jeff Shi stated on Monday that Jackett would be given a chance to work with the new regime, his sacking was always on the cards. New owners habitually want to install their own man in short order and it was unlikely that a relatively low profile manager was going to be suitable for an era of big signings and large expenditure. At best, he would have lasted until the team went on its first bad run of 2016/17. Whatever the merits of Zenga, this arguably ruthless approach is a good early sign from Fosun; it is a good trait in football to identify problems and fix them before they become an issue, rather than hanging around and waiting for things to go sour before taking action. “Never change a winning team” is one of the biggest fallacies in football or any sport, it’s imperative that everything is constantly under review and subject to improvement if the opportunity arises.

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See, I mean you’d definitely change this winning team.

 

On to the positives and negatives of Ken’s time in charge:

Positives

  • Following relegation to League One, it was a very real prospect that we could have been stuck at that level for many years. Sheffield United are about to start their sixth straight season in the third tier, Coventry their fifth. Our success at that level is of course tempered by the fact that we should never have suffered the indignity of playing there and were only sent spiralling by the hubris of Steve Morgan and the rank idiocy of Dean Saunders, but nevertheless an immediate return wasn’t a given. As such Jackett deserves credit for overseeing achievement of his immediate goal and in some style too, with a haul of 103 points. Picking up such a points tally is impressive stuff irrespective of level; for reference when they won promotion from League One, Manchester City (3rd, 82 points), Nottingham Forest (2nd, 82 points) and Leeds United (2nd, 86 points) never got near that kind of form.

    Saunders1
    Missing: one idiot. If found, please return to village.
  • Many managers handed the Wolves job in 2013 would have assessed the squad and chosen to keep on Stephen Ward, Roger Johnson, Jamie O’Hara and Karl Henry, recognising that all had pedigree way above League One level and should therefore have had the requisite quality to secure promotion. However, Jackett quickly recognised that a clean break from the Mick McCarthy era was imperative and chose to exclude them from first team duty until they found new clubs. This was vital for the club, for all the merits of what Ward and Henry brought to the team in years past, this needed to be a fresh start for the club given the turmoil of the previous two seasons. Ken also got Leigh Griffiths back on board and scoring goals, a piece of excellent management which seemed nigh on impossible mere months earlier, and kept Bakary Sako happy and performing despite being stuck at a level severely incommensurate with his ability.

  • Ken’s early work in the transfer market was exemplary; Sam Ricketts was exactly the kind of leader we required to marshal a young team and was followed up by Scott Golbourne, Kevin McDonald, James Henry and Michael Jacobs who were perfectly equipped to bully League One. Nouha Dicko was a tremendous signing who has since proven that he is amongst the very best the Championship has to offer. Benik Afobe was a snip for the price paid, instantly fitted into and greatly improved the team, and in straitened times produced an obscene profit for the club in under a year (although there is much debate to be had about whether it was right to cash in when we did and to the very first offer too).

    Afobe1
    Half a point docked for being a badge kisser.
  • Kenny Jackett did produce good football at times during his reign. From January to November 2014, we played a brand of possession football which ensured we commanded games from start to finish; this also being a style scarcely seen by teams at Molineux at any point in the last 30 years, the nearest fit being Mark McGhee’s unsuccessful (and aborted) attempts when he first took charge. The final four months of 2014/15 following the arrival of Afobe were all about direct, brutal counter-attacking and hitting teams with sheer power and pace. The 21 games from Afobe’s debut yielded 38 points and 41 goals which flies in the face of Ken’s perceived negativity.

Negatives

  • Jackett had a real propensity to indulge in favouritism which bore little relation to what was playing out on the park. This is a trait of many managers, but no less frustrating for that. Kevin Doyle was persisted with in League One despite scoring a mere 3 goals in 23 appearances and contributing little to general play other than increasingly desperate attempts to win free kicks in inconsequential areas. Dave Edwards has repeatedly been deployed as a number 10, yet has a poor scoring record at Championship level and offers nothing by way of creativity; he was also deployed on the left of midfield at the start of 2015/16 with Ken later admitting (verbatim) at a Fans’ Parliament meeting that he wanted to “shoehorn” him in. Matt Doherty displaced club captain Sam Ricketts at the start of 2014/15 out of nowhere, has been preferred to England U21 star Dominic Iorfa at times and is, in Ken’s words, “too good to not play somewhere” – all of which seems strange devotion to a defender who is regularly at fault for goals (he did show signs of improvement towards the end of 2015/16, but this is only relative to how poor he was previously and stood out more as there was literally no attacking play to be excited about at the same time). Carl Ikeme was constantly directly at fault for goals last season yet despite the presence of Emi Martinez in the squad was seemingly immune to being dropped.

    Edwards1
    Senior debut in 2002/3. 22 goals above League One level. This is not a goalscoring midfielder.
  • Other players however, were poorly treated. Björn Sigurdarson was never likely to be the answer in English football but in League One he was routinely handed 45 minutes to show his worth then dumped back on the bench for weeks while Doyle offered nothing. Michael Jacobs was not given a single start in the number 10 role in 2014/15 while Edwards was inked into the team (it remains to be seen whether he can make an impact with Wigan this season to prove Jackett wrong). Bright Enobakhare found his progress blocked by the ample figure of Grant Holt for two months. Jack Price was regularly dropped and pushed down the pecking order despite frequently being our most impressive midfielder. Joe Mason was signed by Jackett having allegedly been targeted for months yet struggled to earn a regular starting place; the same applies even more so to Nathan Byrne who we were told was watched by the club over 40 times before we signed him. Adam Le Fondre has made a career out of being a penalty box predator in a conventional front two; not once did we deploy him in such a way. Jed Wallace was signed and barely used despite his abundant potential, Jordan Graham was around seventh in line to play on the left of midfield despite clearly being a cut above all the other alternatives.

