Thursday, 11 April 2013

Wilson, Woe and Watching The Blades

When I walked out of Bramall Lane on Tuesday night, annoyed, frustrated and angry I never expected the events of the next 24 hours to unfold as they have.
I had intended writing something about the disappointment of yet another gutless, pedestrian and goal-less home performance. Of how a majority of the players, displayed an apparent lack of commitment, care and a will to win. Of how only one could face clapping the crowd at the end, Matt Hill; the rest of the team shamefully scuttling off down the tunnel. And of how, yet again, our manager had displayed a lack of initiative in getting the best out of his squad.
I was growing sick and tired of teams coming to Bramall Lane and passing the ball better than we can with pace and incisiveness, opposition teams winning second balls when we are off the pace and then being told that we were playing well by our manager. That the opposition had come to stop us playing.
As Danny Wilson made changes with half an hour or so to go, I actually felt pleased with the action he was taking. At last we were going with two wingers playing on their natural sides and although the introduction of Chris Porter left us lacking pace up front, both he and Dave Kitson would give the wingers a target to hit from the by-line.
What followed was one of the most depressing half hours of football I have witnessed at the Lane, as the team proceeded to aim long to two big, immobile strikers, whose sole objective appeared to be winning free kicks on the edge of the box. When the free kicks were won, they were thumped at the wall or tamely at the keeper.
When a chance fell to Porter he put it high and wide and was publicly castigated by his captain Michael Doyle in an embarrassing act from a supposed leader, who ought to take a long hard look at his contribution before criticising others. Although we had hit the woodwork twice before this point, it soon became apparent that we were never going to score if we played until midnight.
If this was the way our manager wanted us to play it was terrible. If it wasn't, then why was he standing there impassively on the touchline? Fans were castigated on the local radio phone-in afterwards, for criticising a lack of passion from Wilson, a lack of demonstrable frustration at what his players were doing.
"You didn't complain about him not waving his arms about earlier in the season when you were winning."
"You are talking rubbish."
Callers were rudely cut off as the presenter, Paul Walker, dismissed the possibility of the issue being discussed. But surely they had a valid point?
If Wilson considered that performance acceptable, thus standing there seemingly reluctant to direct or encourage change, then, to my mind, that was unacceptable. As the game went on, mistakes were made and the match slipped away. The crowd's passion and support turned to frustration and most drifted out.
We were getting nothing from most of the players and seeing nothing from manager to suggest he knew what to do to change it. His final substitution, bringing on Barry Robson in the midfield felt like a token gesture of a man who had run out of ideas.
Despite keeping the players in the dressing room for over an hour afterwards, his post-match comments suggested it was bad luck that cost us the game; two defensive mistakes and hitting the woodwork twice. He completely ignored the paucity of other chances created, the better football from Crawley, a magnificent point blank save from George Long to keep it 0-0 at the break.
So to Wednesday night's announcement and with the briefest of statement from the club, the twitter rumours were confirmed and many questions raised. Did he realise he wasn't up to the job and walk? That would have been as gutless an act as that displayed by a majority of those in red and white stripes on Tuesday night. Or, more likely, was politely suggested he stand down?
The latter was confirmed today and to many, me included, is a strange decision at this stage of the season. Or is it? Let's not forget we have an owner who could be classed as the King of impetuous decisions.
Sack Neil Warnock after Premier league relegation when he was probably best qualified to take us up?
Replace him with Bryan Robson, a man who struggled to cope with the Boro job and enlisted the help of Terry Venables?
Wait 3 games into a season before sacking Kevin Blackwell - a decision best made in the summer?
I am not sure if Danny Wilson could have got much more out of that team, only Danny and the players can comment on that. However, the pedestrian and lacklustre performances of recent weeks have offered little opportunity to think otherwise. Wilson was seemingly unable to find the right formula at home, whilst scraping results away from Bramall Lane. Yet, as I have previously said on this site, he was a jailed striker and injured/suspended replacements from taking us up last season, playing great football along the way.
