A few housekeeping bits before we begin. Your Episodes I, II and to some extent III before you settle down to enjoy Episode IV:
1. I liked Mark Bowen a lot.
2. My opinion on Paul Ince has fluctuated over the last week or so.
3. I want a manager I can believe in.
Now, we can begin. There are basically two options in play right now: stick or twist. Option A and option B - it’s basically that simple. We all know (or should know) that the aim next season needs to be to stay in the Championship again. I might be low-balling here, but I honestly do feel the league will be stronger and the quality will be better, which means we’ll have to play a heck of a lot better than we have this season, which, depending on the shape of the squad come July 30, will either be a pipe dream or an actual possibility.
Where I am now (and largely where this article is coming from) is that the manager spot needs to be officially filled by May 8. There is literally no point speculating about players until we know who is in the dugout, at least for next season. Manager, release list, new contracts offered - in that order. So, let’s take a look at those options…
Option A: Twist
The general narrative among some fans this season has been “yeah, but no one would want the job”. These people tend to believe that we should still be able to mine the Championship elite/Premier League lower rung in terms of managers and this is simply not the case. We don’t have the dollars, we don’t have the pulling power we once had and we don’t the level of control available that these managers would want at our club.
However, I do feel there are still managers out there, both in work and out, that would fancy their chances at the Berkshire Coliseum. In recent weeks I’ve begun to look at League One where there’s a decent selection of guys who have worked at “crisis” clubs and have done well or very well. Think Ian Evatt at Bolton, Danny Cowley at Pompey and, my personal favourite, Darren Moore at Sheffield Wednesday. These guys have worked under pressure, both on and off the pitch, and know their way around a team in need of reset.
The main problem with this for me is that I’m not convinced there is anyone on the football board of our club who would have the football acumen to look at these managers (and I’m sure others) and really scrutinise their pros and cons and how that would suit our team.
These types of appointments would also need some backing: bringing in their own players, staff and vision. If it’s all going south by October, you can see the toxicity coming back round and the board pulling the plug again, meaning we’d be back to the traditional merry-go-round. A new manager, particularly one under contract at another club, would surely command at least a two- or three-year deal to tempt them to make the move, therefore meaning a long-term project would be in play.
A different appointment would be intriguing but not without risk. It would also take time, which would stall any new contracts being signed and, potentially, new players coming in. Which leads me to Option B…
Option B: Stick
Look, I’ve changed my view in light of the last two games, but particularly as a result of the post-match interviews from Mr Ince. I was not sold at all on him previously, despite him being one of my heroes growing up. That “they” business after the Nottingham Forest game made me cringe deeply. But, like the team, he’s grown into the role expected of him.
As the dust settled against the quite remarkable draw against the South Wales Mega Swans, we were treated to Josh Laurent saying he’d be more likely to stay if Ince were to remain as manager. That’s a big statement. We know the situation with contracts - I won’t bore you with that here - but let’s play devil’s advocate for a minute: say Ince signs/stays, we’d potentially get Laurent back and Ince junior, two players who have stood up when it mattered most over the last few games. That’s not a bad result, all things considered.
Let’s talk about playing style: we aren’t world beaters. We know this team has grossly underachieved their season and I’m not going to start celebrating (more than likely) finishing 21st in the table. However, all I’ve wanted (and I’m sure many of you have too) this season is to believe in this team and not know that once we go a goal behind we will lose.
Look, the last two games have been remarkable, make no mistake. Up to this point, we’ve been distinctly average but have had the added sprinkle of having some desire and heart. That’s what we’ve craved all season.
Seeing Ince senior tap the badge and smash his fists around post-Sheffield United will stay with me for a while. That convinced me he’s bothered. Now, I might be doing him a disservice, but that’s the first time I’ve felt it from him. And yeah, those eagled-eye followers among you will know that I tweeted recently I didn’t think he was the right fit. I still don’t think he is in the long term, but I wouldn’t be annoyed or upset if he were offered the chance to battle it out next season.
I’ve made no secret that I’m frustrated with the club. My anger towards their statements this season has intensified the more they’ve put them out. Pauno leaving was the right call for everyone involved, but the line I keep coming back to is the search starting quickly. I’d wager this search never, ever started. Is that Ince’s fault? Nope. But I’ve been guilty of using him as a scapegoat to allow my frustration, annoyance and disappointment at the club’s lack of footballing decision-making to influence how I feel about him. I will wholeheartedly admit that.
What we need now is stability. As I said at the top of this article, I was a big Mark Bowen fan as I felt he knew what he wanted to do heading into his first full season before he departed. I liked his honesty, I liked what he said and I liked the fact he knew his own path. Any of the sound familiar with Paul Ince? We will still be under an embargo next season, which brings its own issues, but why rock the boat once again when he’s stabilised it after a very turbulent season?
We are where we are and we could do worse than to ask Ince to keep going with this club. The bottom line is that he has given the fans and players belief - belief that has been missing for a few years due to the way the club has been run. Why not let him continue building that belief with a squad that resembles what he wants?