Oscar and the End of Season Awards

As Derby’s fourth goal went in on Sunday evening (ok, as their second did in reality) our season ended. My thoughts turned to what was good (and bad) about an eventful season and I started to construct the Brighton But Only At Home end of season awards. Then I thought I’d rest my keyboard until at least the World Cup or first marquee signing. Thanks Oscar.

The subsequent resignation of Oscar Garcia has meant that, instead of sloping off to the metaphorical beach and sticking its collective feet up, everyone associated with Brighton and Hove Albion has endured a torrid and argumentative few days.

Whenever there is a parting of ways between two people or groups of people it is, to a degree, acrimonious. I can remember our old next door neighbours divorcing. When the husband left he assured me it would be amicable and they had just grown apart but it didn’t take long for solicitors’ letters and battles over money, property and care of the children to properly tear them apart. While the Oscar / Brighton split will never come as close as the Poyet / Brighton split for intrigue and rancour there has been some airing of dirty laundry over the last couple of days. In a way this is healthy proving that we not only live in a country that supports free speech but that we have a club and press that understand that.

Firstly Andy Naylor wrote a piece in The Argus suggesting that Oscar had left over transfer policy and that he had presented the club with a list of transfer targets. Cracks, it said, appeared in the relationship as early as October when Leo Ulloa got injured and we were left with only Ashley Barnes to play up front.

Yesterday Tony Bloom in an audio interview with the BBC quashed some elements of that article. When asked specifically if the club had failed to deliver Oscar’s targets he said “yeah, that’s not true at all” before qualifying that statement by saying that while Oscar had some targets they were unrealistic due to price and availability. He also suggested some naivety on Oscar’s part as to how the transfer market works here as well as some communication difficulties. This was expanded on in an NSC discussion of the interview with a fairly solid suggestion that Oscar was unavailable on transfer deadline day in January (contrast with Poyet who stayed in his office till the deadline passed).

Going further than this risks conjecture but it is useful to set the scene. It is also useful not to forget the key fact of the season, that, league position wise, it was just as successful as the preceding one. Yes we finished sixth rather than fourth and with three less points but the net result was still a defeat in the playoff semi-finals. The other thing borne out by both pieces is a confirmation that Oscar was perhaps never quite settled here and that his introverted, phlegmatic personality, whilst a welcome contrast to Poyet’s bombast, actually caused communication issues and rifts around the club. I am a written word extrovert but a real world introvert and I can feel for Oscar here in some ways knowing you would have the spotlight on you in a language that was not your own. Perhaps he didn’t realise the intensity of Championship football? I mention this last thing because it frames who I would prefer as a replacement.

Given everything that’s happened since we arrived at The Amex I would prefer the next appointment to be a forward thinking coach but with English as a first language. The sort of person who is not going to have communication issues with Messrs Burke and Barber, who can deal with the press confidently and communicate with and get the best out of his players, ideally without those players forming cliques. My ideal candidate would be Steve Clarke who appears to fit all those requirements, though whether he would be available, willing and affordable is another matter. This is merely my starter for ten. There has been talk about the bookies’ favourite Tim Sherwood. On him I am far from convinced. He certainly ticks the boxes marked “English” “prepared to play youngsters” and “flexible attacking football” but he also, for me, ticks the boxes marked “media circus” “outspoken” “tactically naive” and “using us as a stepping stone back to the Prem”. With Sherwood I worry we would be out of the Oscar frying pan and in to the fire that was set by Poyet.

Whatever happens though I trust Tony Bloom to deliver. His interview last night combined the intelligence of a man who has made his fortune with the passion of a fan and included a frank admission that he was still learning. I expect the lessons learned from the last two appointments to be fully implemented in the recruitment of the next manager.

So – on to those end of season awards. After all, I really do want to put my feet up on that metaphorical beach, at least until a replacement manager is appointed. Who was hot and who was rot in 2013/14?

Player of the Season

That I would only consider defenders speaks volumes for our season. Upson as club player of the season is a pretty good shout. He has been excellent as expected and I’m so glad he returned to us. However, my own award is going to be for Stephen Ward. When he came to us – indeed still at the end of this season – I was seeing rather cruel comments on him from Wolves fans, central to which was that he was not a left back. Well for us he was. Defensively solid, excellent in the pass and very willing to push up he prevented and created goals in equal measure. Never gave anything less that 100% and was almost ever present. I was genuinely worried when we lost Bridge. That Ward was a more than adequate replacement speaks volumes for him.

Moment of the Season

Obviously THAT header from Ulloa at Forest. Not for my son though. His special moment was sitting a few rows from the front of the West Lower against Reading in the cup when KLL dribbled round half of Reading’s defence on the left wing just to retain possession, before earning a corner by deliberately flicking the ball of a Reading player’s shin and then gesturing to the crowd like a DJ trying to get hundreds of tired ravers to the their feet.

Away Fans of the Season (Ground)

Leeds again. Honourable mention to Middlesboro who brought 500 down when they were on a terrible run. They sang all afternoon as their team took us steadily to pieces. Overall one of the reasons it felt like such a damp and boring season, despite our final position, was the procession of teams from Oop North who came down with a few hundred fans and parked the proverbial bus before wasting time from the twentieth minute on. Next season will be different with Wolves, Fulham, Brentford  and possibly Leyton Orient arriving and Barnsley going. Thank Christ.

Away Fans of the Season (Social Media)

Occasionally something really good just falls in to your hands. So it was when Reading’s Tilehurst End blog were put on to me by TSLR and asked me to do a preview of our league match. We have stayed in correspondence and I have regularly read their excellent site. Believe me they are in a deal of financial trouble and will have a difficult season coming up. Yes their fans false pitch invasion was highly amusing but the Tilehurst lads have been intelligent and sporting in their comments and this deserves mention.

