Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Have a Little Faith

The appointment of Alan Irvine as the Albion's new Coach has not been greeted with universal approval. I have to admit to having my reservations but I could pretty much say that of any candidate.

Personally I am a coaching agnostic I don't believe the hype surrounding coaches good or bad. There is no coach on this Earth who could transform Albion's prospects either way the club's position in football's hierarchy is determined by it's resources and in the short term those are fixed irrespective of who the coach is.Of course the Head Coach has influence on the outcomes he has to organise the players and get the most out of individually and collectively.

However any competent Coach could do that and past reputation is no indication that any new appointee will be able to achieve this in the particular circumstances that present themselves at the Hawthorns. In that context I cannot hand on heart say Irvine "terrible" Sherwood "wonderful" at best I might say I think Sherwood is better than Irvine but I  have no first hand knowledge on which to base that judgement so I am as likely to be wrong as right. It's a coin flip.

I don't know if  Irvine will be a success, nobody does and forecasting imminent disaster on the basis of his appointment is almost as silly as attributing flooding to God's reaction to gay marriage. Obviously his previous forays into management have not ended well. All coaches fail at some point in their career and that failure is almost inevitable given that most clubs do not have the resources to meet their fans and some owners aspirations. Only a handful of coaches are fortunate enough to work for clubs where that is the case and even there longevity is the exception rather than the rule. The reality at Preston and Sheffield Wednesday was that both clubs were in situations where relegation to Division One was always a possibility, but in neither case would fans nor owners accept that and the Head Coach was duly sacrificed to the Gods to make things better, which in Preston's case has not worked and it has only been a partial success at Wednesday where relegation to League One is still more likely than promotion.

Obviously from the preceding paragraph I do not share the sense of moral outrage that many Baggies seem to have concerning Irvine's appointment I know I am in the minority and will not be rushing to join any demonstration (views on the ownership here)  nor try to get my season ticket refunded. However the danger is that the fan reaction to the appointment is so toxic that the doom and gloom envelopes the club and the negativity alone scuppers the season before it has even started. It is arguable that the McLeish appointment had a such an impact on Villa and they have struggled ever since. I doubt it is an outcome that most fans want but some seem hell bent on it because the club has had temerity to appoint a Head Coach they don't approve of.

The challenge ahead of the new Head Coach is difficult enough without the chorus of fan hostility, Irvine has three priorities before a ball is kicked in anger in August

1. Tactics 
It might seem a statement of the bleeding obvious but the coach needs to settle on a tactical format that fits the players at the club and drill them Hodgson style until they know their jobs inside out. According to players who have played under him he is going to be meticulous in his approach and his sides will be very well organised. Judging by his previous clubs he favours a 4-4-1-1 and given his long association with Moyes I think it is safe to say whilst not being an exponent of the long ball game in the way Allardyce is he will be a pragmatist rather than a coach who values beauty over results.

2. Discipline 
The new Coach needs to get a grip on the dressing room from day one. There has been a gradual decline in our discipline both on and off the pitch. Irvine  needs to demand a minimum level of professionalism from his new charges and if that is not forthcoming the club need to back him by shipping out the bad apples regardless of their reputations or past performances.

3. Players
Albion let 10 players go at the end of the season and there is no guarantee that even the players remaining will be retained. George Thorne has put in a transfer request and others have been linked with moves away and equally not all of the current squad might have a role in Irvine's team. All of which points to a busy summer at the club and while Irvine does not have sole responsibility for player recruitment but he does set the tactical blueprint which underpins the club's transfer activity. I think it was Clarke's lack of tactical clarity which sowed the seeds for last season's debacle. Ultimately Irvine will need to bed in at least 8 new recruits and no one should under estimate this challenge.

Aside from Moyes perhaps no candidate would have been greeted with universal acclaim and I don't know who is the more deluded, the Albion fans who thought he was a realistic target or Moyes himself thinking he is going to get another a shot at Champions League football in the short term. However whatever other candidates were spoken to or considered Albion have appointed Alan Irvine. Fans may grumble or harp on about what might have been that is irrelevant.

I suspect many of our Monday morning quarterbacks will be sitting on their sofas waiting for him to fail so they have the dubious pleasure of saying "I told you so" to my mind that is a pointless and self defeating mind set. Alan Irvine is our new Head Coach embrace the fact hope for the best and see what happens.

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