  • For all Jackett’s good early work in the transfer market, this too declined as time went on. Any cursory glance at Leon Clarke’s career statistics would have revealed that he is an adept goalscorer at League One level and of no use whatsoever in the Championship. Given that we were well on course for promotion by the time we re-signed him (and there were still sufficient people at the club from Clarke’s first spell who should have told him there was no value in bringing him back) this seemed a spectacularly poor signing and so it proved. Yannick Sagbo and Grant Holt were terrible attempts at short term fixes. Rajiv van La Parra’s lack of consistent end product and questionable commitment should have been identified through proper scouting. Joe Mason appears to be wildly overpriced at the reported fee of £3m and Conor Coady was a diabolical use of £2m – a defensive midfielder who doesn’t have the positional astuteness to protect the back four and is truly woeful in possession, we already owned at least four better central midfielders when we signed him.

    Clarke1
    You can imagine how pleased I was with this.
  • One can point to mitigating factors when assessing our final league position in 2015/16. To lose all of Nouha Dicko, Jordan Graham and Michal Zyro to cruciate ligament injuries is beyond unfortunate, Richard Stearman, Bakary Sako and Benik Afobe were all integral parts of our 2014/15 team yet departed without being adequately replaced. However – there can be no excuse for serving up what we were subjected to last season. There were frequent first halves of no shots on target (we failed to score in 27 out of 46 first halves), dismal attempts at possession, the joint lowest tally of home wins at this level since our tumble down the divisions in the mid 80s, four consecutive 0-0 home draws (at a point where we had nothing to play for, so settling for inching our way along at a point a game made no sense), perhaps the most potent off the shoulder forward in the division in Afobe being deployed in ludicrously deep areas, failing to beat three of the division’s bottom four at home…none of this was anywhere near acceptable. Watching our games became incredibly numbing, the lack of entertainment value without even the pay off of results was a combination which left support for Ken at almost non-existent levels by the end of the campaign.

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    You genuinely could have slept through most of our first halves and literally missed nothing.
  • Jackett did have a tendency – more so than most managers – to take his teams on very poor runs. We hired him after he won just 5 of his final 24 league games with Millwall. Between late November 2013 and early January 2014, we won just one out of seven League One fixtures. There were five straight defeats with 16 goals conceded in November and December 2014. Going into the dead rubber final game against a second string Sheffield Wednesday last season, we had won 3 of our last 19 games.

Overall, the mood towards Kenny Jackett should be one of gratitude. He achieved his immediate aim with ease, he left us at our default minimum level of being a stable Championship team, there were, on balance, more good times than bad. There is little need to feel too sorry for him on departure; under the normal run of things and had we not been in ownership limbo, he’d likely have been sacked at some point in 2015/16 and was well aware that new ownership meant in all likelihood that he would be leaving. In being ditched before the season has started, he’s avoided any stigma for being sacked due to poor results so his reputation won’t take a hit, and any club looking for stability at this level as a base will be interested in his services before the year’s out. He should always be welcome back at Molineux; broadly speaking Ken, thanks for your work. It’s just time we all moved on.

WOLVES TAKEOVER: SNAP CONCLUSIONS

Early reaction to today’s press conference

Jeff Shi of new owners Fosun International and Jez Moxey faced the media today following Thursday’s announcement of the takeover of the club – here are the salient points from the press conference and some early conclusions about what we can expect and where the club stands.

  • Steve Morgan has not profited from the sale of the club

We can infer from this that the sale price was around the £30m mark. There’s plenty of criticism that can be aimed at Morgan over the course of his tenure – which we shall return to in a future blog – but this should conclusively end the conspiracy theories that he was in football ownership to make a quick buck. The fact that he invested £30m back in 2007 is a matter of record, that money was essentially exhausted by our net transfer spend over the course of his time at Wolves. The funds incoming from the Premier League through TV revenue and parachute payments covered our wage bill and the redevelopment of the North Bank and the Academy. Not a single penny was owed by the club to Morgan personally or Bridgemere Group at any point, no money has left the club and been diverted to outside sources – all easily verifiable in the published accounts. His approach to the club can be criticised, there have been definite and serious errors on a footballing level, one could argue that he should have funded at least the building of the North Bank himself as it was non-essential work carried out seemingly on his personal whim, but that doesn’t detract from the point that he has made no capital during his time here nor on departure. Valid criticism of the man is welcome as we found ourselves no further forward at first team level than when he arrived, hogwash rhetoric about him making a quick buck vastly cheapens those arguments.

Morgan1
But he built some houses, day he. Coining it in.

 

  • The infrastructure of the club has been underlined

Jeff Shi made it abundantly clear that Wolves were an attractive prospect for investment due to the underlying state of the club, with no net debt, an excellent Academy set up and a stadium that is perfectly adequate for current purpose. While there has been frequent consternation about the perceived lack of investment at first team level – some of it merited – setting the club up for the long term with the Academy developments and ensuring that the finances of the club have never been jeopardised has been a key factor in attracting the interest of Fosun, who it was confirmed looked at more than 15 clubs before choosing Wolves. Long term investments and strategies can have long term benefits.

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Or you can blow your cash on spunktrumpets like this.

