Special Report: The demise of Ian Holloway.

Blackpool vs Liverpool

If there is one manager at the moment who is good for a soundbite then it’s Ian Holloway.  The Blackpool manager has been outspoken for years and has been the mainstay of rolling news channels to brighten up the generally media savvy reports from other coaches.  However, Holloway is the classic example of a manager setting himself up for a fall.

Let me caveat this piece by stating that Holloway has done a fine job to date at Blackpool.  By his own admission they didn’t expect to be promoted and have so far drawn points in the Premiership from sheer work rate.  Nobody has anything other than admiration for a work ethic such as Blackpool’s – and in the least patronising/condescending of tones possible – for a small club they are demonstrating exactly how it should be done on the field.

However, Holloway is falling into a trap that Phil Brown has left set.  Let us rewind.  Hull City won promotion to the Premier league and started in an even more impressive fashion than Blackpool in the 2008/09 season.  Indeed, I recall a clash at the turn of that season where Villa and Hull went head to head contesting the Champions League spots. 

The point is that there are similarities between how things went into freefall from there on – the infamous on-pitch team talk from Brown – which culminated in his sacking much further down the line with Hull barely having won a game since.  Whilst I think that Holloway’s man management skills are better than Phil Brown’s, he doesn’t in my opinion have the luxury of a comparable squad or indeed the lure with which to improve it.

Holloway is afterall a loose cannon.  He has built his reputation on a free for all type of approach with a deceptively firm grip on all that happens around him – in short, he calls the shots.  For the first time in his managerial career Holloway is being tested by clubs bigger and more powerful than Blackpool eying up his star player Charlie Adams.  This is testing his resolve not only in private, but worryingly for Blackpool fans, in public.

I will not get into the debate on who is the bigger club out of Liverpool and Aston Villa – our current aspirations stem very much from our histories – but there can be no denying that both represent a major step up for any Blackpool player.  And for all Holloway’s bleating and soundbites – which is what it is – he stands to lose.  For any established Premiership side can offer innumerable things that he and Blackpool cannot.  Guaranteed Premier league status is a given outside of the obvious yo-yo teams, the potential for Europe, massively improved pay, playing in front of huge crowds, likely international recognition for your country and if you perform really well a stepping stone to one of the worlds best clubs.  I could go on.

The reality is that Holloway misses the key point that in our modern era this is exactly the kind of thing that a club of Blackpool’s size has no control over.  And indeed the problem exists throughout football in a stepping stone kind of fashion.  By this I mean that Blackpool’s players will always move to teams like Aston Villa and Liverpool.  Just like Aston Villa and Liverpool players are the target for clubs above us in the pecking order, need I reference James Milner and Gareth Barry?  There is nothing you can do about a players aspirations being greater than what you can deliver.  Regardless of what you think you can offer, it is delusion to believe you are in a position to compete either financially or professionally.

And this will be the downfall of Holloway.  Charlie Adam will punch the air for the home supporters and give all that he’s worth on the pitch.  But then, why would he not?  He wants to leave and doesn’t want to get booed whilst he’s there.  The offers on the table for Adam stand at £4 million.  Adam was worth 500k just over a year ago.  His range of passing appears excellent – but no better than I’ve seen from other seasoned Premiership midfielders such as Gareth Barry – and Villa’s young Barry Bannan (a fellow Scotsman with Adam) has a range of passing equally as impressive.  To describe these bids as derisory make Holloway look utterly, utterly foolish – and indeed desperate.

This will have a knock on effect for Blackpool in that the players they will require for survival and sustained Premier league seasons will not want to work with Holloway.  Up and comers will not want to work for a man who will restrict them progressing to clubs that can further their careers.  Seasoned Premier league stars will unlikely want to deal with Holloways cryptic media messages nor his unpredictable temperament.  There can only be one outcome and it is looming for Ian Holloway. 

Blackpool will ultimately suffer for his actions; and there will be obvious outcomes when they dispose of their manager, get relegated, or both.