Tuesday 24 October 2017

Main attraction Holloway in league of his own

Blackpool's colourful boss deserves proper recognition for illuminating football's parallel universe, writes Paul Wilson

Odd, isn't it, that when Tony McCoy accepted the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award last Sunday, many people watching would have been seeing him in close-up and hearing him speak for the first time? That's some personality.

In football, meanwhile, a parallel universe rendered invisible by popularity and familiarity, genuine personalities are taken for granted.

There can hardly be anyone with an interest in the English game who does not know what Ian Holloway looks and sounds like, because his West Country burr and amusing soundbites have been imitated almost as much as they have been enjoyed in the first half of the season, yet, despite Blackpool continuing to stick out like a certain Fylde coast landmark as a screamingly good story, it appears recognition must wait.

This is not to belittle McCoy's towering achievements, or even to suggest the BBC has an anti-football agenda, just to point out for the umpteenth time that its annual sports awards night has the wrong title. Either change the billing to reflect achievement, or draw up a shortlist that occasionally contains the odd personality. Holloway can have my half-way award without further ado. He is far and away the oddest personality of the first half of the season, with Roy Hodgson and Carlos Tevez so far behind they are barely worth mentioning.

Blackpool are the team of the first half of the season, too, even if they have lost a little goodwill of late through their short-sighted decision not to install undersoil heating. West Brom and Bolton Wanderers have also been better than expected, but since everyone expected Blackpool to be looking forward to nothing more than parachute payments by now, the results they have posted have been a revelation.

Blackpool deserve an award for playing enterprising football as well, proving that even unfancied underdogs can succeed beyond their wildest dreams as long as they are willing to attack their opponents and attempt to score goals. That does not sound like the wildest of dreams, it merely sounds obvious, yet Holloway and Roberto di Matteo deserve credit for refusing to follow everyone else's dull logic and not resorting simply to getting men behind the ball in an attempt to bore opponents into submission.

As does Harry Redknapp. Tottenham Hotspur have been an antidote to boredom this season, just about the only top-four club worth watching most of the time, and in Europe in particular they have found sensational form.

Gareth Bale has been the player who has made most impact on the first half of the season, even if Samir Nasri has been running him close for consistency, and Spurs have easily been the most entertaining team in England.

If Redknapp really is nailed on for the England job when it becomes available, then England fans have to hope that Fabio Capello is as good as his word and stays until the summer of 2012. That should give Redknapp as much time as he needs to put down a lasting marker at Spurs. If he leaves any time before then it will leave the club with a sense of unfinished business. Everyone is keen to see how far this team can go. No one is particularly bothered about how England might fare in Poland and Ukraine and any manager with any sense will be leaving that for Capello and his £6m salary to sort out.

Should Capello make a sudden return to Italy, to Inter or anywhere else, the evidence of the past couple of months suggests the FA should consider Ray Wilkins for his job. He is English, he is available and he was obviously the man making all the difference at Chelsea. Wasn't he?

Despite their alarming recent decline, I am still sticking with my original prediction that Chelsea will pip Manchester United to the title, mainly because it is bad form to switch horses mid-race. I no longer know how Chelsea are going to do it, but I suspect the transfer window could be key.

At the other end of the table, I now look foolish for suggesting Blackpool would go down. There is still time, and the unhappy precedent of Hull City two years ago, but while sticking with Wigan Athletic and West Ham United for the drop, it now seems more likely they will be joined by Wolves. Or even Blackburn Rovers. Neither I nor Sam Allardyce, it appears, fully factored in the likely effect of uppity Indian poulterers at the start of the season. Thus chastened, I offer only one new prediction for the remainder of the season. Allardyce will move to a team beginning with W and save them from relegation, obviously.


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