Suddenly, so much to cover.
Off the pitch
Starting at the top; no corporate takeover discussions were ever improved by a running commentary for the benefit of East Stand season ticket holder Dave, a plasterer from Wantage. Fans have no formal right to know what is going on with ownership discussions. You might argue that there is an ethical right, and I would agree, and I think that should be formalised by giving football clubs a special status which affords financial and tax benefits in return for greater fan and community control. But, that’s not where we’re at now.
So while we have no right to know, what is it that fans expect to hear? Darryl Eales’ confirmation of what we already know? That Sumrith Thanakarnjanasuth has been at a few games and they have, self evidently, had discussions? Do we want to know the detailed nature of those discussions? Do we want to agree whether Eales should sell or not via a Twitter poll? What exactly would we be planning to do with that information, even if we understood it?
The truth is, unless a key milestone has been achieved; there is nothing to say. Discussions are just that, part of an iterative dialogue where there is a tacit understanding that the conclusions may end up being significantly different to the start point. You’re either in them wholly, or out of them, it’s not a spectator sport. Take the Sartori episode, discussions started with a general understanding that there might be a deal and concluded that there wasn’t one, updating on the to-ing and fro-ing in between would have been beyond de-stabilising.
But what about Mr Thanakarnjanasuth and his credentials? He may not be right for us. All club owners are a double-edged sword. As the Paradise Papers show, if you’re rich, you tend to be good at acquiring money; avoiding tax and getting rich. This is abhorrent to those of us less capable. There should be rules in place to control the avarice, but they don’t appear to be adequate at the moment. The point is, no owner has ever made money simply by taking a reasonable wage home, they’ve taken a risk and got a reward. Darryl Eales, Ian Lenagan, Firoz Kassam, Robin Herd, Robert Maxwell, all had their successes, and all had their, sometimes significant, failings. Mr Thanakarnjanasuth will be no different, if you are waiting for a wholly ethical, straight up, benevolent billionaire with no question marks over his character to take us over, prepare yourself for a long wait.This is the bind of success, until we change the system, we’re just going to have to suck it up.
In the stands
Fans do not have any right to be applauded; if only a handful of fans turn up to a game, they are celebrated for their amazing effort, if loads turn up, they are celebrated for their amazing numbers. Fans are always in the right, as judged by the fans. Players, on the other hand, are right when they win and wrong when they lose, as judged by, well, the fans. If fans walk out 10 minutes before the end, as they did on Saturday, or boo, as they did on Saturday, then that is their right, according to the fans.
I know you stayed to the end and applauded and screamed until your head throbbed, I know you haven’t slept since the final whistle, but we’re not talking about you, we’re talking about the collective force that is ‘The Fans’. And, while it might disappoint you hugely, The Fans are not a singular feverish hoard, they don’t pulse with a great seething anger, you cannot divide them into those who are like you (and therefore proper fans) and ones who are not (and therefore not proper fans). Fans are a mixed economy of people and the club is far healthier for it.
Insisting that the players applaud The Fans, when The Fans boo and walk out on the players, is a form fan fascism, as is fans insisting that other fans behave to some predetermined template. When we lose, the players are not punishing the fans by not applauding, they are probably consumed in their own frustration, their thoughts clouded by their own exhaustion. Fans, it is not necessarily all about you.
On the pitch
Pep Clotet is not failing; he’s made a better start than Michael Appleton did. And if you argue that he’s had more to work with, you’re probably right, but he’s also had a better start than Michael Appleton did last season, which is as close as you’ll get to a like-for-like comparison.
Football matches are not won by passion. They are not won by talent, luck or form. Football is full of a language which implies that it is reliant on magical powers. Application, technique, preparation and organisation wins games. On Saturday, people were lambasting the lack of passion, only one caller to Radio Oxford picked up a genuine tactical concern – whether Rob Hall and James Henry should swap wings allowing them to cut inside and cross the ball rather than to shoot. This is a tactical and organisational observation which deserves reasonable analysis. The players’ passion is not.
The problem, as I see it, is that we are currently struggling to organise as a unit; throughout the first half, Rob Hall could be seen pointing down his flank wanting the ball in front of him so he could run onto it. But the ball didn’t come and the play moved on. Ryan Ledson tried too many hail-Mary passes to get things moving, when he should have been playing calm simple passes that moved the play forward. His reaction to the first goal was to smash the grass with his hand in frustration. A sign that he was not functioning in a calm dispassionate and therefore effective way. Watch any good team, even when their backs are against the wall, and you’ll see they rarely deviate from their trusted template because that’s the most likely way of winning rather than doing something extraordinary.
So, if Pep Clotet isn’t failing, but we’re suffering from a lack of organisation, what’s driving that? I would say it’s injuries. We have a constant rolling programme of players entering and exiting the treatment room, the latest being Curtis Nelson. As such, the organised unit on the field is constantly having to adjust the way it does things. The squad is too new to have a clear pattern of play, a DNA, and it will struggle to develop one when the core is constantly changing.
Do we have an abnormally high number of injuries that will, by the law of averages, eventually even itself out? Or is there something in the way we play or train, or select or treat players which results in more injuries than in previous years? This is worthy of analysis.
While this run is frustrating, we are far from failing, throwing blame around from takeovers to managers to the players is simply a distraction from solving the problem. Tactical discipline, better injury avoidance, and above all, clear heads will see us progress.