Saturday’s draw against Morecambe felt like a defeat, but a moment of reflection might be worthwhile right now.
I was at a wedding on Saturday when the registrar mistook me for the father of the bride. Being only about 4 years older than the bride it was my argument that the back of my head is particularly old looking even though in my mind, I haven’t changed since I was 16.
Even though that was a particularly harsh assessment of my age; time creeps up on us all. I’ve been reading When Saturday Comes for the best part of 20 years and have always considered it a fresh and contemptrary left-field, right minded kind of magazine. I see a lot of it in me but in the last few issues I’ve noticed that it has become increasingly cantankerous. While there are articles from people (children) who talk about Italia 90 as an early memory some of its ranting seems to have the same relevance as someone who believes that all of life can be explained through the lyrics of the Ramones.
Cantankerousness will ultimately eat itself, because when people get fed up with your moaning, all that is left is other cantankerous people to be cantankerous with. Then you all end up hating each other.
This month’s cantankerous moan, which I cantankerously disagree with is the idea of teams having a year of transition. The article uses David Moyes’ transitional year Manchester United. Apparently he shouldn’t be afforded such luxury – although I doubt he feels like luxuriating right now. This view seems to be at odds with When Saturday Comes’ long held view that football clubs need to become less rash and most considered. So, rather than bet the farm continuing the successes of Sir Alex Ferguson, United have taken a brief step back to rebuild.
When Morecambe’s equaliser squirted in during the dying minutes of injury time on Saturday, the immediate reaction seemed to be that the house of cards of our season was about to collapse. There has been a similar sense of doom all year; most of which was attributed to the tactics of Chris Wilder. If we do gain promotion, which is still very much on, it may prove to be the most miserable end of season party imaginable.
What is being forgotten, however, is the vision Ian Lenagan presented at the end of last season. The announcement, headlined by the renewal of Wilder’s contract, went much deeper than it immediately appeared.
Firstly, by putting Wilder on a shorter contract, Lenagan put himself in control of the club. The traditional model for English football is one where the manager is the focal point of the club; the genesis of all genius and the single point of failure. Lenagan’s vision spelt out his plans to invest in sports science and in youth as a priority. Within this wider infrastructure the manager’s role was to run the first team.
These investments in infrastructure are taken from the model he’s developed at Wigan Warriors and one that is increasingly common across Europe and in US sport. It replaces the Kelvin Thomas’ approach of investing hard and fast in fully developed players (Midson, Creighton, Bulman, Leven, Duberry) that will deliver quick success and be disposed of.
There’s nothing wrong with Thomas’ approach; it worked for a while, it was necessary to get out of the Conference, but it does rely on year-on-year success to fund it. Take Thomas’ most successful year – the promotion season. The club only broke even as a result of the play-off final. Ironically, had we won the title – delivered the most success it was possible to have that year – the club would have run at a loss.
This procession of success can’t be guaranteed, you never know when you’ll come up against a Crawley or Fleetwood, heavily funded clubs who skew the competition. You can’t guarantee a Swindon Town payday or a cup run.
Lenagan’s vision works towards sustainable, moderate, ongoing success. A key to why he’s looking for the quality manager demonstrating the quality of ‘reasonableness’ in his next appointment.
As a result, this season was always likely to be one of transition, and justifiably so. Solid investment was made to consolidate our position, Kitson was probably the surprise signing because it seems so against the general flow. But, I wonder to what extent that was happenstance, rather than part of the grand plan.
However, life is never simple and we have over-performed, we find ourselves fighting for automatic promotion whereas at the beginning of the season we’d have been happy with a play-off place. This is partly down to our remarkable away form, but also because Portsmouth – who were supposed to take the division by storm – have failed so miserably and, Chesterfield aside, no other team has stormed the division. Our moderate reliability has taken us further than we’d probably anticipated.
To capitalise, we’ve made investments in David Connolly and Nicky Wroe; again, a moderate, reasonable investment to capitalise on the platform we’re on.
Taking a step back then; this is supposed to be a season of transition while the development squad develops. The investments in Hunt, Newey et al were designed to get us somewhere around the play-offs. As a result, we’re 2 points off the automatic places, and 13 from 8th – further forward than we’d anticipated. Late goals and dropped points are frustrating, but pitched against where we should be in terms of the long term strategy; we’re miles ahead of where we might reasonably expect to be.