It seems a very long time ago that Blackpool were enjoying a strong start to their Championship campaign. They are currently fourteenth in the table, which would not be disastrous in other circumstances, given the loss of key players this summer. However, with nine defeats from their last ten games, their current form is atrocious, and if things continue they could get sucked into a relegation battle.
The Tangerines were top of the table in mid-September, having won five of their first six matches. There were two factors behind this. Firstly, the form of Thomas Ince, manager Paul’s son. He scored three goals in August, and narrow wins against Reading and Watford came from the wonderkid’s dazzling solo efforts. Ince has an explosion of pace that will strike fear into defences, and it was his powerful running, which took some of the workload off lone striker Ricardo Fuller.
The other factor was Blackpool’s defence. Despite losing first team defenders Stephen Crainey, Alex Baptiste and Neal Eardley during the summer, the back line re-organized itself surprisingly quickly. Paul Ince brought in Gary MacKenzie permanently, who spent a few weeks on loan towards the end of last season. Him and Kirk Broadfoot formed a settled partnership very quickly, as Blackpool kept a number of clean sheets in their first few home games.
Results gradually began to slide from September onwards, as Blackpool went on a run of five games without a win. It is no coincidence that this happened at roughly the same time as Paul Ince was accused of violent conduct. In Blackpool’s 2-1 win at Bournemouth, he admitted to violently shoving the fourth official in the tunnel.
That is appalling behaviour for a football manager. On the incident, Ince admitted to using the ‘f’ word, yet denied using the ‘c’ word, saying: “everyone who knows me will vouch that the ‘c’ word is a word I do not use nor accept”. Quite frankly, whether he used the ‘c’ word or not is irrelevant. It hardly makes a difference that, whilst physically and verbally abusing someone, he didn’t go as far as to use the ‘c’ word. Although some Blackpool fans were opposed to the severity of his punishment, the FA had every right to take action and later impose a five match stadium ban.
Blackpool won their first match on his return to the touchline, a 2-0 victory over Sheffield Wednesday. However, after this result things soon went pear-shaped. In a period of ten games, Blackpool lost nine and drew one.
A large part of this was the lack of discipline on the field. Blackpool have picked up nine red cards this season, more than any other Championship side. Paul Ince seems to have lost control of his players, and the incident in the tunnel regarding the assault of a fourth official, has clearly set a poor example. Eventually, this will create a culture of ill-discipline at Blackpool. The club will gain a bad reputation, and players will start to pick up sendings off and suspensions. No club needs that.
Another problem is the contract situation of Tom Ince. His deal expires this summer, and quite worryingly, he has not been sold thus far in the January window. It is a growing possibility that Ince, and his agent, will leave the club for free this summer. That way, a bigger club who may want to sign Ince, will not have to pay a transfer fee to gain his services. Therefore, they will be prepared to offer him a bigger wage – and his agent a bigger fee. While this might suit Tom Ince and his agent, it would be criminally harsh on Blackpool Football Club, who have put so much work into making him into the player he is today.
It seems the sensible decision for the club to make would be to sack Paul Ince, given the above factors. Yet the Blackpool board are not blameless, and you might question the lack of investment in the club.
Chairman Karl Oyston’s father, Owen, is the club’s majority shareholder. According to the Sunday Times’ Rich List, he currently has a net wealth of £105M. And yet, since relegation from the Premier League, the club has made a net profit of £12M from transfer fees, largely due to the big money sales of Charlie Adam and Matt Phillips.
As a fan, you would not necessarily demand that all of their money be sunk into the club, in a short-termist attempt to get back into the Premier League. However, when they have sold such valuable assets for considerable sums, it is only fair to the fans that some of it is re-invested. That has not been the case.
To replace £7M Charlie Adam in 2011, the club spent £750K on Spanish midfielder Gerardo Bruna from Liverpool’s reserves. However, the fact that he had only made two appearances, suggests this may not have been a transfer of Ian Holloway’s choosing. Even the summer afterwards, when it became clear that Bruna was not going to sufficiently replace Adam, no money was invested. Isaiah Osbourne signed for £200K, yet at the same time, the club lost Keith Southern to Huddersfield, albeit Southern had suffered from severe fitness problems. The board were more than prepared for the squad to lower itself in quality.
The club lost £5M winger Matt Phillips last summer, plus three first team defenders. The solution was to sign four strikers, when in fact the squad had not lost any. £500k was spent on Steve Davies from Barnsley, Bobby Grant on an undisclosed fee from Rochdale, while Nathan Tyson and Michael Chopra arrived on free transfers.
There are two issues here. On the one hand, very little of the money that came into the club through player sales was not directly re-invested, and questions must be asked of the Oyston’s here. Arguably, they were too content for the club to fall behind due to lack of investment, and simply sit midtable in the Championship, rather than strive to progress. On the other, poor decisions were made with the funds that the Oysten’s did make available. Regarding Blackpool’s transfer dealings this summer, Paul Ince was partially to blame.
He failed to convince defenders Stephen Crainey, Alex Baptiste and Neal Eardley to extend their contracts. Each of them left on free transfers, yet neither of them left for a much more lucrative offer, going to Wigan, Bolton and Birmingham respectively. They had all spent three months working under Paul Ince, so there is a possibility that they had decided they did not want to play for him.
Questions must also be asked of how he handled the contract situation of Tom Ince. With his contract running out summer 2014, surely a pragmatic approach would be to try and force through a sale, to make sure the club do not lose him for nothing. When a key player’s contract will expire next summer, what usually happens is the player and the club have talks over their future, and reach a conclusion that best suits everyone. Paul Ince had not been able to manage that situation properly.
Ince has shown he is not cut out for management in the modern game. Granted, he guided Macclesfield to survival in League Two in 2007, and did quite well in his first spell at MK Dons.
Yet since then, his career has been something of a calamity. He failed at Blackburn, for which he cited a lack of investment as a reason. Not only was he aware of the club’s financial situation when he took the job, he also spent £10 million in his only transfer window, and had a squad which finished seventh under Mark Hughes the season before. It is a ridiculous argument. At Notts County, he left after they lost nine games in a row. Surely as a manager, your job is to make sure after a defeat, the team does not lose confidence and does not make the same mistakes again. To lose nine times in a row is unforgivable, and this brings us onto Blackpool’s current form. Nine defeats from ten games is not good enough.
As much as fans, we like to see a board have patience with the manager, to remain patient with Paul Ince would be a red herring. He creates disciplinary problems, he cannot command the respect of his players, and has abused a match official. Quite simply, he needs to leave Bloomfield Road.