The secret of Blackpool’s blistering start

Despite having taking thumpings at Arsenal and Chelsea, they have also won at Liverpool, and are competing well in their first season in the top flight in 40 years. Their success owes much to the unique and innovative approach of manager Ian Holloway.

Few gave Blackpool a shred of hope at the start of this season. They were 1-4 favourites to be relegated. In the crazy world of bookmakers falling over themselves to pay out early on presumed forgone conclusions, it was a mild surprise that they didn’t immediately return winnings to customers placing bets on Blackpool’s seemingly inevitable relegation.

In fact, no one gave Blackpool a shred of hope in the Championship last season, and that wasn’t even hope for promotion, but avoiding relegation. Yet the relegation favourites won promotion, and now in the Premier League they are doing a very good impression of a very good side.

That last sentence is somewhat harsh on Blackpool. They clearly are a very good side, and not by luck. And forget Ian Holloway’s self degradation, it’s part of his clever use of the media. Part of their success owes to their lack of expectation. Blackpool could lose the rest of their games 5-0 and they still would go down loved by all, pitied by none. They’re not going to be a Derby or a Swindon, but they may yet still survive thanks to the wily tactics and skill of their manager.

Ian Holloway travelled Europe some years back when out of work, and he spotted ahead of many of his peers that 4-4-2 was outdated, and that 4-3-3 was the way forward. He knew that despite what was said, you could get out of the Championship and survive in the Premier League playing ‘tiki-taka’ football.

And so he did. And now thanks to him, Blackpool are in the Premier League with a success story that eclipses that of other similar rises into the Premier League from the likes of Stoke, Portsmouth and Birmingham. Stoke for instance, spent heavily under Peter Coates in the Championship, running up a wage bill that would have seen them fall into financial trouble were it not for their promotion last season. Stoke’s gamble paid off. Blackpool couldn’t afford to take such a gamble. A squad of bargains and free transfers has been put together by a side whose turnover last season was higher than only one Championship side – Scunthorpe United.

Getting into the Premier League in such circumstances was a job in some ways that only Ian Holloway could achieve. Studious, he observed this summer that “we need to get more like Spain. You have to caress the ball, you’ve got to love it and you must not give it to anyone else.”

Only by playing short, passing, pressing football could Blackpool have achieved promotion with their meagre resources. The Spanish style relies on the brilliance of the system and tactics rather than individuals, and therefore the key ingredient you need is to have players who will listen with the ability to also learn. Blackpool’s players can slot into the side when wholesale changes are made, such as during last week’s defeat to Aston Villa, and they will still perform to a similar standard because they are all roughly equal cogs in a very well oiled machine. Herein lies the success of Blackpool, utilising intelligence, skill and no little courage to overcome whatever individual quality they may lack. Those predictions for Blackpool to finish bottom of the league are already beginning to look just a little foolish.