Monday 20 November 2017

Stability key factor amid Premier chaos

Glenn Moore

If there is one dominant conclusion to emerge from the Premier League campaign which draws its last breath tomorrow it is the value of stability, which does not auger well for England as Roy Hodgson attempts to scramble together a coherent squad and playing philosophy before next month's European Championships.

There are times when a change is necessary, times when it is beneficial, times when it is unavoidable, but the old American proverb, 'be sure you can better your condition, before you make a change', has been too often ignored.

The fiasco at Wolves, who sacked Mick McCarthy in a knee-jerk reaction to the 5-1 home defeat by West Bromwich Albion is the most evident example.

Given the awfulness of Wolves' defence, even given the tight resources McCarthy operated with, a change was perhaps arguable, but the club's indecision over who to replace him with cost them one obvious candidate when Neil Warnock accepted a firm offer from Leeds, and another when Alan Curbishley pulled out.

The subsequent promotion of McCarthy's coach, Terry Connor, was barely a change at all, and it showed.

The manager survived at the other relegated club but, while Steve Kean stayed in place all around him was instability. The board was out of the loop on major decisions, which were taken in India, players agitated for a move, successfully in the case of Christopher Samba, and there was turmoil off the pitch. Thus a squad which had enough ability to take the relegation battle to the final day at least, are six points adrift and down.

The change there has been to the culture of the club which has turned the town against the men who represent its most public institution.

The men who sold to Venkys did so in good faith, but they must feel terrible now. Unlike David Moores, who flogged Liverpool to Tom Hicks and George Gillett, they do not even have the compensation of making £88m.

That Bolton are favourites to join Blackburn and Wolves in next season's Championship suggests they should have changed manager, but there are extenuating circumstances.

Freak

Even before Fabrice Muamba's collapse Owen Coyle had to deal with a freak injury list. Broken legs suffered in pre-season by Lee Chung-yong and Tyrone Mears, added to Stuart Holden's knee problems, left him three players short and there was further uncertainty surrounding Gary Cahill who should have moved in August, and eventually did in January.

The consequences of instability are more obvious at the Loftus Road circus where QPR have changed owner, manager and chief executive since the start of the season, and experienced two manic transfer windows which have added 11 players to the staff, at £20m cost since the opening day.

Despite bringing in Hughes as manager, plus players Bobby Zamora, Djibril Cisse, Nedum Onuoha, Samba Diakite and Taye Taiwo in January, QPR are this morning exactly where they were when Warnock was sacked, 17th place and two points off the relegation zone.

Not that changing a manager necessarily leads to instability. At Chelsea familiarity returned when Andre Villas-Boas was fired, Roberto Di Matteo reverting to the old guard, and tried-and-tested methods.

While there was too much ground to be made up in the league the interim head coach has led the team to two finals, winning one so far, with a nine-match cup run featuring eight wins and a draw in Barcelona.

Roman Abramovich must wonder whether, if he trusted Carlo Ancelotti to slowly rejuvenate the team, Chelsea would also have challenged for the title.

Mohamed Al Fayed also hired a new manager last summer, his third in as many seasons, but only because Mark Hughes, like his predecessor, Hodgson, left of his own accord.

The team has continued to prosper because Martin Jol, like Hughes, has only tinkered with a formula Hodgson has since successfully transplanted to Wes Brom.

Both made the team more expansive, but retained the core players. Seven of the 13 involved in last weekend's win over Sunderland played for Hodgson in the 2010 Europa League final.

Norwich and Swansea, the season's two surprise packages, have been models of stability on and off the pitch with both managers standing by the core of their promoted teams.

Both Paul Lambert and Brendan Rodgers also did the bulk of their main transfer work early. This is crucial. Bringing in players in time for them to bed in during pre-season makes a huge difference, as Arsene Wenger has been reminded.

The Arsenal manager, having already signed Lukas Podolski and lined up Yann M'Vila, is evidently keen to avoid last summer's transfer chaos when he sold Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Emmanuel Eboue after the season had started and was forced to bring in four players in the final hours of the deadline. Arsenal lost four and won two of their opening seven games and have been playing catch-up ever since.

The Gunners' spring recovery owed much to a stable defence, as did Newcastle United's fine start.

The back four is usually the foundation of any successful team (managers rarely make like-for-like substitutions in defence) and managers who have to make changes frequently see results suffer.

In terms of pound for pound value Everton, as usual under David Moyes, have been one of the outstanding teams.

spirit

It says such for the spirit at the club that Sylvain Distin, despite his match-changing mistake in the FA Cup semi-final, was voted the players' Player of the Year, and for the solidity of the structure that Steven Pienaar immediately rediscovered his form when he returned from White Hart Lane.

But no rule is an absolute and there are times when change works.

Wigan's recovery from doom owes much to Roberto Martinez's bold decision to switch to a three-man defence, and his players' preparedness to buy into it.

Sunderland's revival under Martin O'Neill was a clear case of a new manager, with a new approach, transforming a team.

The difficulty, for managers, chairmen, and club custodians like the Jack Walker Trust, is knowing when and how to execute change. On such decisions are titles won and relegations averted, or not. (© Independent News Service)

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