 

  • Kenny Jackett is staying as manager

In an immediate sense, this was probably the biggest news from the conference; after widespread speculation about potential replacements it is now confirmed that there will be no immediate change of manager. This is surprising, given that new owners frequently wish to have their own man in charge, they must be aware of the extremely poor football served up last season and with the departure of Jez Moxey, Jackett no longer has anyone at the club left at boardroom level to fight his corner. However – one would suggest this is very much a position up for review. There was little in the way of serious backing for Ken from Shi at the conference, where it was confirmed talks had been held with Julen Lopetegui before the takeover went through. The ambition of Fosun is clear and he will be under immediate pressure to get results, with other managers now sure to be very keen on taking the Wolves job should it become available. The fanbase is broadly anti-Jackett at this stage, although this didn’t manifest itself much in any concerted chanting at games towards the end of the season (possibly because we’d all fallen asleep). Ken can play good football at times, when handed a squad and signings in League One that were too good for the division he excelled, and our football in 2014/15 – with two distinct phases, possession heavy in the opening three months, packed with attacking power and pace in the final three months – was also impressive at times. He has it within him, if he is provided with greater resources, to produce exciting teams; it’s more that when times are tougher, his default is to overly revert to the back foot and nullify any positive play at all. The pressure will be on him from now, from all quarters – we have a very gentle start with the first seven games looking like a target for a big points haul providing the squad improvements are in place. A slow start is likely to result in a quick departure. He’ll likely never have this opportunity anywhere ever again so this is his career and legacy that he’s fighting for, from today.

Jackett1
All down to you, Ken.

 

  • Signings will be coming soon

Shi confirmed that the intention is to bring in within five to eight players during this transfer window and that the potential for investment is ‘huge and would not be a problem’ – this neatly cutting off unsubstantiated fretting that their investment would be capped around the £30m mark. Fosun have targeted a long list of targets which has now been whittled down following the takeover to those who they are ‘confident’ will come. This would suggest that players have already been approached and will be arriving soon. Shi also confirmed that we would be likely to be working in conjunction with Jorge Mendes at some point, so arrivals from his stable of players in Europe would seem to be likely rather than a raft of more familiar faces from other Championship clubs. At this stage, to mount a serious challenge for the top six, one would think we need at least a goalkeeper, a left back, a central midfielder, a left winger and a striker. Those in situ in those positions are either inadequate or in the latter two cases, non-existent until Jordan Graham and Nouha Dicko return from injury.

Iniesta1
“Which way’s the Penn Road, mucka?”

 

  • Stadium redevelopment is not on the agenda

There are no immediate plans to go any further with redeveloping Molineux. Shi suggested this may be something the owners look at following promotion. At the moment no further capacity is required – excitement at the new ownership notwithstanding, it’s hard to foresee regular sell-outs at Molineux while we’re in the Championship – but this will always be a tough project to time, rebuilding the Steve Bull stand while in the Premier League would reduce capacity at the point of greatest demand. There remains no easy or immediate answer to this issue.

  • Prospects for the season

With less than two weeks to go until the season opener at Rotherham, the squad remains woefully short in most areas. For instance, our left hand side in the last friendly match at Port Vale was made up of a crap, one footed right back and a central midfielder who was picked on that side purely because he is left footed (Ken then appeared bemused in the post-match interview why we struggled for fluency down that side of the pitch). Whatever our investment during this transfer window, this will be a tough season to compete at the very top end of the division given the strength of Newcastle (who realistically would not have been relegated had they not decided to employ Steve McClaren for 75% of the season) and Norwich (who appear to have the ‘too good for the Championship, not good enough for the Premier League’ slot sewn up) in particular. However this is a long-term project, this is not all about one season. Fosun have no intention of spending years on end at this level and the spending levels over the course of the next months and years should reflect that. This should be an exciting ride, one all Wolves fans should embrace.

BIG SAM: BIG DISAPPOINTMENT

The veteran manager is an unimaginative appointment who is unlikely to progress the national team

A mere 14 months ago, Sam Allardyce was sacked within 10 minutes of the final whistle in West Ham’s last game of the 2014/15 season. He now stands as England’s manager, tasked with taking the national team back to the glories of…well, Sven-Göran Eriksson’s regular quarter finals, at least. While Allardyce is a perfectly adept Premier League manager to a point, there is little correlation behind that status and success at international level; his is an appointment borne out of precious few alternatives and a circle of selections which have led the FA to believe that good old fashioned English attributes are the way forward being as all the other approaches have been exhausted.

We should remember that Big Sam was very much in the running for the top job after Eriksson announced he would be leaving after the 2006 World Cup. There was a similarly uninspired field of candidates then; indeed one could argue that Alan Curbishley and Martin O’Neill had greater credentials a decade ago than Steve Bruce or Eddie Howe have now. As the media began to focus on Sven’s nationality and perceived coldness when results and performances tailed off in his latter reign, the FA decided that a British manager was the only way forward and eventually plumped for McClaren, so embattled a short few months previously that a Middlesbrough season ticket holder confronted him pitchside during one of many chastening home defeats. With Allardyce’s departure from West Ham barely a year ago unmourned by many regulars at Upton Park, there is a parallel where a manager not long disliked by supporters who had to watch his football regularly has now been catapulted to what is, at least nominally, the top job in the country. A strange state of affairs. It’s extremely hard to imagine Spain, for example, appointing someone who’d recently been sacked by Real Sociedad, with unattractive football being one of the explicit driving reasons behind his departure.

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Like say, this guy.

Allardyce does at least have the advantage of being more toughened and savvy than McClaren was a decade ago. It’s unlikely he’ll be driven to dropping one of our better footballers purely to prove that he’s his own man and not connected with the previous regime, as McClaren did with David Beckham. It’s an extremely remote possibility that Sam will see fit to take lessons from PR gurus as to how to speak to the press, try out new formations in crucial qualifying games without the players being properly drilled, or indeed fail to ensure that England qualify for the next World Cup. So this is unlikely to be a disaster quite on the scale of the Steve McClaren era. It is, however, quite possible that Allardyce becomes a Graham Taylor figure a quarter of a century on; the style of football is similar, the bluff manner rings true, the nagging sense that no-one in top level international football really plays like a Taylor/Allardyce team is familiar. England were, of course, recently beaten by Iceland who played in a fashion that it’s likely Allardyce greatly appreciated, but it’s not that feasible that such tactics would really progress England to the level desired. Besides which, Iceland (or, one could easily argue, Wales) perform relative to the expectations of their nation and their tiny population. Playing on a regular basis as if you’re a League One team up against a Premier League team on an off day is unlikely to prove successful or popular in the long run.

