MOST rational people would agree Ian Holloway achieved the impossible by taking Blackpool up.
Unfortunately that success is in danger of becoming a noose around the neck.
Holloway has become increasingly frustrated in the last few weeks, mainly as a result of criticism on the internet – which, rightly or wrongly, he’s taking personally.
It was no coincidence that Karl Oyston chose this week to break his self-imposed silence. It was called: taking one for the team. He wants the pressure to be back on him rather than his manager.
That was how it was at the start of the season, a section of fans up in arms about what they perceived as a lack of spending.
But because Oyston has not spoken to the media all year, the supporters have got a bit bored of him. It’s no fun shouting at someone if they never shout back.
Holloway, on the other hand, speaks every week. He has to. It’s part of his contract. But it means he has become the talking point, and therefore the most liable to be criticised.
What he has taken most offence at is his signings and team selection being questioned. Deep down, of course, there is much more to it – essentially a bottled up frustration at not being able to replace Charlie Adam, David Vaughan and DJ Campbell with players of a similar quality because of the club’s transfer policy.
But he can’t exactly criticise the chairman in public. That would hark back to the latter-stages of the Steve McMahon era and signal the beginning of the end. So he voices his frustration about other issues, such as this thorny topic of his team selection.
The manager didn’t like it, for example, when I recently asked him to explain why he picked the likes of Angel Martinez and Craig Sutherland one game, then left them out of the 16 altogether in the next game.
There was no hidden agenda in asking the question. I was just interested in his thinking.
The great thing about Holloway is that he will always answer whatever is put to him, and his response is worth repeating in some detail here because it will give those supporters doubting him a good idea of his thinking and his reasons for doing what he does.
“There is method in all my madness,” the boss replied.
“All players go in and out of form. They worry about whether they’ve done well. And are they fit enough?
“Sutherland has come from college and he is having to learn how to be a pro.
“Ince has come from youth team football at Liverpool and there is a huge step from that to the Championship.
“So they will go in to the team, come out, go in again, come out again, and I will talk to them, put my arm around them and tell them why I am doing things.
“I have LuaLua who I need to get fit. I used him at West Ham but he didn’t look fit enough, so I have now given him a little programme.
“If you look at Martinez, I watched his performance against Coventry (the sole game Martinez has been selected for) and I don’t think he is fit enough. I have told him and I am working him on the training ground to try and get his fitness up.
“There’s Ludovic Sylvestre. But he has to outplay Jonjo Shelvey, Barry Ferguson and Keith Southern, and at the minute I don’t see him doing that.
“Every time I put the poor fella on we go and let a goal in and we lose whatever we had, so he has to learn how to be part of that team that can actually get the right results.
“So all of these things have a bearing on my team selection.
“I’m on the training ground daily and I look at these lads and look at who we are playing against and sometimes I haven’t really got that choice.
“We tried for Nile Ranger, we couldn’t get him. There was another fella I wanted to sign and we couldn’t afford him. He would have been excellent. He was 6’4 and he could also run like the wind, but we didn’t get him.
“If you look at who I had when we did get promoted out of this division, I had Ben Burgess – people used to moan about him but he was absolutely vital.
“At West Ham we couldn’t win a header either at the back or up front.
“If you start to think that the manager doesn’t know what he is doing or the club doesn’t know what it’s doing – well, good luck to you.
“That’s what football supporters do these days. They start moaning and whining and blaming somebody.
“But at the end of the day we were 25 minutes from staying in the Premier League last season.
“It was a valiant effort and we were fantastic – people seem to have already forgotten that.”
Part of the problem is that the club has a different fanbase now.
This is a generalisation, but those supporters who have been following the club five years or more will probably be pretty pleased with the way things are currently going. They will realise how far the Seasiders have climbed in recent times, recognise Holloway’s astonishing achievement in taking the club to the Premier League, and be very pleased that, as it stands, Pool look as if they are becoming an established Championship side (something that was, until recently, a pipe dream).
Unfortunately, the newer breed of fan, and in particular those that started supporting the club in the top flight last season, have no wider perspective, no awareness of the back story, and therefore no patience when things aren’t going to their liking.
Holloway is keen to remind them how far things have moved on, even in the two years since he took over.
“Just think back to how much time it took me to get things sorted when I first came to the club (in summer 2009), how much time to get those players into a system and a shape,” said the boss.
“Who did I borrow? Some of them are playing in the Premier League every week now. How lucky was I to do that at the time?
“So if you start to see me take someone from a Premier League club, maybe he might be the next Barry Bannan, maybe he’s the next Stephen Dobbie.
“Do you know what I mean? If I can’t afford to buy them what do you want me to do?
“We tried to buy a load in the summer but we couldn’t agree on their long-term wage structure, which is where it is.
“Arsenal are having trouble because they can’t agree on a long-term wage structure for people. Arteta had to take a cut in wages to play for them. Not everybody wants to do that these days, particularly for Blackpool, who might not be favourites to go back up when they are in a division with free-spending Leicester and West Ham, never mind any of the others.
“So how difficult is it?
“I strongly suggest to people questioning me that there is a reason for every single thing I am trying to do.
“We have taken some players from lower divisions because it has worked for us in the past. If they are not being used at the moment it is because I don’t think they are ready.
“So if I bring in someone and don’t play them it doesn’t mean I don’t rate them or they are rubbish, does it?
“It also might mean that we couldn’t afford some more expensive ones that our fans might have wanted us to get.
“The supporters are fantastic and this is a great club, but unfortunately football doesn’t work in some straightforward perfect way.
“It comes to finances and how much you’ll pay and are you a popular club to play for and are you going to be good enough?
“But we are working on slowly improving the structure of the club from where it was.
“It was a miracle to go up, we almost pulled off another miracle by staying up, and it would be another miracle if we got back up again. Those are the facts, but I am going to try and do that miracle.
“People have very short memories. Fair enough, fantastic. They have very short patience. Fair enough, fantastic.
But I know what we are trying to achieve here and it isn’t going to be easy.
“We will go for it in every game and try and win and if I make some changes I am doing it because I believe that it’s right to beat any given team.”
My view? Holloway took a struggling Blackpool side to a place they never thought they’d get, and gave the supporters the best year they’ve had for 40 years.
He continues to do well despite working under difficult conditions which means he often can’t bring in the players he really wants.
To find himself coming under fire just 13 games into the season and with the team two points off the top six is almost jaw-dropping.
I don’t blame the fans for wanting success but some have to keep their grip on reality. The Seasiders have had a remarkable few seasons and continue to look good. Holloway is the man to thank for that – so get behind him or there’s a real chance you might lose him.