Sunday, May 18, 2014
After a week or so of often vitriolic debate there are still several candidates for the role of chief scapegoat for City’s disastrous season, but in my experience this sort of issue is rarely clear cut.
While I backed Chris Hughton for longer than most I fully accept that the football he produced was usually turgid and that some of his tactical decisions were often hard to fathom. However, and with the benefit of hindsight, to me his fundamental footballing error this season was his attempt to change City’s playing pattern.
With the players that were brought in I’m convinced that the intention was to make City’s preferred system the 4-4-2 which Hughton had favoured at both Newcastle and Birmingham. Perhaps there was board pressure to produce more attacking football, and there was certainly fan pressure, but it was always going to be a risk in a league where most clubs play five-man midfields.
While it was used only sporadically, it failed much more often than it succeeded, with the desired goals failing to materialise while City’s back four found themselves exposed as their midfield was overrun. Significantly, the crucial defeat at home to West Brom once again saw City play 4-4-2 and fail to get a grip in midfield.
Was the fault Hughton’s, the players who were unable to make the system work or the scouting system that identified them? I suspect that the answer is all three to a degree. While I believe that Hughton was badly let down by certain players, City had regularly used the system of one up front successfully through their previous two seasons in the Premier League and become hard to beat as a result.
Of course, there has been endless debate about whether the board should have acted sooner in replacing Hughton. Neil Adams was given a virtually impossible task and can bear no blame for City’s relegation, but would things have ended differently had Hughton gone before Christmas?
Many are convinced it would, but the reality is that we’ll never really know because it didn’t happen. For every Pulis there’s a Solskjaer and for every Poyet a Meulensteen; changing manager tends to succeed on pretty much a 50/50 basis. The board had little choice after the crowd reaction at the end of the West Brom game, but the move smacked of desperation given that appointment from within was by then the only option.
There has also been criticism, particularly from the national media, of David McNally as chief executive. However, I think the majority of City fans would have been horrified if a man who has been central to the club’s successful renaissance over the last five years had been hounded out and his statement of commitment to the club was very welcome.
Ultimately the chief executive advises, but can’t overrule, the board, the board give the manager a mandate, but don’t interfere in football matters, and the manager decides systems and tactics, but relies on players to make them work. There is a chain of responsibility and to attempt to isolate one of the links in that chain as the sole scapegoat is as futile as it is unfair.
Every link in that chain has been culpable in this awful season, but pillorying individuals when collective responsibility has been accepted isn’t the way forward. The time has come to draw a line and look forward to a future that can be shaped rather than back to a past that cannot be changed.
The club lost its soul this season, now it needs to reclaim it.