Graham-Taylor-in-Rotterda-001
By the way, when people say it “can’t be any worse” with England at the moment, they are DEFINITELY wrong.

At present, Allardyce has a reasonably good standing with the media. He has a reasonable knack for a soundbite and it sells well when one of his teams rough-houses an expensively assembled team such as Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United, or a predominantly foreign team such as Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal (with Wenger’s previous propensity to complain about the physical treatment meted out making for easy copy). This though, is relatively small potatoes; as with the Iceland/Wales example above when looking at tactics and approach, you can get away with that kind of siege mentality when you’re a legitimate underdog. There are relatively few occasions when England should be considered in such a way, perhaps only when they’re facing teams well established as one of the top ten in the world, so this is not a play Allardyce will be able to make often. This extends to other elements of his media handling; self-aggrandisement by suggesting you would regularly win titles at big clubs is an easy throwaway line when managing Blackburn, but a similar attitude won’t play well if England’s results are underwhelming. Throwing players under the bus is pretty much considered a no-go area for national managers, after all these players are only with you quasi-voluntarily in the first place. Belligerence is also a dangerous area, as it’s relatively small news if you goad your own fans at Upton Park when West Ham have scraped past 10 man Hull in the least impressive way imaginable, but try pulling that stunt when England have drawn at home with Slovenia. This is a job where Allardyce is going to be subject to more media attention than he’s ever come close to previously enduring and he has much work to do to convince that he has the gravitas (in the case of Bobby Robson) or genuine charm (cf Terry Venables) to convincingly pull it off. Should he indulge the worst excesses of his behaviour (which can be over-confrontational at very least) then his will be a very short honeymoon. While the media in this country might delight in documenting English failures (real or imagined), they also have on the whole sky high expectations of the national team. The skills of a diplomat are often required before a ball’s even been kicked.

Big-Sam
“How to win friends and influence people” by S. Allardyce. Foreword by Mrs Doubtfire

Dissecting Allardyce’s career in club management also gives us few clues as to why the FA have decided he is the man to take English football forward. It is undeniable that he did an excellent job at Bolton where he regularly exceeded expectations and dealt with big name players such as Jay-Jay Okocha, Nicolas Anelka, Fernando Hierro and Youri Djorkaeff; he also left the club over nine years ago. This is, in football terms, as good as ancient history. It also remains overwhelmingly his high watermark in club management and yet was deemed insufficient a decade ago to earn him the England job. In deference to Steve McClaren. As such, it would seem a weak argument to use in favour of him taking the reins in 2016.

His spell at Newcastle was unfortunate from the point of view that he was appointed by owners who subsequently sold the club mere weeks later, and apparently never finding favour with Mike Ashley, was always to an extent on borrowed time. However, his sacking was merited on footballing terms when it came in January 2008. Despite reasonable investment on deeply questionable signings such as Alan Smith, Adboulaye Faye, Joey Barton (drummed out of Manchester City for assaulting a team mate and imprisoned for a separate assault months later) and Geremi, his team had slumped to a run of nine points in 12 games by the time he left the club. The style of football had devolved into aimless long balls at a strike force of 5’8” Michael Owen and 5’7” Obafemi Martins and Allardyce led Newcastle to haul of one point from two games against Derby County – the four points the Rams picked up in those games represented over a third of their entire haul for the season. While Newcastle proceeded to decline over the following 18 months and were subsequently relegated, this was more a consequence of Ashley deigning to appoint Kevin Keegan, Dennis Wise (as Director of Football), Joe Kinnear, Chris Hughton and Alan Shearer during that period rather than any of Allardyce’s fine work being undone. Interestingly, many Newcastle fans view Glenn Roeder’s tenure as superior to Allardyce’s. That’s Glenn Roeder, ladies and gentlemen.

Roeder1
Has it sunk in yet? GLENN ROEDER. That’s who Newcastle fans prefer.

In that sense, we find a similar story at Blackburn. Yes, it is true that Sam did much better work than the man who directly preceded him. It is also true that he was a vastly superior manager than the man who followed him. Those two men were Paul Ince and Steve Kean; it really is not much of a stretch for any competent manager to outperform them at Premier League level. Allardyce did a reasonable stabilising job at Rovers but all he did was to return them to their natural place in the order while owned by the Walker Trust; a stable, mid-table Premier League team. It would be hard to argue that he did a superior job at Ewood Park in relation to Mark Hughes, who incidentally would seem to have a much better case for consideration for the England job than Allardyce should we choose to ignore nationality – younger, with better recent results in the Premier League, what is widely considered to be better football, a good understanding of international football thanks to his earlier time in charge of Wales and with experience of a club job at Manchester City that is much bigger than anything Allardyce has ever faced. As Jürgen Klinsmann was reportedly under serious consideration before Sam’s coronation, it can’t be that nationality was a particularly decisive factor and it’s odd that in such context, Hughes barely merited a mention in the press while what I and many others would consider a deeply inferior version of the same thing has taken control. It may be that he had no real interest, but nor does it seem the FA were especially interested in him.

SOCCER
Plus you have to admire a man with thighs like that.

Sam took over from another disaster area of a manager in Avram Grant at West Ham; another easy tick for the CV, be better than a man who’s just relegated the club. His brief was to get the Hammers back into the Premier League and remain there. While it’s true that in bald, raw terms, he succeeded, the devil as ever is in the detail. West Ham finished 3rd in the Championship in 2011/12, despite their budget dwarfing everyone else in the league by a factor hitherto rarely seen at that level, and were forced into the playoffs where they narrowly succeeded in the final against Blackpool. His final season saw West Ham limp to the finish line with a mere three wins in their final 21 league games. There was plenty of perfectly acceptable work along the way with three successive mid-table finishes but that is all it was – perfectly acceptable. Managers don’t generally get handed better jobs because of “perfectly acceptable” work. Especially when that work has started to tend in the exact opposite direction of “perfectly acceptable” and you’re sacked because the football is abysmal to watch, as proved to be his fate at West Ham. Nor does it generally reflect well when your media-friendly, highly popular successor proceeds to turn the squad into one which plays extremely attractive football, qualifies for Europe and improves upon the previous season by a full 15 points.