Do I think a manager leaving now is good for the club or their promotion hopes? No. Would it have improved under Wilson in the last few games? I doubt it. Should Wilson have been allowed to see the job through? He probably should. It is a difficult situation and a massive gamble by Kevin McCabe.
The fact he thinks an unproven manager can do a better job than Wilson (his friend) suggests one of two things. Player power of some sort has won out, or McCabe is taking a massive risk with the future of the club and based on what? Fan disgruntlement? Home results? Observations on games (must be of others, as he isn't often there)? Is it McCabe's call or is he letting other's play with his money?
The club statement on the appointment reads; "Getting promotion to the Championship is at the heart of the decision for a change." What do they see changing to achieve this? Sadly as much passion and hunger Morgan has got, that alone will not get us there. He can change formation and tactics, but can he make them pass and move with fluidity and pace? Can he install a passion and hunger that should be there? And if he can, can he do it in five games?
It smacks of a panic measure to please fans ahead of the season ticket renewal deadline at the end of next week. Get the fans gee'd up by the appointment of a former captain and club hero. Make them feel all warm about the club - Then if it all goes wrong Morgan stays at club, drifts back into the background coaching. There is less of a fans backlash because the fans won't hate "Morgs". If it goes well, it is a win-win situation
I loved Chris Morgan as a player and a captain. He handles himself well with the media and fans. He is forceful, focused and determined. But is he ready for club management? I could have seen him managing the club at some point down the line. Just not in five games that will not just define our immediate future, but where we find ourselves both financially and in terms of league position for the next few years to come.
Results haven't been great, particularly at home. Previously raised concerns I mentioned on here haven't gone away. But let us not forget here has been a manager, the one with the best win percentage of any United manager (albeit based on third division games), and has operated with both hands tied behind his back, whilst someone stole his wallet….and his watch…and his rings. Yet you could argue he still had more assets left than any of his other peers. Maybe Danny's days were numbered, especially if he couldn't sort out the players, but the timing is yet again poor from a board that blunder from one bad decision to another
"We are confident we will not fail, we are not planning to fail in our drive for promotion," says Kevin McCabe. I am reminded of the phrase "failing to plan is planning to fail"; from the outside looking in we have appeared to be a club without a coherent, plan or strategy for quite some time. Therefore I think I know what follows. I hope they can prove me wrong this time.
Good luck to Chris and David. It is a big ask.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Wednesday and an Anglo-Welsh alliance

I was first told of this story on Sunday morning, just as David Cameron was making sanguine comments suggesting that he wouldn't stand in the way of the Old Firm moving into English football. If anything this made me suspicious of the timing of what I was about to be told.
I was emailed by a man who, for obvious reasons, I will refer to only as Ralf. He works in the administration department at Hillsborough and has seen a few items of correspondence that, as a fan of many years standing, have shocked him to the core. He claims to have seen evidence of an ongoing dialogue between Wednesday and the Welsh FA regarding the Owls taking a place in the Welsh League from the 2013-14 season. Sitting alongside it is a change of name that may surprise, but harks back to a much earlier age.
My first reaction was shock. Firstly that a club would consider such a move and secondly that I had been approached with the story. I emailed him my phone number and we had a lengthy  conversation.  I was told that both he and his colleagues were so shocked and angered by what they had read that they thought of no better way of embarrassing the club than if the story was broken by a Blades fan. They felt that the wider fanbase had a right to know what was happening.
He gave me information that verified who he was and then we talked some more and I explored what the motivations for the move were.
"We have a big stadium and a massive potential fanbase, yet there is a belief that it cannot be sustained on being Championship relegation fodder. The prospect of another relegation to League 1 cannot be contemplated."
