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Happy Anniversary Ian

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So, happy anniversary Ian. It is now 12 months since he joined Millwall at one of the lowest points in our recent history and amidst much fanfare. We were supposedly getting an experienced, energised manager with a point to prove. Someone who knew this division inside out and, following a glowing recommendation from Kenny Jackett, would right all the wrongs of the brief, but disastrous, Steve Lomas experiment.

And yet 12 months on even the most ardent Holloway fan would struggle to justify the hype. Yes he was taking over a club in turmoil, both on and off the pitch, but the fruits of such an expensive (for Millwall anyway) managerial appointment have yet to be realised. What is more, through a haze of self-help-book quotes, amusing interviews, angry rants and carefully calculated pitches to the fan base, there appears to have been little substance to all the promises made. If we look back at the last 12 months there is much to question.

[U][B]Fitness[/B][/U]

It is often the mantra of every new manager, but with Holloway he made a very big thing of the fact the squad was not fit enough. Youíve probably lost count of the amount of references to body fat and beep tests, but we were left in no doubt that this squad was going to be as fit as any in this league. That is not the case. After a bright start there appears to have been little change. Players are blowing out of their collective arse after 70 minutes and we are certainly not fit enough to play the high pressing game Holloway wants. We have signed a succession of players that arenít fit enough to start games and it seems to take an age to get them ready. How long did we wait for Martinez? How long was Gueye not fit enough for? The fitness card seemed an easy one to play at the start of his reign, but there is little evidence to suggest Holloway has improved the club significantly in this area, even with the fat coach gone.

[U][B]Size of Squad[/B][/U]

After narrowly avoiding relegation, Holloway spent the summer outlining his plans for a new, brighter, better Millwall. One of his early topics was the size of the squad. He made a big play of us using too many players, of how Burnley had succeeded only using 22 players, how this would all change. 6 months into this season and we have already used 32 players and have another half a dozen probably about to make their debuts this season. We could again finish the season having used nearly 40 players. And we are still no closer to knowing out best XI.

[U][B]Aging squad/senior players[/B][/U]

Alongside the size of the squad we were treated to musings on the age make up of the squad. We had too many old players apparently.

"I have got a certain model that I work to. If there are four columns, and the last two age groups are 25 to 29 and 30-plus, we had far too many people in those columns. My 29-year-olds are going to be 30 by the time we come back for pre-season and we need pace and energy in the team. You need fresh enthusiasm as well as senior players, so we've got to get that balance right.Ē

And yet the first signings of the summer were in their mid thirties. The average age of the squad at the end of last season was a touch over 28. This season itís a touch under 28. During the season we have seen Holloway turn to youth only to very quickly abandon the experiment after a few fleeting appearances. It is only in the last week that there appears to have been a sea change. And how are the kids going to react to this? Are they going to thrive? Or is the pressure of having to perform or find yourself completely out the squad a game later going to stifle them?

[U][B]Transfers[/B][/U]

No Millwall manager is ever going to have a comfortable time in the transfer market. They are never going to be able to assemble an expensive squad as we simply donít have the finance. And after the experiment of signing Ďbig namesí on even bigger wages in the previous summer, Holloway was always going to have his hands tied some what. Obviously initially he had to offload the supposed trouble makers and this happened fairly quickly. His subsequent record is mixed to say the least though. For pluses like Williams, Edwards and Gregory there are absolute howlers like Bessone and Ranegie, and many players we still canít decide on 6 months later. There has been a scatter gun approach with no real strategy to the acquisitions. Going back to the quote above, Holloway talked about ďpace and energyĒ, he spoke of ďsaleable assetsĒ but we have seen little of either. We then found out about the contract situation. 24 players with uncertain futures, 22 of which seemed very pissed off with said situation. Was that part of the strategy all along? If so, why all the statements in the summer? We are now trying to rebuild the entire squad apparently in 3-4 weeks, in January, in the middle of a relegation battle. Again, despite there being some positive signings, it really does smack of a complete lack of planning.