Pie of the Season

Chicken Balti. Again.

The All Change Award

Goes to me. Obviously. The act of writing / blogging is an arrogant one but I would like to think that most writers / bloggers understand this. What’s the point in having a blog award if you cannot give yourself one, that’s what I say. The All Change award, however is awarded for events in the future which, if anything, is even more preposterous. It relates mainly to the fact I shall be taking The Boy to every home weekend game next season. In order to secure this, since Best Friend is also taking his kids, we have had to move seat. Not stand, luckily, but I shall have a slightly different vantage point next season. I shall also be the poor bastard trying to contain the unrealistic dreams of an eight year old who needs the toilet while my mates enjoy their leisurely beers in the pub.

There will also, hopefully, be some changes on this here blog. Watch this space.

Finally, thanks for reading. I have had over 10,000 hits this season, not bad for a badly promoted, WordPress hosted, one man operation that is normally written on a busy commuter train or a hungover Sunday morning. It is about 9000 more that I thought I’d get when I started. Happy Summer. See you when the new boss is announced.


Time for Poyet to Foxtrot Oscar

So the Gus Poyet saga is heading towards over. No news yet on the appeal to his sacking but the club have moved on and appointed a new man to a new role. Welcome to Brighton and Hove Albion, The Amex and, most importantly Casa Don Carlos, Oscar Garcia Junyent. Head coach. *winks*

The manner of Poyet’s sacking (and indeed his suspension) has been the subject of much talk on Twitter and Facebook, in pubs and workplaces and on North Stand Chat (a place I normally leave for the close season). Fans have appeared to be divided in to Club and Poyet camps much as you appear to have to choose between Labour and Tory or Simon Cowell and humanity. In reality I’m not sure the camps are that straight forward.

For me Poyet’s position became untenable the second he speculated about ‘hitting the roof’ after the Palace defeat. I’m not saying I know that’s why he was suspended because no one outside the proceedings knows that, but saying ‘can I have a shitload more cash please boss’ when you’ve just capitulated at home to your biggest rivals is never going to go down well. That doesn’t mean I’m not appreciative of everything he did while he was here (something I’ll come back to a bit later).

Equally, no matter what they say, in my opinion the club scored a PR own goal as spectacular as the one by Colin Hawkins at Withdean with the manner in which they announced Poyet’s sacking. Allowing him to go on TV and claim he had found out about his sacking live on air, whatever the reality, looked bad to fans of other clubs and the public at large. The placing of the statement simply could not have been more badly timed. This does not mean I am anti club, anti Paul Barber or stirring up heated revolution against the legend that is Tony Bloom. Simply that I have found some of the goings on at the club frustrating and puzzling. If that’s how I see it as a fan what must the players have been thinking?

The club have come back strongly this week with the appointment of Oscar. Unlike the hoards of experts on NSC who somehow managed to make time to watch every Maccabi Tel Aviv game last season as well as ours, I don’t actually know anything about him beyond a paper coaching record and a vague memory of someone swarthy turning out for Barcelona on nights when there was no game on featuring an Englsih team. However it’s that Barca pedigree that excites me. The team under Poyet were staffed and set up to play a particular way and it needed a particular type of boss to be appointed to take us forward. It increasingly looks like we are adopting the Swansea model, something that excites and pleases me in equal measure.

Besides, as unknown as Oscar may be in England, he represents the polar opposite of the gravy train of failed mediocrity that is the rest of the English managerial merry go round. Some of the other names touted were just ridiculous. Harry “£12 million on Christopher Samba” Redknapp with his huge Sandbanks residence to maintain? No thanks. Glenn “it’s the disabled’s own fault” Hoddle with his failure academy and failed tenure at Wolves? Not on your nelly. Colin Wanker? As out moded as my mum’s prawn cocktail recipe. *makes Family Fortunes big yellow cross noise*

No Oscar is a spectacular gamble from a spectacular gambler but I’d rather we were going large (and modern) with a high risk strategy than trying not to lose our stake by constantly folding. In Tony and Oscar we trust.

That doesn’t mean I want to rewrite Poyet’s history. In my less than humble opinion he’s the best manager we’ve had since Mullery. A dispassionate look at statistics and names backs this up. Whereas Mickey Adams’s first signing as manager second time round was the aforementioned Colin Hawkins, Poyet brought flair and a trophy to the grim surroundings of Withdean. Far before we had the Amex we had Elliot Bennet and Liam Bridcutt, exciting young players far too good for that league. Poyet turned Kazenga Lua Lua from a sprinter and gymnast with a brain the size of a pea in to a footballer with a brain the size of a pea. He kept us up in his first season and then set about building a side that was part football team, part philosophy and all ego. Poyet’s ego.

Ultimately that might be what led to the unfortunate events of the last month and a bit but we should not forget that we improved our league position in every season under Gus just as he’d promised. That fans used to watching the aforementioned Hawkins, for whom Gary Hart was a hero because he was “a trier” have suddenly been treated to Wayne Bridge, Tomasz Kuszczak, Matthew Upson and Vicente, internationals all as well as Greer, Bridcutt and CMS earning international call ups (*whispers* but only for Scotland). Winning League 1 while winning all 8 games in March, the St Patrick’s Day massacre of Palace, our first shot at the top flight via the playoffs since 1991, the 6-1 demolition of Blackpool and the spectacular, breathtaking opening competitive win at the Amex over Doncaster were all achieved while aboard the Gus Bus. Now, however it is being overtaken by the Os-car. Let’s hope it’s a joyride.