There was something pleasingly “old school” about Port Vale manager Micky Adams’ decision to place his entire first team squad – twenty-six players – on the transfer list last weekend. Vale have had a disappointing start to the season and have slid down the League Two table to just above the relegation places and after last Saturday’s defeat at Notts County, Adams made his pronouncement to the press. For all the good that it did, he might as well have called for the reintroduction of three points for a win.
One would expect a modern manager to understand that the increased rights that players have and the transfer window system might render his threat completely invalid, but it seems likely that Adams was in a fit of rage in the immediate aftermath of a third successive defeat. In the days in which clubs effectively “owned” players, the threat of the transfer list was very real. Players seldom had a great deal of choice over where they would be transferred to, and the possible ramifications for them could be very serious. Buck your ideas up or your career will slide to a halt was the unequivocal message.
These days, however, things are very different. For one thing, Adams can’t sell anybody until the start of January. He is stuck with his players until then whether he likes it not. Even if he was to still feel the same way in January, the likelihood of his being able to make widespread changes during the transfer window are slim to zero. Quite asides from the small issue of whether any player worth their salt would want to sign for a manager who may threaten to get rid of them if they lose three managers (or indeed whether anybody would want to sign any of his players), clubs tend to err on the side of caution during the January transfer window.
It would be nice to think that Adams printed off a list of all of his players’ names with “TRANSFER LIST” written at the top of it, pinned a copy of it to a cork board deep within Vale Park and then faxed a copy to every other club manager in Europe, but the considerably more plausible explanation would be that Adams wasn’t being literal in his assessment of his team last weekend. It is considerably more likely that he wanted to give his players something to think about over the remainder of the weekend and before last Tuesday night’s match against Accrington Stanley at Vale Park. In a subsequent interview with the BBC Adams made comments to this extent, stating that the club had accepted mediocrity for too long. In saying this, he may have tapped into a fundamental truth about the slow decline of Port Vale Football Club.
Vale may not have a geographically based name, but they have regional rivalry as most clubs do and it must be galling to see their Potteries rivals Stoke City living in the Premier League’s lap of luxury while they bump along towards the bottom of League Two. In 1997 they finished in eighth place in what is now the Championship (their highest league finish since 1931), but were relegated in 2000 and again into League Two in 2008. Last season was their first season in the bottom division of the Football League since 1986. Whilst other clubs have had higher profile collapses in recent times, Port Vale have given the impression of being a football club that is slowly turning rusty.
If Adams is concerned at this slow decline, then he is right to be. After a 2-2 home draw against Accrington Stanley on Tuesday night (a result that it would be something of a stretch to describe as much of an improvement), the club sits in sixteenth place in League Two, six places and three points above the relegation places. It seems likely that the League Two relegation battle will be a tight one, and the possibility of Port Vale – members of the Football League since 1919 – dropping out of the Football League is a very real one. Any Vale supporters unconcerned by this should maybe seek the opinions of York City, Cambridge United, Wrexham or Luton Town supporters on how “easy” it is to get that place back once it has been lost.
We will find out in the fullness of time whether this tactic/outburst has had any positive effect on the players. How psychologically strong are his players? A cursory check would seem to indicate that Adams still has the backing of the supporters for the time being, but this will surely soon change if results don’t start to improve. Whether the approach of Micky Adams, which seems on this evidence to bypass many of the subtleties that we might expect of modern football managers, will improve the club’s fortunes remains to be seen. What we know for certain, however, is that the stakes are very high and the cost of failure could be the end of their Football League status after more than ninety years.