After taking a little break to absorb relegation and all that means for our sods in sky blue, it’s about time I performed some sort of post-mortem on the events of this past year.
In the first of this post-season series, I’ll be spending a bit of time looking over the 2011/12 campaign; what went wrong, the possible reasons behind it, and generally having a think about just how much accountability can be attributed to each blame-worthy candidate.
Every fan has their own opinion and perspective on the cause of this relegation, and with the emotion of going down, has led to some very black and white statements. Here’s my attempt at bringing all those thoughts together.
First up – Sisu. Can I possibly find a way of absolving them of blame?
It seems universally accepted that the owners Sisu have a hell of a lot to answer for. Financially, the club is in a right quandry, under a second transfer embargo in 12 months, whilst currently struggling to figure out a way of paying our obscene stadium rent.
In order to combat these financial issues, development of the team was halted last summer in favour of a mass cull of players followed by minimal reinforcements. As a supporter of any club, seeing such a drastic reduction in playing quality is always going to give you the hump.
But let’s try and look at this objectively for a second. There’s an awful lot of Sisu-bashing right now, but first up, what have they actually done since they’ve been here that’s right?
Well, no matter how convenient it is to forget, they’ve ploughed an awful lot of money into this club. They saved it from the brink before – and have forked out a fair bit on players too. Whether those players have all been successful is another issue, but it’s only fair to acknowledge the £30 million (or so) they’ve spent.
They also gave Andy Thorn the job. I know, I know, hindsight is a wonderful thing. I’m sure many see that as another huge mistake, but let’s be clear about this as well – the majority celebrated that decision at the time. In the final 10 games of the 2010/11 season, he showed enough in his performance to deserve the job. Looking back, it was the simplest decision they’ve had to make so far in their ownership – they must have been delighted to be saving money on a ‘name’, and were also able to hire someone who the fans actually wanted.
And now I’m struggling a bit. It’s a hardly an emphatic list of positives, is it?
Journeying back a little, Ray Ranson certainly came in for a lot of flack while he was chairman. He was the face of Sisu as far as we were concerned, and with every decision made by the suits, it was his job to explain it. One period of particular grief I remember for him was when we sold Dan Fox and Scott Dann, at a time when our squad looked capable of evolving into something half-decent.
Raymond got slaughtered for those transfers, but had to come out and explain the club’s actions to a barage of fans who were annoyed at him and his “fat face”. Only now he’s buggered off do we know the true drivers behind those transfers, and many others. Turns out, he was hugely opposed to accepting the offers, but the clout of Onye and crew was simply too much to argue against. He was chairman, and a football man who felt what they were doing was short-sighted – but he did as he was told and took the bullet for them.
It’s these sorts moments where the discontent and blame for where we are today (certainly as far as I see things) can be mostly attributed. The main problem I have is with what appears to be consistently poor management and apparent lack of commitment to their investment.
Yes, they spent money, but at important junctures, they opted for the quick return, often without a thought for how detrimental and destructive their actions were being to the growth of the football team.
One of the more generic statements I hear is the need for a “plan”, and some further words about Sisu’s lack of one. But it’s all well and good having a plan, and for all we know, they did have one for the club when they took over. What’s absolutely fundamental though is the guts to commit to that plan.
That’s what has been lacking during their ownership, and it’s this half-hearted approach to the development of the team, and further abandonment of their investment, which has resulted in them making an almighty pigs-ear of things, with seemingly little intention of fixing it.
Throughout their time, they made sacrifices with the squad. Unfortunately, those rarely go unpunished at any level.
Let’s be clear, a lot of this is pure conjecture, as we have little more to base our views on but the decisions that have clearly backfired. But, they’ve been quiet for so long, they’ve left themselves open to this sort of judgement.
It seems that they took on an investment without fully appreciating the nature of what it means to be owners of a football club. It’s so obvious, I feel daft for even saying it, but there’s absolutely no way a football club can be financially successful unless there is success (or relative success) on the pitch too. Even more so with our current situation with the Ricoh – a situation that they were fully aware of when they took the club on.
If the club is performing well, fans will turn up, and the club receive a steady (and reasonably predictable) income through that. You can’t destroy the core product and expect people to continue to turn up. It’s a vicious circle in football ownerships, but one they have had no answer to.
That’s what’s happened this season, and over the last few years. They’ve been hoping for fast returns on their investment, but have never seemed prepared to fully commit to the key element of it. We’ve never built on our potentially good squads; only rebuilt having lost important players from them. They’re quite different things.
This non-commital approach clearly came to a head this summer when they seemed to realise that the squad they’d invested in was falling apart, thanks to a lack of progression and poorly managed contract renewals leaving many assets jumping ship.
We were right back where we’d started, with a squad needing a rebuild. Again.
This time, they didn’t have the finances or the belief for any sort of investment, and instead left us to enter the season with one of the most threadbare squads seen in years.
Don’t get me wrong, there was still a group of players who should have been able to compete – the massive issue we faced was the lack of options around them. The level of many of our players is League One. Of course, they can raise it and compete in Championship games, but the key difference between the leagues is that consistency to do it over the course of ten or so games, not two or three.
We were allowed to start the campaign with too many of these squad players bumped into starring roles, as well as being ludicrously rewarded with extensions to their contracts to create the illusion that Sisu had learnt from their previous contract management mistakes.
That decision to renew contracts was both an indicator of their naivity and also their low opinion of us as fans. Did they really think that by offering everyone a new contract, that’d make up for the Westwoods and Gunnars being able to go for nothing? Yes, we cheer 15,000 attendances and call for players to shoot from 40 yards, but we’re not all stupid.
All that did was give security to players who’d were struggling at Championship level and knew they’ve never get any better than this. Needless to say those players snapped up the offers, and we’re now stuck with them for a few years more.
During this series of articles, I’ll be looking in more detail at Andy Thorn, the players, tactics, culture and plenty of other contributing factors, but in terms of Sisu’s accountability, there’s no denying the many mistakes they’ve made, and the dereliction of their responsibilities in the past 12 months in particular.
The underlying question I’m asking myself in each of these pieces is: are they the ones to blame for us going down?
Their responsibility was to ensure the squad was appropriate and there were the resources available to compete at Championship level. They’ll point to the financial constraints making that impossible this year, but if you look back over the previous campaigns, their short-sightedness at points when the team was genuinely developing, leaves little room for sympathy.
It was those moments which forced the lack of investment this season, which ultimately had a huge impact on our preparedness for the battle that lay ahead. For that – they are wholly responsible.
We can only wonder now how things might have been for us if just a few of their decisions had been different or they’d taken a slightly different approach to things.
I mean, I’m not saying Ray would have always been right if we’d gone his way for those. But I bet he would have been right more times than Onye bloody Igwe.