Blackpool visit new champions Manchester United on Sunday knowing that their chances of Premier League survival could well rest on securing an unlikely three points at Old Trafford. It is fitting that the season’s climax should bring together two managers who have played such a prominent role in this strangest of seasons. The League Managers Association (LMA) and Premier League are yet to announce their respective managers of the year, yet despite their teams being at opposite ends of the table, Sir Alex Ferguson and Ian Holloway are surely strong contenders.
There is a strong argument that Ferguson’s achievements this season rank among his greatest, in guiding Manchester United to a record 19th title and a third Champions League final in four years, with perhaps the weakest squad he has had available to him for some time. Despite defeats to Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, and the worst away record of any Premier League winners ever, the Red Devils have shown astonishing resilience, somehow remaining undefeated until February en route to reclaiming their crown. As ever, Ferguson has been the mastermind. His savvy rotation mitigated the effects of an injury list which deprived him of key figures like Rio Ferdinand, Darren Fletcher, Ji-Sung Park and Antonio Valencia at important stages, and withstood the potentially destabilising impact of the Wayne Rooney contract saga in the Autumn. He also invested wisely in the summer (£7m for Bebe apart perhaps); at £6m, Javier Hernandez was the biggest bargain and most important signing anywhere in Europe. A significant outlay was spent on Chris Smalling, a gamble on a youngster with just 13 prior top flight appearances to his name, but the centre-back’s composed performances suggest that he is well on his way to being Ferdinand’s long-term successor.
Holloway, despite Blackpool being on the brink of relegation, is nevertheless conceivably an even more deserving candidate for manager of the year honours. His work in keeping a Blackpool team with such drastically limited resources in contention until the final day is nothing short of heroic. Holloway has taken a squad full of individuals previously barely considered good enough even for the second tier and put up one hell of a fight. DJ Campbell, a big money flop at Leicester, now has 13 Premier League goals to his name. Luke Varney, Gary Taylor-Fletcher, and player of the year David Vaughan have all risen to greater heights than even they probably expected. The there is Charlie Adam. One of Holloway’s first acts as Blackpool manager was to secure the then-loanee from Rangers reserves on a permanent deal, and under his care the Scottish playmaker has blossomed into a PFA Player of the Year nominee, while more illustrious Old Firm stars have struggled to make an impact in the league below.
That Blackpool have managed to stay in touch with the relegation fight, beat Tottenham and Liverpool (twice) and done so playing expansive (if a touch na