"The 30,000 loyal supporters who turn up week in, week out deserve success. You know, with the size of club we are and our massive fanbase, we are bigger than half of the teams in the Premier League. We would sell out every week if we got there. If only your league position was determined by crowds and ground capacity, not success on the pitch. But I think Mr Mandaric has realised the long game he was playing is going to be longer and more expensive than he thought."
"Getting to the Premier League is going to be tough. Therefore sell-out crowds and European matches are the way forward. He invested with a view to moving the club forward, allowing him to sell up at a profit and move on. There is a belief that this gives him that opportunity."
"The club may not make the millions that Premier League football will bring, but getting a squad together to get through the Champions League qualifiers to the group stage will net the club around £10m in prize money, plus gate receipts from at least 5 home games."
"I don't agree with the thinking,  but the belief is the fans would love to win trophies and we'd walk the Welsh League. Then we are into the Champions League - and the fans still love to talk about the UEFA Cup campaign of 1992. They are imagining heady nights under floodlights against the cream of European football."
I ask if replicating 1992 means beating the champions of Luxembourg and losing to the 4th best team in the Bundesliga.  I get short shrift and our discussion is nearly over before it has begun - I just couldn't help myself!
Over the next half hour we further discuss the correspondence Ralf has seen and it actually begins to make some sense. The exploratory talks were opened with one eye on the plans of former Blades Chief Executive Charles Green and Rangers. Whilst Green's aggressive rhetoric on its own may be derided as repetitive bombastic bluster, the news that other clubs could follow suit will cause ripples in the game. The fact that they believe such a move could be accelerated in advance of the five year objective of Green will cause shock waves.
What gives them that hope is the clear overlaps between English and Welsh football. For this reason, the plans for a new Cardiff City taking the Bluebirds name and with plans to enter the English pyramid are also of significant interest.
If a new Welsh club is accepted by the English FA and chooses to play in England for what they assume are beneficial reasons, why shouldn't an English-based club be accepted in Wales? After all there is a precedent within the Welsh League, with TNS playing over the border in Oswestry, England.
But what is in it for the Welsh League?  Late on Sunday night I spoke with Dai Profollays, a Cardiff-based journalist and a man with contacts at the Welsh FA. Surely, allowing this would be like turkeys voting for Xmas? Everyone else playing for second each season? A staleness that has paralysed Scottish football for years? Seemingly not.
"They think this could be the boost Welsh football, and the league in particular, needs. They think that few clubs have the pulling power of the Owls. The club (Wednesday) have sold them the history and the levels of support. The words of former chairman Lee Strafford, when he spoke of Wednesday's catchment area of 500,000 fans, particularly resonated within the Welsh FA, as did the claims of 30,000 crowds when last in the top flight."
I consider raising the point that due diligence may prove some of these claims unfounded but Dai is in full flow - "The club chairmen, meanwhile, are wooed by the potential cash cow club. They are particularly excited by the talk of the 5,000 fans the Sheffield club take away every other week. That is a significant cash injection to clubs in a league where 2-300 is an average matchday crowd. The away support at that one match alone would double most club's total attendance for the whole of a season."
But surely many of the existing grounds would not be able to cope with the influx?
"That is true but, one possibility is that Wednesday pay a one off payment to gain entry to the League. That would be distributed to the clubs with the expectation it would be used for ground improvements. "
"All international football associations will be following the Rangers case very closely. But this could be the game changer."
The other big change is potentially with the club's name. Although it is change for the old, not the new. As Ralf explains,
"The papers I have seen refer to the team being known as "The Wednesday" - the original name of the club when it was founded. The feeling is that the club have a unique name and don't need the city association, especially with the move. This is what rankles the most; cutting the ties to the city. The club thinking it is bigger than all that. The sad thing is, I've read fans talking of this on the forums and they'd happily accept the change. Sometimes our fans make statements that make us look foolish. Some people might well be laughing at my club right now."
Thanks to Ralf Poolis. Being a mere blogger I have been unable to get a direct response from the club or Welsh FA. I hope to have this by 12pm today.