Time to get behind Blackpool's new man following Michael Appleton's appointment as head coach

We now begin the reign of Michael Appleton…take two.

Saturday, 18th June 2022, 7:00 am

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Picture gallery from Michael Appleton's unveiling as Blackpool's new head coach

There’s no shying away from it, the appointment hasn’t exactly proven popular among the fanbase. Appleton isn’t stupid, he’s well aware he’ll have to win them over.

Contrary to what you might have read over the past couple of weeks, Appleton is the club’s first choice. Simon Sadler reiterated this point in a punchy statement which addressed the somewhat lukewarm reaction to Appleton’s return, insisting the former Lincoln City boss was the board’s “unanimous” preference.

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Given Appleton walked out on the Seasiders nine years ago after just 65 days in charge, you can understand why some supporters would be concerned - although some of the nay-sayers have predictably gone too far, with talk among a minority of “ripping up” season tickets and refusing to watch their side.

Add in the fact the former Preston North End and West Brom player almost relegated Lincoln City to League Two last season, I don’t think Blackpool fans can be blamed for airing some disappointment.

There are mitigating factors though. For a start, Appleton should probably be commended, not condemned, for seeing through the Oystons as quickly as he did. Who can blame him for getting as far away from Bloomfield Road as possible at that point in time?

He’s since held his hands up and admitted he made some awful decisions early into his coaching career, failing to do his research and agreeing to work for three basket-case clubs at the time in Blackpool, Blackburn Rovers and Portsmouth.

Michael Appleton is Blackpool's new head coach

It resulted in a dressing down for the Manchester United academy graduate from Sir Alex Ferguson of all people, who stressed the importance of picking the right club and the right owner as much as they pick you.

Since then, he’s clearly learned his lesson because he’s settled with more stable clubs in Oxford United and Lincoln. In both instances he’s enjoyed success.

With the latter, Appleton was given the unenviable task of following God-like figure Danny Cowley, arguably the most successful manager in the club’s history. Yet he somehow managed to build on the Cowleys’ sterling work, taking the Imps to within 90 minutes of the Championship, a level they haven’t played at since 1961.

If it wasn’t for Kenny Dougall, who knows what might have happened?

It shouldn’t be forgotten just how good Lincoln were that season. For all this talk of Appleton’s supposedly boring style of play, his side that year were a joy to watch and were the best side in the division for a large majority of the campaign.

The following season, however, was a major disappointment as Lincoln languished at the wrong end of the table, flirting dangerously close with the relegation zone before eventually finishing in 17th.

It was always going to be an uphill struggle for the Imps when instrumental loanees Alex Palmer, Morgan Rogers and Brennan Johnson weren’t adequately replaced while Jorge Grant, the crux of the side, was sold to Peterborough United.

As an aside, I understand the Seasiders actually have their eyes on a couple of those players. Remember Rogers was already mooted as a replacement for Josh Bowler while Neil Critchley was still in charge.

As for Oxford, Appleton is still held in high regard for the job he did at the Kassam Stadium, promoting the U’s from League Two and winning the Football League Trophy the same season before finishing eighth in League One.

But the real legacy from Appleton’s spell at Oxford is the players he managed to train, develop and sell on, helping the club recoup some huge fees in the process. Whether we like it or not, it’s no secret that will be Blackpool’s approach in the coming years.

Kemar Roofe to Leeds United for a rumoured £3m fee was the most eye-catching sale, while Callum O’Dowda was also sold to Bristol City for around £1.25m.

Players like John Lundstram, Ryan Ledson, Joe Rothwell, Marvin Johnson and Chey Dunkey, players brought in during Appleton’s reign, were moved on for fees after he left.

If Blackpool are going to remain competitive in the Championship in what is a sea of sharks, they’re going to have to replicate that model in order to compete with the big boys.

Due to the initial lack of enthusiasm for Appleton’s return, it’s imperative the Seasiders lay down a marker and announce some exciting signings in the coming days and weeks ahead. I understand that’s certainly the club’s intention.

As for Appleton’s backroom staff, nothing has been confirmed yet but I expect there to be a further announcement in the coming days.

David Kerslake and Richard O'Donnell, two men who worked with Appleton during his time at Lincoln, left Sincil Bank last week.

However, Mike Garrity and Iain Brunskill remain at Bloomfield Road and, as it currently stands, are due to be present on Monday when Appleton meets the players for the first time on the opening day of pre-season.

I gather Monday and Tuesday will mainly consist of fitness work and sessions in the gym, while the ‘real’ stuff back on the grass (to steal one of Critchley’s well-worn phrases) is likely to kick-off on Thursday.

While only two friendlies have so far been confirmed, the trips to Southport and Salford City, there’s some exciting games which will be added to the calendar soon.

Going back to Appleton, I’ve seen similarities being drawn with Simon Grayson’s appointment, the first of Sadler’s custodianship back in 2019, given it’s the return of another former manager. That’s a bit of a lazy narrative though and besides, Grayson and Appleton are two very different managers and are at very different points in their careers.

And again, despite what some might think, the respective styles are chalk and cheese. Appleton’s football during his initial 11-game stint might not have set the world alight but you have to remember his side were playing on a quagmire of a pitch at that moment in time. That certainly won’t be a concern on this occasion.

If you want a true reflection of his style, you’re better off looking at his time with Oxford and Lincoln.

As for the length of Appleton’s contract, a four-year deal might seem a tad excessive but I wouldn’t be overly worried. The club will have inserted certain clauses into the contract to protect themselves should the worst happen. But let’s hope it never gets to that stage!

To be honest, I’m just glad the search for a new number one is over, because it’s always a messy process.

The club does things by the book nowadays and opt to remain quiet until there’s something to announce, which inevitably leaves a vacuum for other voices to fill the void.

For a start, chief executive Ben Mansford has already gone on record stating the budget is likely to increase next season, something backed up by Sadler in his statement.

As for a supposed issue with the training ground, that makes no sense whatsoever given the club have just announced major plans for a new state-of-the-art facility.

As for the current base at Squires Gate, it’s understood the club are forking out in the region of £300,000 to make further improvements this summer to ensure the facility is as welcoming as possible for Appleton and his players.

Sadler continues to put his money where his mouth is, while making decisions - whether people might agree with them or not - that are clearly in the best interests of the club. It’s now up to us to get behind the new man.