Well it seems that our ever patient Walsall Correspondent and columnist, Darren Young, has finally snapped and feels it is time for a change in the dugout at his beloved Walsall FC…
“Wanted: Manager. Ideally More Hurst Than Hasselbaink”
I am old enough and pragmatic enough that when it comes to Walsall FC, I know I should approach it with a heavy dose of realism. I also don’t like the practice of hiring and firing football managers, principally because it doesn’t work in the long term to keep doing it and destabilising the club (any club, I mean). I also know that continually harking back to the past, and even a recent one with Dean Smith, adds absolutely nothing going forward.
Having said all that, I’m going to advocate or do all of those things now. Because I think it’s time for a change. I think, taking everything into account, that Walsall have to look for someone different to Jon Whitney at the helm if we are to avoid another season of nothingness – virtually over by Halloween – or maybe even worse. Even a long-term approach has to start somewhere, here’s why its reached this point for me….
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The elephant in the dugout this one, because he is, by all accounts, a decent man; loyal to Walsall for many years and if it were anyone else I think the fans would be far more vociferous and the board would have shown less patience. I don’t care about press conferences, paper talk and all of the other stuff that managers have to do these days that get picked over by us fans looking for a stick to beat them with. I only care that on a Saturday (and some Tuesdays) we have the best possible team, in the best possible formation, playing the best possible style and trying as hard as they possibly can. Note the [over]use of the word ‘possibly’ because I’m not expecting miracles. But is JW or this squad doing the best they possibly could? I don’t think they are.
The problem for any manager is that, as we always hear, once the players ‘cross the white line’ then he can’t kick the ball for them, or put it in the net. Or stop them conceding penalties. And to be fair, he can’t and there are a good few underperforming players out there at the moment. But it’s also tough. The manager is the only one who can pick them, bollock them, motivate them or whatever it takes to cajole more from them and at the moment it’s just not happening. I think most WFC fans felt that last season’s squad were much better on paper (or FIFA) than they were on the actual pitch and this season’s crop appear to be heading the same way. It’s easy to point at the defence or strikers because they effect matches so much but the issue, for me at least, is having too many aging, injured or ineffective midfielders to boss games. We can’t change the squad – not again anyway – so we can only change the manager. And let him change the squad if he wants to.
I could pull my hair out over this one sometimes. The club, including the manager, players and fans are damned both ways. Get dragged into a relegation scrap and we are angry, become a middle of the road plodder and we want more; do more and we think we should have the same every season and hold it against them. Personally, I think we have to learn from what happened with Smith and accept that teams, and promotion pushes, for clubs of our resources and stature aren’t an every-season-occurrence. The difference is that with Smith,we saw progress year on year and now, it feels it’s going the other way.
Disclaimer first; work and location means I don’t see every game but the reports I hear, alongside what I’ve seen suggest we are getting caught between two stools, wanting to try to play football at times (we have no choice if we want the best from Oztumer) and going for a less, shall we say, cultured approach (which basically nullifies our best player unless we just keep him for free kicks). The most worrying aspect of the selection and playing style is that we aren’t building around, and therefore fully utilising, the players who give us an edge (Oztumer and Tyler Roberts, for me, so far). The best games I’ve seen are when we impose our football on the opposition but we seem to let opposition dictate matters home and away these days.
Last Few Home Games
Last season, and for a good many seasons, our home form has been consistent enough to give us more than enough points. Worryingly, this one highlight for Jon Whitney and a potential fortnightly escape clause is beginning to falter too. Four draws in a row, all games that were winnable and ones we would have won at a canter in previous seasons suggest that we are in for a harder season than we expected. We have to start winning at home again (especially given how ineffective we are away from home) and I’m not convinced that we have the man in charge who can make this happen.
Last Few Away Games
While we only draw at home, our away form is far less consistent with the odd unexpected win amongst some absolute stinkers. But the ones that concern me the most are games like the one at Wigan where we never look like doing anything in a million years. A team with ambitions for greater things would grind out away draws to maintain momentum – we just don’t look capable. I’m sending this prior to finalising my trip to Stadium: MK tomorrow so maybe I’ll be eating my words on Wednesday. I hope I am…but I doubt it.
It’s not just the manager. He’s not been great this season but the board deserve a share of the blame for allowing the ‘philosophy’ (hate that word) of the club to get as grey as the bottom of the away shirt. The players are too hot and cold and, dare I say, us fans should also look at ourselves as the atmosphere almost starts off in the negative. I was (working) at Lincoln on Saturday and their crowd created an upbeat, back-the-team noise from kick off that never let up. The XI on the pitch barely did a thing but that didn’t matter – the supporters were doing exactly that, and it did make me think ‘if only’.
But the manager has to take the most blame. If the team is disjointed and performances are stilted then it quickly spreads to discontent. When nothing changes (I realise that Lincoln are still riding high on a promotion and amazing cup run) for a couple of seasons, then it only gets worse and this squad of players still looks like it is capable of much more. I hate even saying that someone should lose their job, especially a good, loyal man like JW but that’s the nature of the beast with football, rightly or wrongly, and we also have to consider the climate. Yes, it’s a risk. For every Hurst there is a Hasselbaink.
But right now, there are so many potentially great managers out there looking for a chance to prove they’ve still got it.
It’s time to find out if one of them has, I feel.