[U][B]Tactics[/B][/U]

Now we come to the big one; tactics. Or lack of them in Holloways case. When he first came in he talked about playing a certain way, the right way. An attacking passing game, full backs bombing forward, we would be the Barcelona of South London. Trouble is no-one seemed to have told the players this. It took an inter-squad friendly to save us last season and for a brief, glorious run, everything clicked. Even at the start of this season, the signs were promising. But one dodgy half against Ipswich seemed to throw all the planning out the window. Since then we have seen a bit of tactical car crash, as players are swapped every game, formations change every 20 minutes, used and abandoned with dizzying regularity. There has been little or no defensive organisation, no pattern to our attacking play, no consistency and increasingly (and most worryingly) a distinct lack of fight. And for all the talk of sophisticated football we are now back to belting long balls up to a 6ft 7 target man and hoping for the best. A manager with nearly 20 year experience, who has saved clubs, rebuilt clubs, won play-offs and promotion to the premier league has been made to look like a novice at times. It has been said that he has been trying to do too much off the field, but I think that is a poor excuse. The managers ultimate responsibility is for the 11 players who take to the field, if he is too busy to do that then there is something seriously wrong.

[U][B]Results[/B][/U]

The statistics speak for themselves really. 12 wins in 52 games and only 2 since the start of September. For the money we are paying Holloway that is an incredibly poor return and is no different from the previous reign. People keep saying we simply donít have the players, but we have shown in flashes over the last 12 months that with a bit of organisation we can get results. The run at the end of last season was built on consistent selection and settled formation. We have got decent results this season against the likes of Fulham, Derby, Forest, Cardiff and Bournemouth. But more often than not a decent result has still resulted in 4 or 5 changes to the team. Take the Bournemouth result as an example. A hard fought draw against an inform team. Yet we find ourselves 4-0 down at half time in the next game after a host of changes. The last couple of months have been abysmal and we again find ourselves with one foot dangling in League One.

[U][B]A Second Chance[/B][/U]

At probably 95% of clubs all of the above would probably be more than enough for the manager to be fired. Holloway is extremely fortunate that in John Berylson he has a chairman who is not only reluctant to pull the trigger but also willing to support the manager even more when the going gets tough. As Iíve already said, we are in exactly the same position as when Steve Lomas left. Poor results, even poorer performances and an extremely unhappy dressing room. But in this instance Berylson believes Holloway is the man to turn it round. We have seen contracts paid up, new signings coming in, a clear message that the club see Holloway as part of the furniture, someone who is not only charged with turning results around now but transforming the way the football side of the club is run in the future. As endorsements go, it is a significant one.

And so 12 months on Holloway has the unlikely chance of a fresh start. But the excuses now have to stop. I think it is probably a tough order trying to rebuild the squad and stay up, but we need to see signs of improvement. We need to see an end to the tactical tinkering, to inconsistent selections, and an end to the bullshit interviews. Get the team playing as a unit, make sure we stay in the game, get some fight back on the pitch and the crowd will always stay with you. Holloway might want to play expansive football, but there is a time and a place for that. Look at Sheffield Wednesday as an example. Theyíve scored even less goals than us but are 14 points better off. Get the team organised and difficult to beat and we may now have the pace and skill to capitalise on the few chances we get with the likes of Fabbrini and Cowan-Hall. Give the younger players their head, the likes of Sid Nelson and Jack Powell are the future of this club, players the fans can really get behind. We just want to see a team that goes out there and gives it their all. Chuck in a few nasty bastards and a couple of flying wingers and even the most miserable fan will still raise a smile.

If relegation were to still happen this season, Holloway has a chance of restoring some spirit to the club, of sowing the seeds for another period of relative success in a few years time. Despite all the disappointments of the last 12 months, he isnít going anywhere. Second chances are very rare in football management these days, letís hope he doesnít blow it.
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