Pretty much everyone in football must have an admiration for what Ian Holloway has achieved at Blackpool, even if it is only a sneaking admiration. I’ve advocated awarding Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe two “manager-of-the-year” awards for they way he has turned AFC Bournemouth’s fortunes around from minus seventeen points at the bottom of League Two to their current fourth place in League One. Holloway would have been a close runner-up at least once. And while Blackpool’s start to Premier League life may yet prove to be a “Hull” (or a “Reading” or an “Ipswich” or the numerous teams who succumbed to “second season syndrome”), for the moment they are there to be admired.
But when a microphone appears, Ian Holloway the manager seems to be replaced by “Olly”, a talkative, combative “character” in the inverted commas sense of the word… with a funny accent to boot and a disdain for authority which is all the rage at the minute in the face of government cuts and FIFA corruption. “The game” has always “needed characters” – even in the days when they supposedly had them. The recent passing away of Malcolm Allison vividly reminded us of that, especially the few clips of him as a TV studio pundit, holding forth in a manner that nearly made Jimmy Hill tear his chin off and makes Alan Shearer seem, I dunno… dull (that the few Allison clips contained huge servings of casual racism about foreign “peasants” was overlooked amid the mourning).
So, “Olly” is a quotable godsend. What was it he said after Charlie Adam headed into his own net against Blackburn earlier this season? “What a finish?” Had the Match of the Day pundits in stitches, that one. I never knew Oscar Wilde was from Bristol. It was very brave of him to threaten to resign if he got fined over the “different” team he selected for Blackpool’s game at Aston Villa. As he put it in his Independent on Sunday column, “I’m convinced that won’t happen.” So why the empty threat, then? Attention-seeking? Part of an ugly trend of managers threatening to take action if they are criticised, like Harry Redknapp did after impugning referee Mark Clattenburg’s honesty recently? “Olly” went on: “I’m not used to being told the Premier League can tell me what I’m not allowed to do and then fine us.” Yes, those faceless bureaucrats in their ivory towers who don’t know what it’s like at the coalface… blah… jumped-up suits… blazers… blah… lazy journalists… more blah…
Well, “Olly” had better get used to it. Because let’s get a couple of things straight here. I know the matter has been the subject of debate – including a thoughtful article on this site. But Holloway DID field a weakened team at Villa. And the Premier League, governed by the rule book which is accepted by all clubs – most recently by Newcastle, West Brom and… Blackpool, simply asked the question we all asked when we heard the team news: “What’s he done that for?”. “Olly”, however, was telling us that “all 25 players (in the squad) are as good as each other”, that he finds the fuss “so astounding” and, of course, that “lazy journalism” was to blame. All the lazy journalists could do after the game was dare to ask the question to which everyone wanted to know the answer. Almost as if that was their… erm… job.
Holloway knows that the Premier League have to ask him the question, because their rules, rightly or wrongly, specify that strongest available teams have to be picked at all times. Alan Shearer made the point on Match of the Day that it was ridiculous for a manager to have a squad of 25 and not be allowed to pick who he wants from that squad, when he wants. But unless or until the relevant Premier League rule is abolished, it is an irrelevant point. Holloway made wholesale changes to his previous line-up and, more importantly, his following line-up too. If Holloway wanted as many of his squad to play only two of the three games Blackpool had that week, which in itself struck me as quite sensible management of resources, it was an odd way to do it,.
He picked a team at Villa with six Premier League debutants and about a dozen Premier League games between them. Whereas the team for the game at West Ham had about eight times the experience, including five players who were ever-present before the trip to Villa (and, bar the injured keeper Matthew Gilks, have been ever-present since). The Villa selection could almost have been designed to attract the attention it did. And, given his squad, it was almost the least experienced he could have picked. Yet “Olly,” fresh out of irrelevance school, “cannot understand why someone would even dream of fining us when we’ve come into the top League of English football and are doing so well.”
Well, if “Olly” really can’t understand why someone should be fined for breaking league rules, then “Olly” isn’t very bright. “Olly” also bleated about how “the whole episode had been blown out of all proportion.” And he added: “Anyone who saw the game will know we were fantastic.”- which begs two questions:
- Exactly who, apart from “Olly” himself has made such a big issue out of this, when the only action taken so far is the Premier League writing a letter asking for an explanation of the selection?; and
- If his team were as “so fantastic” as “Olly” claims, why did Ian Holloway drop all eleven of them for the next game?
This whole “Olly” shtick is boring. If it’s an attempt to provoke a siege mentality at his club, it’s a clumsy and obvious one – not to mention un-necessary, given the football his team are playing. And if it’s an attempt to play the little man standing up to faceless bureaucracy, it’s a poor one – far better to pick on petty rule-making, when you haven’t accepted that rule in the first place before blatantly breaking it. Ian Holloway should stick to what he’s good at, and put “Olly” back in his box, until his management career is over and he has an after-dinner speaking circuit to travel. Because all “Olly” is doing now is distracting attention from Ian Holloway, who has been one of the best, if not the best, managers of a football team in the past couple of years.
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