"...this is the most articulate and accurate piece written about the club for years!" - Tales from the Front, http://www.otib.co.uk/

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

What lies ahead for SOD at Bristol City


For this final instalment of Sean O'Driscoll week on The Exiled Robin I take a look at the short- and medium-term challenges that will face City's latest manager, sorry, Head Coach and also try to understand why Ashton Gate was his preferred destination ahead of Blackpool and Barnsley.

This week has felt like a watershed moment for the club. If you incorporate the statements made around transfer policy and the future aims, match them with the players we've signed or been linked with and extract certain angles from the interviews with O'Driscoll and Jon Lansdown, you'll start to be painted a picture.

Let's make one thing clear - this board, and the club as a whole, desperately want to be able to shed an ever-enhancing image of a struggling Championship side that appoints a different manager each season. By appointing O'Driscoll - whose biggest managerial achievement consisted of a (relatively) long and steady building up of Doncaster Rovers. I've already linked this week to far more eloquent and descriptive explanations of the esteem O'Driscoll is held in those parts.

Although the 12-month rolling contract may cause alarm to some, I'm sure neither party was in disagreement over that. For O'Driscoll it gives him chance to assess the true state of affairs and, be it in the Championship or League One, he'll have a fair idea of how his 'project' is progressing. As for City, well I dread to think how many managers and coaches contracts have needed paying up in the last few years, so to offer this kind of deal ensures the financial commitment is minimal.

This sort of thinking hasn't been front of mind since reaching the play-off final boosted the expectations of everyone at the club to unrealistic levels, Steve Lansdown included. This restricted length of contract, following on from the commitment to only pay fees for players under a certain age points to a freshness in thinking on the financial side that is not only linked to the Financial Fair Play regulations, but may also help eradicate the soft underbelly the club has seemed to have ever since that trip to Wembley. The messages that are sent out by offering (relatively) big contracts across a number of years has been clear for all to see - the change should be equally so and players used to bank balances rising at multiple times the rate of inflation may well get a rude awakening when their contracts run out and they realise almost everyone else is tightening their belts too.

And this is likely to be what attracted O'Driscoll. A club planning for the long-term future, with an owner who continues to heavily back the club, albeit with a seemingly fresh approach to where he spends his cash. There's a much improved scouting network being put in place, an Academy that is seen as essential for the future and which has players on the fringe of the first-team squad for the first time in years, a transfer policy that has roots in thinking three years down the line as well as three months and, maybe, just maybe one day, a brand new stadium to play in.

The fact that McInnes worked hard to establish an accomplished team behind-the-scenes in the summer could have been seen as a blocker for many, but the head coach title and his acceptance of the role was surely on the clear understanding that this was a set-up no-one at City was prepared to change, and his comments since indicate that’s the case, talking of the fairly modest expectation that his choice of assistant can be brought in.

On top of that there's the oft-talked of potential of a club in this region, although personally I'm now in the camp that believes we suffer from having no other sizeable clubs in the area rather than have potential to gain from it. He also has some funds to bring in who he wants on the playing side. Not as much as he enjoyed in his short spell in Nottingham, but certainly more than he worked with at Doncaster and how he spends that will be key – if not this season then certainly next as we may need a set of players prepared to play in League One.

Ah, the players. Strangely absent from the media spotlight this week, perhaps deliberately so, but how refreshing it would have been for one of them to come out and talk about how disappointed the lads were, and how they'd let the gaffer down. Because they undoubtedly have.

I've already written about some of things that went wrong for McInnes, but one aspect I omitted at the time was how the squad, many of whom he'd signed, had underperformed for him. I didn't have that feeling when Millen left, or Gary Johnson. Both of those reigns had seemed to reach a natural end and the team and squad looked weaker than it had a year previously, for whatever reason. Under McInnes I genuinely believe we've got a better side than we had this time last year. The likes of Baldock, Davies, Heaton and Cunningham are all improvements, and Paul Anderson may well still join that group. A large number of squad players accumulated over the years departed in the summer and still, some of the weaker elements have started to be shifted out - Martyn Woolford never really got going in Bristol, whilst Dean Gerken was clearly identified as someone who is second choice at best at this level, although after wasting his opportunity to prove himself on Saturday may not get himself that high in the pecking order again.

