When this blog started we had just lost in a playoff semi final in a most unsatisfactory manner and our Spanish speaking boss was making the sorts of noises that usually pre-empt a departure of some sort. And now……
When you write you generally need a beginning, a middle and an end. A plot. Football writes its own plot for you. There are lots of difficult things that come up when you write about football. Remembering exact passages of play. Seeing the fecking numbers on our home kit. Calling decisions, especially the controversial ones. Trying to note down and remember exact phrases or happenings when you’re on your third Harvey’s or your kid needs the toilet (ok these possibly only happen to me). But it is also a writer’s gift. It writes your plot for you. A season HAS a beginning, a middle and an end. It has a definite outcome. All you have to do is weave a narrative around it.
What you must not do under any circumstances when you are writing – unless it is an elaborate Shaggy Dog story – is to have your beginning and end exactly the same. It would seem this morning that is almost where we are. Almost.
Firstly the game. There’s no need for an elaborate match report. Derby were very good, especially going forward. They sliced us apart, took their goals well and looked every inch a Premier League side. Steve McLaren has done an excellent job and I wish them well in the final in which I will be supporting them. We were not very good but then the injuries that have plagued us all season got worse in spectacular style. When you’re facing the league’s highest scorers and most attacking side you really don’t want a back four of Calderon, Dunk, Ward and Chicksen. We wouldn’t send that out in a friendly. Calde we know is a club legend for many, many reasons. Ward has been one of my players of the season, but not at Centre Back. One player horribly out of position and a back four that hadn’t played together all season. They looked, collectively and individually horrible.
But key incidents other than Greer going off? Don’t ask me. It was bedlam in my house. Hard to follow but I wouldn’t have it any other way. We had friends round, a big pot of curry for the adults and pizza for the kids, lots of beer. The boys in their replica strips. Afterwards as NSC already started to melt down I played football with the boys in the back garden. After four bottles of Cornwall’s finest light ale I got ripped a new one by a seven and eight year old. Next year they will be regulars at The Amex. They are undeterred by a defeat that seems to have finished certain NSC scribes off.
Who will be in charge of that team? Who will be playing for it? At the time of writing no one knows. Reports in The Guardian and The Mail this morning that Oscar has offered his resignation. When THOSE two papers agree with each other there has to be something in it.
If – and only if – he has offered his resignation then I have to say I’ve hit a new level of disappointment. For me this was the transitional season. We have the opportunity to clear out the high wage earners and bring in players who can genuinely play the Oscar way. We have the new training ground. When Leicester went out at this stage last year – far more disappointingly in a way – they stuck with their boss, regrouped and won the division. If Oscar is quitting this opportunity it is not honourable.
On the other hand the signs have been there for a while. There was the Mail story that he was moving to Swansea, having been dissatisfied with our transfer policy. After Yeovil he publicly stated that we were the only team in the division who got weaker after the January window. I defended that window’s dealings in these pages and in a way I still do. I have nearly lost my club once and I don’t intend for it to happen again. The plan MUST be for a balance between on field success and off field solvency whatever this does to the child like egos of the fans who demand immediate success. I also do not think we were the ONLY team to be weaker after January. Reading, too, failed to strengthen and look what happened to them. The difference is that while our future looks secured and self sufficient they are up to their necks in manure and failing to swim, having swapped prudence and self sufficiency for capricious Russian Roubles.
That said the chickens finally came home to roost yesterday. The failures to replace Barnes and El-Abd all too apparent as Ulloa dived and stropped his way through a game that he didn’t have the pace to unlock. CMS was on the bench, true enough, but he’s still not ninety minutes fit. Not the way he plays. And Rodriguez? The arguments had raged over his nickname when he arrived. I suggest his latest should be “First Ferry Back to Santander”. Meanwhile the lack of centre back cover on the bench finally killed us.
But whose fault is this? The failure to land Lewis Grabban in January could be traced to that player’s greed, Bloom and Barber being overly parsimonious or Oscar not being able to guarantee a start, what with us only playing one up front. If it was the first there is not much that can be done. If it was the second I would be intrigued. Yes we have to hit FFP. Yes we cannot go under. However we had just received a club record fee for Bridcutt and it’s clear from the out of contract list that the budget is going to need to be rebalanced in the summer come what may. Do we have our priorities exactly right? If it is the third, though, Oscar only has himself to blame. If you want to play one up top – and if that is going to be a long term philosophy that ends up with us as the English answer to Barca’s all encompassing strategy in five years great, but it’ll be a long five years – you are not going to sign one star striker when you are already starting another. Bluntly you are going to sign Lita, Obika and Rodriguez.
It was actually not replacing El Abd that killed us off but Centre Back is not the sort of position where there is an awful lot of rotation. It’s where I played in my pub league career and you can go on far longer than if you are a winger. In general you can have a bit of a rest. In general you are handing out the kickings instead of taking them. El Abd left because he saw a whole season on the bench. How do you sell the very same thing to anyone but an ambitious Development Squad player who sees it as the next step up?
So what happens next? Who knows? Maybe Oscar will be persuaded to stay? Maybe it’s just paper talk and, in reality, he’s happy. I have to say the most damning thing is, if he is to go, I’m not actually that gutted. I was devastated when Poyet left. Oscar has seemed like a Caretaker Manager for a good deal of the season. If he stays then I want him to commit to our budget and our long term plan and attacking football for real. If he goes I want the next guy to. That’s what’s important. Not another Latin hissy fit.