Slaven-Bilic-Besiktas-Manager
Everyone loves Slaven. Well, except Laurent Blanc, probably.

 

So, we move to his work at Sunderland. This can surely only have been the defining metric by which it was decided he was the best candidate available to manage England. With Jermain Defoe – arguably the best striker at any club outside the top eight – already on board before he arrived, Allardyce picked up 36 points from 30 games. Along the way he went on separate runs of five straight defeats and one win in 11 games. Now, the points haul he managed was sufficient to save Sunderland – mission accomplished for him and them, and kudos is due on that front (there’s a sad poetry in that survival being attained at the expense of a club managed by Steve McClaren for the majority of the season). But is that really evidence of a man cut out for managing an international team with continual designs on reaching the latter stages of tournaments? Extrapolated over a season, that ratio of points per game would earn Allardyce’s Sunderland around 46 points. He managed 46, 40 and 47 in his three Premier League seasons at West Ham. This is the mark of a manager who can get average teams to churn out average performances, heavy on defensive organisation and with a first instinct for survival…very similar to a certain Roy Hodgson (for the record, 46 points in his final season at Fulham, 47 in his final season at West Brom). If Hodgson failed, why should Allardyce succeed? If the skills of Hodgson proved to be incompatible with the England job, why should a man with a worryingly similar record do any better? The evidence seems extremely thin on the ground. Hodgson did at least have a track record of international management behind him and had reached two European finals at club level, so didn’t purely specialise in mid-table monotony.

roger-daltrey-03
Something something new boss, something something old boss.

 

It remains to be seen what the future holds for the England team under Allardyce. As previously stated, he almost certainly has the wherewithal to negotiate a moderate qualifying group, not that winning 10 qualifying games out of 10 appeared to give Hodgson much credence with the media ahead of Euro 2016. In terms of raw results, it’s entirely possible that he may marginally improve on Hodgson’s tournament record of three wins in eleven games. But when we assess whether this is a man capable of producing tangible improvements, genuine achievements, progressing the many quality young English players who need encouragement to play naturally on the big stage, playing anything approaching attractive football or unifying the country behind a single cause, it seems doubtful. It’s fair to say that the pool of candidates was uninspiring at best; it wasn’t just the hot weather that’s been keeping me up lately, it’s also the thought of having Steve Bruce as England manager, and we dealt with the credentials of Glenn Hoddle in a previous blog at great length. But that doesn’t excuse the FA’s decision, this is one which will condemn the national team to two years of stasis, at best. Appoint an average manager and get average results will likely prove to be the message. Eventually they might learn.

HOW DEPRESSION AFFECTS ME

Two blogs written in short succession at the start of the month, to decent reception. The blog opened in the first place at least in part because I’d started to enjoy writing again. Then nothing for the following week. This isn’t a case of me being a lazy bark (though I can quite rightfully be accused of that at times), but because last week I had another attack of what me might politely call ‘my troubles’. Feeling sufficiently over the worst of it now to be able to start writing again, I’ll try to talk you through some of what I go through, what I do to fix it (as best I can) and hopefully it’ll at least explain some things or give you a small insight into it all.

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This isn’t going to be an especially fun piece. Here is a picture of a cat to compensate.

 

Principally, the major issue I face with my condition these days is one of self-esteem and self-confidence. I do get low moods, I have had suicidal thoughts (thankfully a long time ago, and nowhere near that mark any time recently, long may that continue), I have had periods of self-destructive behaviour which were at least partly caused by having depression, but they’re not – or are no longer – the major symptoms. Essentially, I go through periods where I don’t feel I offer any value to the world or the people around me, I don’t have the confidence to use any of my abilities or try new things, I’m constantly in fear of what people think about me, I compare myself unfavourably to others and any mistakes I make get blown wildly out of proportion in my own mind. Now, I realise this all sounds completely irrational. I have an amazing support network of friends and family (for which I will always be eternally grateful) but when times are bad, it doesn’t seem to matter how much they reassure me that I’m not as bad as I think I am, that message won’t go in. My mind has decided that I’m a useless waste of space, that is that, and the more I think about it the worse it gets. I also don’t want to burden anyone else with my problems (which seem pretty piffling in the grand scheme of things) or come across as being really whiny or needy, so I tend to shut myself away a bit when it’s kicking off, manifested here in no writing for a week. It really can be a self-defeating cycle.

To combat this, I’m on medication which does at least stop the bad times from being catastrophic times. I’ve accepted I’ll probably have to be on some form of medication for the rest of my life – that’s just how it is. This is a medical condition after all, and while for many years I avoided doctors; firstly out of a fear of even talking about or knowing how to approach this stuff, and secondly as I didn’t want to be seen as ‘mental’ or whatever – I accept now that this is just the way it has to be. Thankfully we seem to live in more enlightened times where there isn’t the same stigma around mental health issues as there has been in the past. I do as much reading on the subject as I can when I’m not in the midst of an ‘attack’ so I can be as prepared as possible, perhaps find some different techniques to try for next time. I take inspiration from others who have come through their own mental health struggles and see what parts of their story I can apply to my own. I do try to tell myself fairly often that I don’t always get everything wrong and there are aspects of my personality and being that aren’t all that bad, there is a small sub section of people out there who like me (inexplicably) and there must be a reason behind that, it’s not out of pity. Well, not entirely pity anyway. Frequently though, it’s a case of just waiting it out and eventually I’ll feel a bit better. I won’t always feel in a trough of self-despair, it’s just shitty when I do.

