At the start of the week, a group of Labour MPs announced they were forming The Independent Group because they could no longer trust the party system in politics.
The journalist Owen Jones, went on the rampage, working his way through each of the seven picking a personal policy view for each one in an aim to discredit them individually and as a group.
It was the kind of boneheaded attack which is getting us into a mess in all sorts of areas. You might not like one view of one person, but that’s not a sign they are wholly evil or wrong about everything. If The Independent Group stands for anything, it’s debate and nuance over dogmatic ideology.
Inevitably after the defeat to Accrington, a day after another winding up order, the response was understandably enraged; get Tiger out and take Robinson with him. Everything about the current club is wrong. Get Michael Appleton in or even James Constable as he represents the spirit of the club.
Squeezing a complex issue into a view offers no space for debate or discussion. So, let’s break it down a little.
Four winding up orders is not the sign of a well run club. But, they fall into two categories. I have a degree of sympathy for the argument that funding the club from outside the UK is difficult and that unexpected expenses have caused cash flow problems. These have impacted the club’s ability to pay its bills to HMRC. In truth, they appear to have been paid relatively quickly – suggesting there is money – after the PR damage has been done.
Then there’s the most recent winding up order from the stadium company, which appears to be something completely different. The stadium company are clearly tightening the screw on the club, it seems to be a contributory factor to the spat that led to the disbanding of the Oxford United Ultras at the weekend. It may also be a factor in how the team are preparing for match days. We’ve never had a winding up order from Firoz Kassam before, so why now?
It looks like a bit of grandstanding from Firoka designed to embarrass the owners at a time when he knows their stock is low. We can only speculate as to why, and Kassam will always fall back on the argument that they should pay what they owe. But he knows the pressures the club is under financially and winding the club up doesn’t help him longer term – he’d lose his tenant and there aren’t many alternatives out there. Perhaps it was anger and frustration, perhaps it’s a way of moving things on with the stadium discussions, if there are any. It may even be that with the club implying some progress on looking at alternative sites for a new stadium, Kassam is feeling under pressure and reacting accordingly.
I don’t think there’s a finance problem per se, although cashflow is something that needs to be sorted out. I’m assuming HMRC haven’t come knocking recently, so perhaps things are being put in place as Tiger suggested.
The club does have a massive communication problem with both its fans and the stadium company. Tiger appears not to have the time to dedicate to running the club himself, and so he needs an effective operational team with suitable delegated authority to run things on a day-to-day basis. I am often critical of Niall McWilliams who’s job is to nominally run the club. McWilliams might argue that he doesn’t have the cash or authority to run things as they need to be. He either needs that authority, or we need to bring in someone Tiger trusts to get on with things and rebuild damaged relationships.
Third from bottom is not acceptable. Sacking a manager for poor performances would be a completely normal thing to do.
I don’t think Robinson is a bad manager; he did well at MK Dons and dragged Charlton into the play-offs in a pretty toxic environment. He’s not always great in front of a microphone – he speaks too quickly and ends up in cul de sacs where he says things perhaps he shouldn’t. Listen more closely, however and there’s a good philosophy trying to get out. He knows his stuff. He also understands football fans and what they want. Think back to his first interview with Radio Oxford, he knew us, our history and what we wanted.
His problem, I think, is that he seems to be doing everything – club spokesman, manager, scout. When you’ve got too much on, you’re more likely to make mistakes.
He’s also got a family and a career; the notion of him honourably walking away is unfair. When have you walked out of a job, putting you and your family in financial difficulty, because it satisfies some else’s moral code? No, you either look for another job or you stick at it. Let’s not pretend he’s happy or unaware of the situation.
He’s also an employee; he has to work within the constraints he’s given. It may be driving him mad, it may be borderline intolerable, but he has to keep smiling and supporting the machine. We’ve all done it. Don’t assume he’s in collusion with the owner and that they’re plotting to bring the club down or deluded.
It might be that Robinson needs to go to relieve the pressure on him and the club more widely, it’s hard to see a situation where he’s driving us forward with everyone’s backing. However, I’m not convinced that a change of manager would bring a significant change in performance. In some ways it gives the owners an excuse not to sort out their deeper problems. Maybe in the short term there would be a revival, but there are bigger issues to do with money and player recruitment that need sorting out before any manager can come in and perform at his best.
Or James Constable? No.
A recent story about Michael Appleton going to Hibernian summarised his career as being a former Blackburn, Portsmouth and Blackpool manager. No mention of his success with us.
Appleton is tainted by his time working in impossible surroundings. He can’t work magic on his own, the difference with his time at Oxford was that everyone was pushing in the same direction. He thrived in that environment, but it’s not the environment he’d come into now.
Appleton is a theoretician; a scientist of the game. With resourcing, time and support he did wonders, but if you’re going to bring someone in to make an immediate impact, you need a hard nosed results man in the mould of Chris Wilder who is going to drag the team to success regardless of the circumstances.
Perhaps there is an owner and manager package with resources to meet our ambitions ready to step in and improve things, but I haven’t seen it.
In the absence of that, to get out of the hole we’re in we need to break the issues down and deal with them individually. The club needs to rebuild its relationships; with fans and with the stadium company. It needs people with the skills and authority to do that.
Sacking Karl Robinson may provide a short term boost that helps us get out of the relegation zone. But, the manager who replaces him needs to be the kind that will focus on results at all costs. Don’t expect it to be pretty. Think Steve Evans.
But also be careful; sacking Karl Robinson can create the illusion that the club has solved its problems. A nice PR boost for Tiger, but without a plan to replace him or build the club longer term, sacking him might just paper over cracks. If you’re bringing in a new manager, you have to decide why – to get us out of relegation zone, to be better prepared for League 2 (which suggests we’ve given up) or because there’s a new long term strategy with funding and a plan ready to take us forward.
It’s very tight at the bottom, despite Tuesday’s defeat we’re only a point from safety, three from the relative comfort of 17th. It is still within our powers to survive. We don’t, yet, need a miracle. If the club can relieve pressure on Karl Robinson by building positive relations, communicating more and sorting out its cash flow, it might just allow him to do his job, he should have the players. If there’s no prospect of that, then Robinson will continue to be dragged down with the club and someone with a different approach might be needed. Above all, however, let’s not pretend this is simple.