There were enough good signs, enough sparks, to prove that this side has a lot of talent, but when it got a bit tough there was precious little evidence that too many were prepared to step up and lead. O’Driscoll’s no-nonsense approach to the media presumably translates onto the training ground and it will need to.  The spine of the team needs rebuilding and the defence needs organising and leading. 

The fact that Stephen McManus, Matthew Bates and Mark Wilson are all out of contract this month gives O’Driscoll freedom to manoeuvre in the transfer market a little, if he can persuade players to come, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see one or two who have worked for him before arrive – he hasn’t got long so will want players around him he can trust and who can slip right into the style he’ll want to create.

Of course, he may just look to the youth.  The under-21’s are flying and you would hope have yet to have their initial youthful positivity knocked out of them, nor their natural instinct to play the game in the right way.

For the likes of Louis Carey, Cole Skuse, Marvin Elliott and Liam Fontaine, O’Driscoll is yet another manager to get used to and to prove themselves to. It will be interesting to see if the latter in particular, woefully poor this term, can regain some of the form he displayed to earn a £1m bid from Southampton not that long ago.

What they'll have to re-adapt too is a head coach who believes football should be played in a specific way. O'Driscoll's view of the game is that if the players make the right decision, he doesn't mind them giving the ball away. Strange when taken at face-value but essentially the view is that a long-ball, a hoof up the pitch, isn't the right option. If you try a pass to a team-mate and it doesn't come off, then that just needs more work, but at least the hardest part to train - your mind - is in the right place.

Pass and move, pass and move. And move - and by the way, if you don't move, or don't want to take on the ball, then you aren't going to fit in - some players may have a shock waiting for them.

A fairly recent City manager started his reign playing good - no, great - football. He got the team to pass the ball, kept energy levels and momentum up, got his team to move around to give easy options. He installed 'movers' in the centre of midfield who could keep possession and offer an outlet to the back four who, in turn, felt comfortable on the ball because they knew they'd have a number of choices available. We got promoted playing that way. We nearly got promoted again. Then Gary Johnson signed Dele Adebola, perhaps got scared of being so close to the Premier League and there was suddenly another option available - one which has sadly, seemingly been Plan A ever since.

This will change, undoubtedly under O’Driscoll, and it may have some initial catastrophic effects.  Confidence doesn’t get delivered overnight and the defence are as close to the brink as I can remember part of a team being – they have a long way to come back and it will take hard work and a lot of belief building.

And us, the fans?  The fans will need to be patient and understanding. 

It may be an exceptional case, but in the week that marks a tenth anniversary since Swansea were four points adrift at the bottom of the entire football league, it seems appropriate that my club should start planning from bottom up.  Swansea did that and have stuck to it – most impressively by appointing a certain type of manager, with a particular style, each time the previous incumbent moves on, as it’s allowed consistency for the whole club but it didn’t happen overnight.  It happens with a lot of hard work behind the scenes, more than anyone could imagine - many of the tasks McInnes has already started and, barring one too many collapses, could have kept him in a job.  If O’Driscoll can help move the first team in the right direction, it may just be that this is our Swansea moment.

 
The Exiled Robin

3 comments:

  1. By far the most interesting series of articles about BCFC I have read in years. Insightful and so much interesting that the desensitised PR we (the fans) are normally subjected to. Please keep up the good work!

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  2. Yet another excellent read. Keep up the good work.

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  3. Was gutted when O’Driscoll got the sack at forest, you guys look after him you have a very good manager there. If our silly owners had have given him a couple of years he would have done really well.

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