'I think every agent in the world wants us to fail'
Blackpool have been successful by doing things differently, writes Dion Fanning
On Tuesday night, Manchester United will play at Bloomfield Road and it will be another surreal night in a surreal season for Blackpool Football Club. "We are in the same division but we are not in the same league," the chairman Karl Oyston says as he looks forward to the game.
Blackpool have a tense few months ahead if they are to remain in the same division as Manchester United if never in the same league, especially if their poor home form continues, they lost to Sunderland yesterday.
When they planned for the season in the Premier League, Oyston, who briefly stood down as chairman last August, insisted he would do what he had done since taking over the club and he wouldn't be swayed by vested interests.
In the Premier League, they told him it would be different, but Oyston didn't think it would be. The problems would be magnified and the sums involved would be bigger but in the 11 years he's been running the club, people have been consistent on one point: he couldn't do it his way.
They had another way in mind. "There was an absolute expectancy that my role was just to dish out, meek as a lamb, the £90 million to all the players and agents who would drift in for a season," Oyston says.
He had another idea, he always had. Blackpool was a family business and when Oyston took it over 11 years ago, the club was dying. There was, he recalls, only a small number of supporters -- "most of them disaffected" -- and the club was heading for the old third division.
Escape was not an option or not the easy option some would expect.
"It's a very popular misconception that you can get out. It's rare that you can dispose of a football club on a sensible basis without the people that come taking the risk, living the dream, speculating to accumulate and making a massive mess of it. I thought if anyone is going to make a massive mess of it, it might as well be me."
But Oyston had no intention of making a mess of it. He was going to go his own way about running a football club and it didn't involve living the dream or spending his way out of trouble.
He thought he could do things differently and he still does. Blackpool's season in the Premier League -- and right now nobody is planning for it being more than one season -- has been about doing things differently.
Ian Holloway has been different (even if the reflex laughter as they return to the studio after his press conferences has become wearing), Blackpool have played differently and the club has operated differently. This weekend, Blackpool will probably have to agree to the sale of their captain, Charlie Adam, to Liverpool.
A lot has been written about the new owners of Liverpool and their commitment to the philosophy of Billy Beane and Moneyball but Oyston has been practising something similar for years. Even the sale of Adam, their key player, will not be a shift in that policy.
"There is no situation with Charlie Adam," Oyston insisted on Friday. "He's a player that's contracted to Blackpool for another 18 months and people are free to talk about him all they like. Unless we -- me and the manager -- decide there's an offer that's acceptable to us there is no situation, however hard his agent is trying to make one."
A key tenet of their philosophy is that everyone has a price, but Blackpool won't be dictated to.
"We're probably pretty unique in that we can say 'It's either our way or we won't do anything'. That's in most things -- not just the transfer of Charlie Adam. It's whether we pay agents, it's whether we have a wage cap. It's how we do business. We do things a certain way which is probably derided by a lot of people. Other people probably couldn't make it work but we have been able to."
Blackpool have made it work this season. So far, and everyone stresses so far. This may make people take notice.
They started the season with one name on their lips. "Derby, nobody wanted us to do a Derby," John Campbell, a Blackpool supporter and blogger says, recalling the club that ended up with the lowest points total in Premier League history. "We didn't want to be embarrassed."
It quickly became clear they wouldn't be. Blackpool have been better on the road than at Bloomfield Road and Holloway has not only managed to make them play without fear, but play with adventure.
Campbell recalls Blackpool's trip to Newcastle in the Championship towards the end of last season. "We were like rabbits in the headlights," he says, recalling a game which Blackpool lost 4-1. This season Blackpool went back to St James' Park and won 2-0.
They have won at Anfield too and outplayed Liverpool. They have outplayed a lot of teams. Oyston credits Holloway (pictured) entirely for this and this is another cornerstone of his philosophy.
"When we first met, Ian told me how he wanted to play, what his thoughts were and frankly it's all gobbledegook to me. He could have said he was going to play 6-2-3-whatever and I'd have gone with it if I thought he was the right person to come to Blackpool."
This is the key. Holloway has described Oyston as the best chairman he has ever had and he believes that if a manager feels trusted and secure, he is less likely to make rash mistakes.
"Whatever Ian does, within reason, I'll support. It's just not my part of the business. I don't care, not in an uncaring way, but he can play whatever formation and personnel he wants to play and that's fine with me.
"I'll support him because I haven't got a clue, quite frankly. Like most football directors. I haven't a clue if that's right or wrong. My role is to support the manager."
He has supported every manager, he says, once he felt they grasped his philosophy which was not to be dictated to by agents and be ready to say no.
"Everyone told me, right from when we were in League Two, that players won't stand for pro rata appearances and players won't stand for one-way options on their contract and players won't stand for low summer pay. And every agent and player and manager and other chairman thinks that conventional way and that's why there's been 40 or 50 clubs in administration since I've been in football. It's because of that conventional thought pattern."
Oyston backed his managers and asked them not to put the club in a position where they were, as he says, "negotiating against themselves".
In that scenario, a manager comes to see the chairman insisting he has found the final piece in the jigsaw.
"You've got no chance. You have to give that player what he wants to come, you've got to pay the agent what he wants to bring that player because you have to have that player. I've always tried to do things slightly differently and ask my manager never to bring me one player but to bring me 10 or 15 players they would like and I will get him one of them. Because if one is telling me lies or one is telling me that he's been offered twice as much as I'm prepared to pay, I can just say 'Thanks for your time, good luck' and I move on to the next one. So I'm not negotiating against myself, I'm playing them off against each other."
And for this he has become unpopular.
"I think probably every agent in the world wants us to fail. It's not good for them, is it? A club can come along and have the temerity to not want to pay them for, let's face it, adding very little value to a deal and in certain cases not representing their client's best interest."
Most clubs, Oyston says, go along with the conventional wisdom, terrified of the consequences.
"You've always got the veiled threat, 'Oh the lad won't be happy if you don't pay that', or 'The lad won't be happy if he has to pay his own agent fees'."
When they reached the Premier League after the play-off victory last May, many didn't expect it to last. Blackpool had come so far, so quickly, some wondered if this was too much. Oyston didn't.
"There's no danger in winning the equivalent of the EuroMillions rollover. We can do things we could never have dreamt of doing in the Championship. We can set this club up forever. To be able to do that because of one 90-minute game is bizarre but fantastic."
Blackpool's season in the Premier League could be described the same way. Oyston believes they have captured the public's imagination. Some of it is down to their philosophy -- the ten grand wage cap, the refusal to be manipulated by agents. "Generally there's a loss now. People can't comprehend the greed and the culture of football. They just can't see how people can behave the way they do and they want more. It seems horrific to me. People can relate to us because we're a bit more real."
They also want to watch Blackpool play and Holloway and his players deserve the credit for that. Oyston has just given them his trust.
"All managers I've come across put themselves under immense pressure so they really don't need some knowledge-less chairman kicking the door off the hinges every time they have a loss or a draw.
"You've got to be so even-handed and look at things in the longer term and you've got to work with the manager as an equal not as someone who is putting them under pressure and making them look over their shoulder all the time."
The trust has been repaid. Sometimes when he talks to Holloway after a game he tells him he can't believe how good Blackpool are.
"I watch them sometimes and I think 'Bloody hell'. These little flicks and runs . . . it's just magical to watch. Ian's done that with more or less the same team he took over and which was a Championship side fancied as relegation candidates. It's really, really wonderful what he's managed to achieve."
Oyston then repeats that so far they've achieved nothing. "We'll crow when it's time to crow." Blackpool may be a club and an idea whose time has come.
Sunday Indo Sport