So yesterday’s Premier League action went pretty much according to script for the most part, with shock of the round perhaps going to Burnley who beat Sunderland – who’ve had a very promising start – by three goals to one at Turf Moor. Probably the most significant result of the day though, was from Villa Park where Portsmouth succumbed to their sixth defeat out of six so far this season. Things really do look grim for the South Coasters.
In fact, things are so grim that despite the season being only six games old, the Eurosports wrap up that I saw on Sky Sports 3 before actually said that “Aston Villa secured a 2-0 win over relegation-bound Portsmouth at Villa Park…” before going on to name the scorers and show the (lovely) finish from Agbonlahor. And that’s the trouble, looking at Pompey at the moment, there’s very little if about it. Relegation seems like a when for them at the moment, so something has to change.
I have to say first off, that I’m not one to wield the managerial axe lightly. Many times on this blog over the past 11 months or so I’ve leapt to the defence of a manager or criticised a chairman hasty to bring out the sack, and on the whole I think that it’s better to give your manager a chance. Consistency and patience are very underrated things in football these days, but they are well worth having as I’ve had the pleasure of seeing first hand at my club Everton – David Moyes is now the third longest serving manager in the league and has done brilliantly for our club.
Indeed, his time in charge is only bettered by Arsene Wenger and Alex Ferguson and let’s face it, their clubs have done pretty well from sticking with them for a decent amount of time too. That said, I think that Portsmouth really do need to get rid of Paul Hart now. And I mean now, I mean as soon as possible. That’s nothing against Paul Hart either, I think that he’s a good coach and an extremely passionate boss, but I simply don’t think he’s the right man for the job.
Of course, not being ‘the right man for the job’ is at best a tired old cliché and at worst a rather see-through euphemism for ‘he’s shit’ but I don’t actually mean to use it in either sense. The situation at Pompey is one that makes it very, very difficult for any manager. Their finances were, and possibly still are, all up in the air and that saw a huge merry-go-round of transfers take place over the summer, whereby they pretty much sold most of their squad and then signed most of a new one.
That, naturally, is going to take some time to settle down. The players need to forge good on and off field relationships for each other and the boss needs to figure out what his best team is. So Pompey’s bad start can be attributed to that to an extent, and from the interviews I’ve seen, Hart certainly remains confident that he can turn things around and that once his side gels, they’ll kick off the bottom of the table and stave off relegation.
I’m not so sure though. See, the players that Portsmouth sold were, by and large, very good players. To name but a few, they’ve seen Sylvain Distin, Glen Johnson, Jermaine Defoe, Peter Crouch and Niko Krankjar depart in the recent past. Of all these players, there are a few qualities that are universal: they’re all experienced, proven Premier League quality players, most play regular international football and would get into most Premier League sides (probably excusing the ‘big four’).
Now though, ask yourself, do those same qualities apply to any of this little lot: Aaron Mokoena, Steve Finnan, Frederic Piquionne, Anthony Vanden Borre, Tommy Smith, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Michael Brown, Arnua Dindane, Jamie O’Hara, Tal Ben-Haim, Mike Williamson, Hassan Yebeda. The short answer: no. Don’t get me wrong, there are some good players in there, some youngsters who will go far and probably a couple of internationals. But, they’re definitely not as good as the players that left.
Of course, the selection of players I picked out who have left were the best ones, but you can’t replace quality with quantity, it just doesn’t work that way. You can only play 11 players at once and a starting eleven minus the players who’ve left and filled with any combination of those who’ve joined will simply not be as the starting eleven that Portsmouth were able to name last season, end of story. And that’s where the real problem lies.
Portsmouth finished 14th last season with 41 points – seven clear of relegation. I suppose when it comes down to it, that’s a reasonable gap on paper but make no mistake, they had a pretty close shave. In many ways Pompey (and a couple of other sides) only survived last season because they were the least bad of a very bad bunch. There were a lot of poor teams there. This season though, that isn’t the case. The teams who have come up have already shown that they’re no mugs, while the likes of Stoke (12th), Hull (17th) and especially Sunderland (16th) have strengthened considerably.
Portsmouth though, as I outlined above, have gotten worse. That doesn’t mean of course, that they’ll necessarily be relegated. Football isn’t played on paper, which is why Man City won’t make a realistic title challenge this season. Portsmouth, despite being arguably the worst side in the league on paper, do have a very realistic chance of survival. However, I strongly believe that their only hope lies in relieving Paul Hart of his managerial duties and appointing a better tactical manager.
Because Paul Hart is certainly a football person, he’s got a lot of passion and I’m sure he knows the game as well as anyone. What he isn’t though, is a tactical genius. That much is all but proven by his managerial career record which isn’t exactly sparkling, apart from a brief period during his time in charge of Nottingham Forest. And the simple fact is that Portsmouth don’t really have a squad capable of keeping them up. They don’t have a Premier League quality squad, so they need a really good manager.
More and more in today’s game, managers are becoming as high profile as players. The likes of Sven Goran Eriksson, Jose Mourinho, Fabio Capello and many others are household names making a fortune out of the job. And that’s because more and more in today’s game they play a key part in success. In the past, it was often simply a case of putting the eleven best players on the park, and the best team would win. Now though, with the difference in quality between players at the top level so marginal, a good manager can be key.
Because Pompey don’t have bad players, they’re just not as good as the other Premier League clubs. Which means that in a straight shot 11 vs. 11 match, they’d lose the majority of matches and be relegated. But if they have a manager who can get the best out of them, and who can neutralise the threat of their opposition, then Pompey could easily survive. It’s all about tactics now, getting your players to play to their best isn’t enough. You need to be able to do that while also stopping the other team from playing.
And as much as I like Paul Hart, he’s a good down to earth bloke, I don’t think he’s capable of that. He doesn’t have the tactical prowess to identify and successfully neutralise the key threat of the opposition while maintaining the effectiveness of his own side. That’s not a criticism – I can’t do that either (though I sometimes think I can), and neither can many managers. That’s a skill that only the very best managers possess and that is also my point. Portsmouth need to sack Paul Hart if they’re to stay up because with their squad they need a top, top manager.
Paul Hart isn’t a top, top manager and so he is not the right man for the job in this situation. Had Pompey clung on to more of their prized assets over the Summer then I would totally be backing Hart to keep them in the Premier League. However, a manager like Hart can only do so much with his players, and the players he has available to him are limited by means that were beyond his control. Unfortunately for him that means that he’s not going to be much use for Pompey anymore, fortunately for him, they’ve now got a rich owner so he should get a nice payoff.
And speaking of their rich new owner, he’s got a big job on his hands now. Because it’s all very well saying that Pompey need a top, top boss to stay up, it’s quite another talking one into working on the South Coast. However, if their new Arab owner wants to remain the owner of a Premier League club, I genuinely believe that’s what he needs to do. I’ve heard a number of disgruntled Pompey fans on BBC’s 6-0-6 phone in asking what direction the new owner will take the club in; well here’s his answer:
He needs to sack Paul Hart immediately, he needs to find a top manager and persuade him to come and fight a relegation battle with Portsmouth and he needs to back that manager financially come January. Otherwise, he needs to prepare for life in the Championship because if things don’t change pretty sharpish at Portsmouth, they will be a Championship club sooner rather than later. It’s only six games into this Premier League season, but the bell is already tolling for Portsmouth I fear…
Have your say:
What do you think? Is Paul Hart the right man for Pompey? Or should they let him go? Can they survive either way? Who could take over? Please leave a comment with your thoughts below…