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Turns out they do, sometimes.

 

Moving beyond this – and I do think I’m over the worst of this particular episode now – I’m not sure what the future is for me in this regard. I don’t think I’ll ever be someone who ‘used to be depressed’. Clearly I’d rather never feel like this, but I don’t think that’s realistic; maybe this is as good as it ever gets for me, after all it’s frequently been far worse in the past. I believe a key to any recovery from here is being open about the issues I face, bottling them up really will get me nowhere fast so as maudlin as it might look if I’m banging on about depression on here or on social media, it’s simply part of the process for me. I’m a lot more positive about my life than I was as little as three years ago, many people tell me they can see a marked improvement in me from those days, so I will look to maintain that upward trend, as difficult as it might be sometimes. Clearly I’ll try to stay active and involve myself socially as best I can, as walling myself away isn’t the answer to anything as tempting as it might seem at times. Beyond that…I don’t know. I’m not an expert. I’m still learning about this stuff all the time, as difficult a process as it might be, I can only try to come out stronger the other side and try to work out what I should do or should avoid to try to minimise the risk of it happening where possible.

I’ll forever be grateful to the ongoing support I have, to the point where I can’t really even put it into words. I wouldn’t think anyone would be bothered to be invested in me to any kind of serious degree but it’s apparent that they are, so I’ll always be doing my best to keep this stuff under control. Thanks once again to those concerned and to everyone taking the time to read this. Hopefully normal service can resume now.

THE END OF OSBORNEOMICS – NEW HOPE REQUIRED

The soon to be outgoing Chancellor’s formal admission that his surplus target no longer exists heralds the end of his overriding economic philosophy

After six years of fruitlessly chasing a target he was destined to never even come close to reaching, George Osborne’s aim of reaching a national budget surplus came to an end yesterday. All it took was for Britain to provisionally pledge to leave the European Union. Who knew it would be quite so simple in the end? You just need to set the country down a path of changing its place in the world for decades to come, and you can force even the most stubborn of politicians to eventually see sense.

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“By George, I think he’s got it. After six bloody years”

For running a surplus, and austerity by extension, are widely derided and discredited concepts. George Osborne never grasped this, in the age of anti-intellectualism where we’re all ‘sick of hearing from experts’, the voices of the entire economist community weren’t good enough for him. He has blamed his decision on the consequences of Brexit where a fairly sharp economic slowdown is the least severe of the expected short term outcomes, thus making his already (highly dubious) tight projections for 2020 entirely void. But for all that he might protest that it is only circumstances beyond his personal control that have led him to this decision, it really is a move that he should have made independently long ago. His reasoning was shaky on the following grounds:

  • When the Tories came into power (as an effective minority government) in 2010, the economy had been in the midst of a severe recession as a result of the global financial crash, but was showing signs of recovery – indeed there were shoots of GDP growth as 2009 turned to 2010. Osborne choked off this recovery by pursuing an agenda based on brutal austerity and an all encompassing desire to eliminate the deficit (this would later be extended to a wish to run a surplus – after, it might be noted, that Osborne missed his initial ‘elimination’ target in one Parliament by an absolutely huge margin and borrowed more than all Labour governments in history put together). The issue with this approach is that sharp cuts to spending do nothing other than halt growth, decrease market and consumer confidence, stall the economy so little of a positive nature can happen and at best, we experience stagnation. Accordingly, we saw numerous quarters of negative GDP growth between 2010 and 2013, at which point when seeing that austerity was failing, the vice-like grip was finally released and the economy eventually allowed to breathe. The obsession behind reducing national debt – which never even remotely approached historic peaks even at the height of the global economic crisis – to the detriment of every other aspect of economic policy played a huge part in wasted years for the British economy; when much of Europe was busy rebuilding, we were mired in the slowest recovery since the 18th century. For contrast, see Mark Carney’s promise this week to issue £250bn of quantitative easing should the need arise in the event of an economic crash following Brexit. The stock and current markets stabilised from their initial post-referendum tailspin. Think about it logically – would you have more confidence in an economy which says that it has the answers and the funds available should the worst happen, or one which says we’re potless come what may for the foreseeable and everyone’s going to have to do much more with far less?

  • Running a surplus when the economy is booming is again, fundamentally bad economics. It has the effect of boosting national savings to the counterpoint of contracting the economy – the private sector has to find some way of financing this public surplus, most commonly by taking on bank debt. So while the Government gets richer (to no obvious end), everyone else because more indebted. It’s a central flaw outlined in most basic, conventional economic teachings. Rather than follow such conventions, the Cameron/Osborne alliance preferred to deal in trite phrases such as ‘fixing the roof while the sun’s shining’ or that they ‘wouldn’t max out the nation’s credit card’. Economics can’t be cheapened down to terrible soundbites. Economies don’t work like household budgets. A better analogy than Gideon’s mythical leaky/non-leaky roof for what the Tories actually proposed is that if the nation owned a theoretical collective car, we should sell that now to anyone offering cash up front as we could use the money to pay off a chunk of our ultra-low interest, ultra-long term mortgage. Then get a taxi to work and back every single day.

I should add that I don’t possess any formal qualifications in Economics. Like so much in terms of politics, I’ve simply aimed to educate myself as well as possible so that I can make informed decisions and form reasoned opinions. I don’t understand everything, but I know enough. If I understand basic economics such as the above, it should be reasonable to expect that the Chancellor of the Exchequer understands it as well. George Osborne never showed any grasp of the most basic of concepts involved in running his department – which is a fitting epitaph for the Cameron years given the multiple shambles in running key offices such as Education, Health and Welfare.

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Dear Gideon, Merry Christmas, Love Dan.

