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Second Chances: Blackpool

"Here I am, boys. Come and get me!"

They were supposed to be the laughing stocks of the league.  But Ian Holloway inspired his Blackpool team to great heights for awhile, before they came crashing back to earth at season’s end.  A poor-club’s Harry Redknapp, Holloway had his players taking the game to their opponents.  It worked for awhile… before teams got wise and fed on the squad’s glaring holes in strategy.

Still, it put several players in the shop window… and while the club talks about bouncing right back to the Prem, it might not happen for Blackpool if the big boys come calling.

'Ollie in one of his quieter moments...

Front and centre is Charlie Adam.  Clubs have been trying to pluck the Scotsman out of Bloomfield Road since Christmas… and the player has made no secret of his desire to go.  But Holloway’s stubborness means that Adam is still a Tangerine… for now.  His former Rangers boss, Alex McLeish, would love to make him Aston Villa’s first big signing… and Kenny Dalglish is looking to add to his stable of central midfielders.    Blackpool supposedly values him at £12 million, which would be a nice bit of business, since they bought him from Rangers for £500,000.   Let’s see if he can replicate his success at a big club… if he can get a game.

You would expect a defender on last season’s worst defence to be looked over.  But it could have been much worse for Blackpool if not for Ian Evatt.  The 29-year-old led the league in clearances: 430 times. Unfortunately, he was one clearance short in the final game, when an own-goal against Manchester United effectively relegated Evatt et al.  He has reportedly signed a new contract with the Seasiders that will keep him at the team with Premier League wages, but Blackpool may sell him if the price is right.

DJ. Gigalo. Huh... sucker...

If you believe Ye Olde Interweb, DJ Campbell is headed for every single Premier League club.  Apparently, they are all enamored with Dudley Junior.  He has never spent more than two seasons at a club, working his way up from the Isthmian League into the top flight over the last 11 seasons.  After scoring more than a dozen goals last season, Campbell is harboring dreams of becoming a full English international.  If he’s still in tangerine by August, I’ll eat my Blackberry.

Left midfielder David Vaughan has already turned down a new contract and is looking elsewhere.  He says he wants to stay in the Premier League so his international career doesn’t stall.  Will someone please remind the boy that he’s playing for Wales?  Not exactly giants of football right now.  But Vaughan was voted the club’s player of the year: he’s fast, he’s left-footed and he can hold his ground.  He may still have a few more seasons in him for a lower-table team.

Also rejecting a new contract is Scottish leftback Stephen Crainey.  He’s being linked with both Wigan and Swansea… so he’ll have one more year, tops, in the Premier League.

Next: Biirrrrrrmingham City

Brent Lanthier

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The Bulgarian Question

Berbatov tightens his grip on the Golden Boot

It is damn near irresponsible to count out Manchester United this season, as they once again showed in their comeback away to Blackpool. But it is within the realm of reality to question whether their Number 9, Dimitar Berbatov, will maintain his torrid pace.

After the first half of Tuesday’s match, it looked the Seasiders might record a famous win against Sir Alex et al.  But the Unconvincing Invincibles served up something special in the second 45 minutes, and the cherry on top of that Mancunian sundae was Berbatov.

The striker scored the first and third goals against Blackpool, awakening the Red Giant and giving Man U just their third away win this season.  The goals make it 19 in 20 games for the Bulgarian.  It was the fifth time that he scored more than once this season, and it followed his third hat-trick performance just three days before against Birmingham. 

What is so impressive about Berba is how he does it. For the most part, he embodies the classic Centre Forward, waiting at the end of a series of passes to put the ball in the net… and he rarely makes a mistake.  Most of his goals are one-touch beauties, efficiently simple without great movement, but lovely to watch all the same.

Of course, he is also able to put on a show… especially when he knows he is in control.  Look back at his second goal of five against Blackburn.  Berbatov practically wills the ball in and then walks away, as he if knew it was going in all along. 

His third in that game is even more impressive.  He starts with the ball back at his own box, passes it to Patrice Evra, who then gives it back to a rushing Berba at the half. After kicking far and right to Nani, the No. 9 casually trots up the middle and into Blackburn’s box, madly signally for Nani to give him the ball.  The right winger agrees and Berbatov easily slots it in. 

