Blackpool’s 4-0 defeat by Wolverhampton Wanderers yesterday may be a blow to their hopes of Premier League survival this season, but when the big picture is considered, Ian Holloway’s side has a bright future.
The Seasiders’ league position is now a little precarious – 14th, four points off the relegation zone and with the second-worst goal difference outside the bottom three – but by simply reaching the top flight Blackpool defied the odds, and there is little reason they cannot do the same again and stay up. But more than that, away from results and tactics and questions over the future of Charlie Adam, what Blackpool can achieve this season is something more. Regardless of the division they start next season in, Blackpool will be better off for their Premier League experience this year, and not just in the obvious financial sense. Handled correctly, Blackpool have a rare chance to spread an ethos through every inch of the club.
As a player, Holloway would never have been confused for Johan Cruyff. A right-sided midfielder with 18 years of playing for Bristol Rovers, Wimbledon, Queens Park Rangers and, briefly, Brentford and Torquay United, Holloway’s hard-working style brought him 705 appearances and 58 goals – roughly a goal every 12 games. Cruyff, on the other hand, spent the best years of his career with Ajax and Barcelona, as well as starring in the North American Soccer League as LA Aztec’s answer to Pele. A 19-year career brought Cruyff 662 appearances and 368 goals, striking around every 1.7 games, as well as 48 caps for the Netherlands, 33 goals and a World Cup runners-up medal. On the field Cruyff reached a level most can only dream off. As a manager, however, Holloway can replicate what the Dutch master did for Barcelona in miniature at Bloomfield Road.
The Barcelona side now coached by Pep Guardiola is widely acknowledged as sticking to Cruyff’s plan, laid down during his spell as manager between 1988 and 1996. Guardiola was the heartbeat of that Cruyff team, and the values instilled in him then are what he has carried over now he is in the dugout – Wigan Athletic manager Roberto Martinez wrote in the Daily
Barca’s success and the style in which it has arrived was envisioned by Cruyff, set on a refusal to compromise the core principles of possession and attack. In the same way, Holloway has not compromised since becoming Blackpool manager. His commitment to attack and the importance of possession are reminiscent of what underpins the Catalans, and he has admitted his admiration for the Spanish way. Holloway could still give Blackpool the same blueprint Cruyff gave Barca, perhaps without the European Cups to show for it, but with the same entertainment for future generations.