In any event, it seems almost certain that Osborne’s days in No 11 are very shortly to come to an end. With his key promise now broken and being inextricably tied to the outgoing Prime Minister, whoever takes over the running of the country will surely look for a new Chancellor. It is absolutely crucial that whoever the new duo may be, they provide us with more hope than Cameron and Osborne ever did between 2010 and 2016.

Far too many people in Britain have been cut off and marginalised – this Government has had nothing at all to say or offer to people who aren’t prospering. A large section of the Leave vote came from areas where such a situation was rife; where people felt that things couldn’t possibly get any worse for them as it was going, so they may as well vote for change of some sort. As much as this might in the long run have been turkeys voting for Christmas, theoretical macroeconomic debate doesn’t carry much weight to people struggling to keep themselves afloat, this is the here and now and change, however flimsy, was offered and they took it. This cannot continue. If the modern Conservative Party genuinely does believe in the “One Nation” principle then no longer can ordinary people be abandoned.

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And we all know who set us off down that path.

It’s practically an inevitability that the economy is set for challenging times in the coming years, providing that we proceed with withdrawal from the EU. We cannot afford another situation mirroring the early coalition years, there cannot be more deliberate stagnation and managed decline. If we are to be more self-reliant as a country – as, by definition, would have to be the case in a future where we are no longer part of the single market – more help is required from the Government along the way. Economic growth, innovation and prosperity don’t just magically appear from nowhere, the conditions have to be there to foster those things. If we’re to believe the fairytale of Britain being stronger outside the EU, then Britain has to do everything in its power to promote its independent growth. Cutting everything back to the bone – or probably now the bone marrow, given everything that’s already been cut since 2010 – and relying on long-disproven trickle down economics will never be the answer.

As it stands, irrespective of who wins their leadership contest, the Tories would still have to be heavy favourites to win a General Election, whether it were called ahead of schedule or in its proposed date of 2020. Labour are riven by internal crisis and a central divide between its MPs and its members, the Lib Dems would surely have too much to do from a historic low base to come anywhere near a return to power sharing. It’s fanciful to suggest that UKIP who have never come up with any coherent domestic policy could come close to Westminster influence, our voting system precludes the Greens from ever getting in on the party. But should the Tories win, then we need a complete sea change in their approach to the economy. The era of austerity, where next to no-one believes they can improve their lot and one of the key legacies of the Cameron years is food banks and mean-spirited welfare sanctions, has to be at an end. Osborneomics has been a complete failure: an economic plan focused on hope rather than fear is the only way forward.

THE ENDURING MYTH OF GLENN HODDLE

The former England boss is being linked with a return to the national job, with just one question remaining…Why?

1st July 2006. England are knocked out of the World Cup on penalties by Portugal, the reign of Sven-Göran Eriksson is over, a media storm grows over Wayne Rooney’s stamp on Ricardo Carvalho and the reaction of Cristiano Ronaldo in the aftermath. Understandable then that on the same day, the resignation of the manager of the club who have finished 8th in the second tier would be nothing more than a footnote in many outlets, even allowing for that manager being Glenn Hoddle. This of course being deliberate on Hoddle’s part; why would he seek to have his gross failure at a Championship club played out on a slow news day? He purposely set out to time his resignation shortly before kick off of that England game in Gelsenkirchen, knowing that regardless of the result, it would drown out coverage of his latest departure from club football. A calculating move but as so often with Hoddle, entirely missing the point; if he’d applied as much thought to his management of Wolves, he wouldn’t have been forced to slink away and do so at the most opportune moment to cover up to the wider world what a disaster he’d been.

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Coincidentally the same pose I pulled while watching most of his games.

So why is this relevant now? Well, once more England have had a tumultuous exit from a major tournament, and are once again looking for a new manager. At the time of writing, Hoddle is second favourite to succeed Roy Hodgson. Hoddle being linked to top jobs is nothing new of course; he’s routinely mentioned in the footballing media by Proper Football Men such as Ray Wilkins, Ian Wright and Kevin Keegan as some kind of coaching guru, a footballing sage sadly lost to the English game who just don’t bloody well understand his genius. This of course ignoring his actual record which we will return to and can be at best be described as uneven, if you were feeling particularly generous. However this time it appears to go beyond the witterings of the more banal end of the punditry scale; there appears to be actual traction in giving him another chance with the national team. A genuine chance this might happen. On numerous levels, this just makes no sense at all.

Like much in the world of sport, Hoddle’s reign as England manager appears to have been tinted with a significant helping of revisionism in the near 18 years since he left. Perception now seems to be that he was unfairly sawn off, that there was no footballing issue at all, he was merely told to go because of a media campaign surrounding unrelated comments he’d made regarding the disabled and reincarnation. However, when we actually examine his reign, it doesn’t stand up to a whole lot of scrutiny. It’s a litany of man management disasters and dodgy results.

  • Lost at home to Italy in qualification for the 1998 World Cup, playing Matt Le Tissier in an unfamiliar role as a conventional striker. Handed Ian Walker his first England start after David Seaman was ruled out with an injury, despite Walker himself carrying an injury. This was England’s first ever home defeat in a World Cup qualifying match.

  • Gave Le Tissier one final chance ahead of the World Cup to prove his credentials in a B international against Russia. Le Tissier scored a hat trick yet was still left out of the provisional squad for the tournament.

  • Presided over a 0-0 home draw with Saudi Arabia in a pre-tournament friendly, having previously lost at home to Chile earlier in the year.

  • Included an emotionally unstable Paul Gascoigne in the provisional squad, deciding after two tepid performances vs Morocco and Belgium in warm up games that he didn’t have the required level of fitness to make the final cut; didn’t inform Gascoigne in any way of his intentions prior to informing him of his exclusion. It’s almost certain that Gazza was no longer suitable for international football, but his fitness issues were well known before he was named for the squad and to have no dialogue with one of England’s most talented players of all time – someone with whom you would imagine Hoddle would empathise on at least some level – is a significant man-management failure.