But those goals pale against his performance against Liverpool at Old Trafford.  Never mind the enormity of the occasion. Never mind that he became the first United player in 64 years to score a hat trick against the hated Merseysiders.  His technique, his finishing were flawless.

His second against Liverpool might have been Goal of the Season

Case in point: the second goal.  Berbatov is in the outer box and takes an Evra pass from the right corner.  Sidling up to a wall of Liverpool players, the Bulgarian takes the ball on his knee, turns his back and scissor kicks the ball into the back of the net.  Jaw-dropping stuff that just might win Goal of the Season.

But there are things he is not.  He is not Wayne Rooney, United’s wayward son, who has yet to find the form he had before his injury last March.  And he is not fellow countryman — and fellow CSKA Sofia grad — Hristo Stoichkov.  The elder was a burly, volatile man who played well off the wing… not unlike Rooney.

He is not someone who seems to enjoy life away from Manchester: fifteen of his 19 goals this season have come at Old Trafford… and eight of those were against Blackburn and Birmingham.  His life doesn’t get any more pleasant on the continent.  Berbatov has appeared in five of United’s six Champions League games this season, without scoring a single point.

It is easy for observers to put qualifiers on his success, and it’s easy to question his enthusiasm, interpreting his calm demeanour as a lack of heart.  As a Liverpool fan, I am obligated to loathe him.  But every time the ball comes to Berba, I always secretly question my loyalty and think, “Oh this one might be bit special…”

Brent Lanthier

This is a great Youtube video of all 19 goals this season:

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Seasiders Sitting Pretty

Lancashire's General Patton

Five months ago, guest columnist Colin Wood wrote a piece here, talking about the phenomenal rise of Blackpool FC as they prepared to enter the Premier League.  But no one could have predicted the achievements of Ian Holloway’s men as the second half of the season begins.

The Seasiders sit 11th in a crowded table, two games above the relegation zone alongside giants Liverpool and Newcastle United… and sitting above two clubs wishing for former glories, Everton and Aston Villa.  It is an astonishing feat.

Blackpool has been simply entertaining to watch, with Holloway ordering his once-anonymous side forward with gusto.  Their goals-against column suggests an offensive strategy that shows no concern for the Tangerine end of the pitch.  But discard a 6-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge, and a 4-0 defeat at the Emirates, and Blackpool start to look like Manchester City — a team they held to a 1-0 win on Sunday.

(Interesting side note: all three promoted teams — Blackpool, Newcastle and West Brom — are in the league’s top ten for goals scored.  The strategy may keep them all from going right back down, come May. If it happens, it will only be the second time in the history of the Premier League.)

The key to it all seems to be the gaffer himself, Mad ‘Ollie.  He has taken a rag-tag bunch of lower-league players and made them household names. Even followers of the Championship would have had trouble recognizing some of the Blackpool squad before the start of the season. That’s because players like Ian Evatt (BFC’s Man of the Season, IMO), Luke Varney and Charlie Adam were lads who put the “journey” in “journeyman”, struggling to even find the bench because of injuries and the inevitable rotation of lower-league managers and their particular strategies.

Charlie Adam: Headed for Manchester? London?

But Holloway has changed all that. He believes in his players.  And even if he doesn’t, he tells them that he does, which is the entire point. Witness ‘Ollie’s supposed comments yesterday to midfield wonder Adam, telling the Scotsman that he will get a chance to play for a top-four club.  Ian loves his players so much, he’s willing to set them free.

Blackpool’s unexpected success — and the manager’s unconventional comments — has given the Lancashire side plenty of television exposure.  But that has backfired somewhat for the tiny club.  Bloomfield Road is less than state-of-the-art — it held less than 10-thousand when the team was promoted — and brutal winter weather in England has forced the club to postpone three home games… a victim of its own meagre finances.

Critics say those postponed games will haunt the club, both financially (lost television revenues against big clubs Man U, Liverpool and Tottenham) and because the make-up matches will crowd Blackpool’s schedule.  But Holloway says his side is used to playing mid-week games in the Championship, so it’s no bother.

In another season, the Seasiders may have not elicited gasps of wonder, and would have instead been headed for the inevitable drop.  But these are topsy-turvy times for the world’s biggest league, and Ian Holloway should be commended… if only for sticking his neck out by getting his side to play exciting football, instead of looking down the ladder in fear.

Brent Lanthier

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