When Simon Sadler arrived at Squires Gate to address the squad as he took the reigns of Blackpool Football Club, we could not have imagined that all but two of the players and coaches stood in front of him would remain just 13 months later.
Under Sadler, Blackpool have had one of the division’s highest churn in players, coupled with the departures of two managers. This summer, 18 players have departed from Bloomfield Road, with most leaving either on a free or on loan, which is completely unsustainable and highlights some of the mistakes that the club have made. But how much of that is realistically bad, and is it just a necessary evil in changing the philosophy and ambition of the club?
Signings under Sadler
In addition to the 11 signings this summer, who are all below the age of 25 and are clearly chosen by Critchley and Ben Mansford, there were also 23 signings last season – signed across multiple managers and recruitment teams. Eight joined on loan, all but James Husband having now departed, while of the 16 permanent signings, only seven are part of Critchley’s side. Additionally, only two players from previous windows – Michael Nottingham and Ollie Turton – remain at the club.
In terms of departures, Marc Bola, Jordan Thompson and Curtis Tilt all moved on to the Championship for significant transfer fees, while we also lost Tony Weston for £250k to Rangers this summer. There have been 16 further permanent departures for minimal or no transfer fee, as the club looked to cut the losses of the likes of Nick Anderton, Calum Guy, Ryan Edwards, Sean Scannell and Nathan Delfouneso. Armand Gnanduillet also turned down a new deal, with a further six players heading for the exit temporarily, culminating in something of a revolving door over the past 18 months.
Clearly mistakes have been made – both last summer under the original board where only Sullay Kaikai, Jamie Devitt and James Husband currently remain from the 13 signings, and then the significant backing of Grayson before his sacking in February, with a further 11 signings of which only Grant Ward, Gary Madine, Jordan Thorniley, Chris Maxwell and Teddy Howe remain in addition to Husband’s permanent deal.
This is something we discussed with Matt Scrafton in the 1-2 Podcast which you can listen to here.
So why the upheaval, and how can this continue moving forwards? Since Simon Sadler took over last July, the rhetoric from upstairs has focused around bringing entertaining football to the Fylde Coast. It has been at the core of all the PR, with a nod to Blackpool’s colourful history. However, it is one thing to say, and a completely different thing to action.
I think even Simon Grayson’s biggest supporters would argue that the football was a difficult watch last season, with a clear Plan A being a direct style of play that got the best out of Liam Feeney and Armand Gnanduillet. This is all well and good when you are winning matches, but when results begin to falter, the contradictions between the board’s statements and the teams actual output was startling. Every stat in the book showcased Blackpool’s style of play as one dimensional, turgid, and certainly not entertaining. Everybody remembers the second home game of the season against eventual Play-Off finalists Oxford, where the team was passed off the park and outclassed all over the pitch. Despite the win, you would imagine Sadler and Ben Mansford would have been looking on in envy at the team in yellow. We were rumoured to have made an approach for their manager Karl Robinson, which strengthens that point too.
It was only a matter of time before Grayson parted ways with the club back in February. Blackpool had only won one game in 12, and “Plan A” was no longer working. Teams were doubling up on Feeney, limiting the quality of Armand’s supply and preventing our only source of goal production. And on the left, Marc Bola was far from match fit and we had no left midfielder of course. With Grayson leaving, this opened the door for Neil Critchley…
Change in tact
Despite being relatively unknown, Critchley was an exciting appointment that managed to achieve the almost impossible task of receiving a comprehensive thumbs up from the fanbase. It was considered a coup to lure the U23 manager of the soon-to-be Premier League Champions to the Fylde coast – he’s one of only 16 coaches worldwide to have obtained UEFA’s elite badge.
However, this transition was not just a change of manager. It highlighted an entire change of club philosophy was getting underway. The style of play Blackpool had become synonymous with was thrown out of the window, with Critch being given the green light to bring in his own backroom staff, his own processes and ultimately his own playing squad this summer.
Within a couple of press conferences, and we would imagine a couple of training sessions, it will have been clear a lot of players from the previous regime, new signings made by the interim board and Terry McPhillips, and even some of the recent January signings under Grayson, would simply not fit into this new philosophy. This has led to the summer’s car boot sale, with previous key men Jay Spearing and Liam Feeney amongst the departures.
Whilst this is obviously a cause for concern, you can’t help but feel it is a statement of intent from Sadler and the board, to back up their aims and ambitions into pushing the club forward with an entertainment brand of football desired by the supporters.
Progression has already been achieved. This is clear from the league opener against Plymouth Argyle – despite the 1-0 defeat, Blackpool made 503 short passes – the highest of the opening round of League One. Oxford were 2nd, with 450 short passes. For context, Fleetwood made 210. Would this progression have been achieved with the same squad of players we had at our disposal 12 months ago? As good as NC’s coaching ability is, you would expect not. Seismic personnel change in the playing squad was an inevitability to achieve the change in philosophy. Next to come needs to be the results of course, but the change is clear to see.
This summer needs to be, and likely will be, a one off. In Sadler, Ben Mansford and the recruitment team headed up by Tommy Johnson, we have a solid foundation behind the scenes. A change in philosophy should not occur with every change in manager, and the word from the club seems to suggest that won’t be the case. Ideally, Neil will be the first of a string of Head Coaches who want to play a possession focused, offensive style of football who buys into acquiring young talent, found by the new recruitment team, and nurture their ability to ultimately sell on for a higher fee. This should allow us to deliver on both a football and business front. Critchley should be considered a small piece in the wider philosophy, one that will evolve but not massively change for the next 15-20 years under Sadler’s reign. This will improve the sustainability of the transfer business the club conducts, the decision making of those upstairs, and ultimately the progression of the club on the pitch and through the leagues.
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