  • Picked Les Ferdinand (five league goals in 97/98) ahead of Dion Dublin (eighteen league goals) for the final squad. Ferdinand went unused for the entire tournament and never played for England again.

  • Dropped David Beckham from the starting XI on the eve of the opening game vs Tunisia, allegedly due to his failure to perform a training drill to Hoddle’s satisfaction.

  • Failed to pick Michael Owen for the opening two games of the tournament, preferring Teddy Sheringham who had endured a tepid opening season with Manchester United.

  • Lost the second game of the World Cup to a moderate Romania team, condemning England to the tougher side of the draw (where they promptly lost to Argentina).

  • Opened qualifying for Euro 2000 with a dismal defeat in Sweden and a torpid 0-0 draw at Wembley with Bulgaria. When Hoddle left, England sat third in the group behind Sweden and Poland with their sole victory coming in Luxembourg.

Hoddle’s England tenure seems to be rose tinted by performances in Rome and Saint-Etienne against formidable Italy and Argentina teams; and there is little doubt that he did marshal the team well in those games, England playing with a hitherto little-seen tactical discipline. But England also failed to win either of those games. To ignore all his failures as noted above in favour of a pair of draws (one of which being ultimately fruitless after a defeat on penalties) seems remarkably generous. The football was possession-heavy, again a relative novelty at the time, but frequently lacking penetration and pace. Again the myth seems to be that Hoddle plays ‘good football’, when people actually mean that Hoddle favours a lot of short passing in his play. The two are mutually exclusive in this case.

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Remember, Glenn said this man was ‘not a natural goalscorer’.

We then turn to his club record. We alluded to his departure from Wolves at the start of the piece; in the intervening decade he has not managed anyone at all. Disconnected from front level management for that length of time, would any other major footballing country seriously consider such a candidate? This isn’t the time or place to pick over how incoherent and ultimately unsatisfying his reign at Molineux was – perhaps another time – but suffice to say that the following top flight finishes with Chelsea and Tottenham (full seasons only) since he left Swindon in 1993 also do not give us any indication that this is a man suitable for any kind of big job.

14th, 11th, 11th, 9th, 10th.

That’s the kind of record you would associate with someone such as Graeme Souness or Alan Curbishley rather than the supposed saviour of English football. He did, admittedly, do a good job at Swindon (well over 20 years ago, in the second tier, when he was still playing and also still the team’s best player) and his short term work at Southampton was sufficiently impressive to earn him the Tottenham job. But that all seems rather flimsy evidence on which to hand someone the national job.

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Other mid-table managers are available.

Next we examine his character. We have already touched on his departure from Wolves and the scheming machinations behind it, where it was more important for him to cover his reputation than consider any other factors – worth noting for those non-Wolves supporting readers that this resignation left us without a manager, with a squad of around 15 senior outfield players and no signings lined up around five weeks before the start of the season. His departure from Southampton was acrimonious and left much bitterness between them and Tottenham for many years. However the central tenet of this aspect is that Hoddle was ultimately sacked for the comments he made which related to the rather strange set of religious beliefs he holds. It would be fair to assume that he still holds those beliefs, he hasn’t to anyone’s knowledge renounced his faith or re-assessed his position. If those beliefs were deemed to be unacceptable for the England manager in 1998, why would they be acceptable now? Or are they just ok providing that he doesn’t air them publicly again? The FA take a lot of criticism, much of it richly deserved, but they have made significant steps in recent times to promote disability football, offering significant funding and support to a side of the game which was previously much neglected. Can that really be countenanced with employing a man to the highest footballing office in the country who once said:

‘I have got an inner belief and an inner faith with God. I do believe spiritually we have to progress because we’ve been here before. The physical body is just an overcoat for your spirit. At death you take the overcoat off and your spirit will go on to another life in a spirit dimension.

‘I think we make mistakes when we are down here and our spirit has to come back and learn. That’s why there is an injustice in the world. Why there’s certain people born into the world with terrible physical problems and why there’s a family who has got everything right, physically and mentally.’

You and I have been physically given two hands and two legs and half-decent brains. Some people have not been born like that for a reason. The karma is working from another lifetime. I have nothing to hide about that. It is not only people with disabilities. What you sow, you have to reap.’

When you make such comments, I don’t personally believe that you can just wipe them clean because you made them a long time ago.

Lastly, if Hoddle hasn’t been managing anyone for the last ten years, what has he actually been doing? He founded an Academy in Spain for players released by English clubs who failed to secure a deal anywhere else; a laudable enough project even if the returns were unspectacular. Ikechi Anya and Sam Clucas are the only two ‘graduates’ to make any kind of significant impact on professional football since, and link ups with Jerez Industrial and Hyde being unsatisfactory. He had a brief spell coaching at QPR under Harry Redknapp where he was instructed to drill the squad on how best to play 3-5-2. QPR abandoned that formation after three games of the following season. He has performed extensive punditry duties with ITV on England games. It is here that the folly of Hoddle’s great footballing mind is most exposed. Superficially, should you choose to let the words wash over you, he certainly sounds like he knows what he’s talking about. When you analyse what he’s saying, it’s a hotchpotch of rambling, disjointed English with bizarre conclusions – just to pick a recent example, his nomination of Danny Rose as England’s man of the match against Turkey was completely at odds with what most people had seen from a left back who was perpetually out of position and wasteful on the ball. As a ten year entry on a CV, it’s what you might kindly describe as ‘thin’.

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Glenn found the perfect CV template.

Glenn Hoddle is a man with an at best mediocre track record, a history of being fundamentally incapable of dealing with people in a constructive manner, multiple character flaws and coming off the back of doing virtually nothing for an entire decade. This isn’t a case of ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’, it’s a case of the Emperor not even understanding what clothes are in the first place. There have been spectacularly bad England appointments in the past – this would trump the lot.