Pellegrino has gone. And it looks like Mark Hughes is going to be the man replacing him at the helm of our beleaguered club.
So many column-inches have been given to our current situation, if not in the local press, then at least in the regional press. Adam Blackmore must be given particular credit for pressing Mauricio Pellegrino hard last Thursday on his in-game tactics. Pellegrino responded that ‘we are improving’, ‘spirit is good’, and ‘my players do not play with a chain on them’. He also started referring to himself in the third person, which is not a good move if you want to present yourself as somebody with a decent grip on reality.
On Saturday, we then witnessed what can only be described as a pretty disgusting capitulation against Newcastle. Nothing was right about that performance. No spirit, no signs of improvement, no sign of players playing with any freedom, or even showing any interest in playing for a manager I am sure they knew was on the way out.
The problem I have with this response from the players is that it did a massive disservice to the travelling fans. We continue to live in fairly dire economic times, and the price of a season ticket, or an away ticket plus travel is a substantial investment. For what? We know that in football, results are not guaranteed, no matter how much money you throw at a problem. But fans recognise and reward effort. What we saw out there on the pitch fell so short of that. It was hard to watch. Nobody could justify it, and if, as a coach, you cannot motivate players to perform in games like that, then you have no other route available to you than the one out of the door.
Our new boss, Mark Hughes, will have a number of problems to quickly address: team morale, the fact that a few players may need their heads re-attaching, and turning a team around who have not won in 17 Premier League games. At this point of the season, survival is paramount, and we need to start winning – by fair means or by foul.
Hughes may not have the ‘pedigree’ of some of our previous appointments – a European-sounding name, a continental philosophy, a fashionable legacy. But we are in no position to be footballing hipsters here – trawling the continent for obscure but brilliant b-sides, when we need to go full-throttle, three minutes and thirty seconds, Teenage Kicks-style into our remaining fixtures.
A short-term contract building into a long-term project. That’s what we should be looking for. Having Hughes in a ‘try before you buy’ capacity would be a wise move.
Frankly, I couldn’t give a shit about what people think of us for hiring a manager like Hughes. As a player, he was the sort of needling bastard that we hated when he played against us. Nudging, gobbing off, elbowing, scoring goals and loving it. When he came to us he was in the twilight of a hugely successful career. He was still fit and firing, and had a desire to win. When he stopped scoring goals, he dropped deeper into midfield, and played a less-heralded role. He scored a pearler of a goal against Newcastle in a game I remember fondly:
We are not in the position to be picky. We are not Bayern Munich, we are not Manchester City, we are Southampton FC. People may want us to be a massive club, but having had recent insight into what it takes to turn a football club into a huge global footballing behemoth – it takes more than just a rich owner pumping money into the playing side. We are still a long way behind the larger clubs in terms of scale and revenue. And we have to ask ourselves – how much of our identity are we willing to sacrifice to become that? That’s a question for another time.
At this moment, we have to focus on remaining in the Premier League. As a fanbase, we need to unite behind the team, and the new coaching staff at the club. We need to unite behind the badge.
Let’s be a tough team to play against again. And as fans, lets play our part in that.