Tuesday, October 20, 2009

20 October 2009: Comparison

Gareth asks whether the Saints position is cheering me up any, given my latest moan about Argyle. Yes, it is.

If you remove the ten-point penalty saints had to overcome, then they'd be just outside the playoff places. The word is that Saints are starting to play with confidence, not to mention goals, and I'm no longer worried about their position at all: they look stable, with good players, and given the statement by the Chief Executive, it seems investment will continue to come as they build their way up the league.

Saints will be back in Prem in three to four years. I can't see it any other way.

Argyle, conversely, are in the league above Saints right now, and worked very very hard to get there. But, as has always happened before, they're looking like they're going to blow the position and go back down rather than use it as a base camp to launch an assault on the Premiership. It's frustrating because (1) I've seen it before (1986-1992 - and it's happened a lot in the past, 1975-77, mid-60's, late 50's, early 50's) but also (2) this board and set of owners seem to actually have some ambition. Sir Roy Gardner, along with the Japanese blokes, if they organise themselves and stop bickering, really could lead Argyle to great things.

That begins with having a stable management setup this season to really use the players Argyle presently have (and it's not a bad team, even without Seip, who's the best defender on the books but who won't come back while Sturrock is at the club). And from there, you stay up this season, then build in the summer and put together a team that's difficult to beat, and then a team with a goalscoring edge, and from there you make a run for the playoffs.

Going down seems a relatively small thing, but it generally results in any decent players leaving, the team fragmenting and the Premiership dream being pushed back about five years. Because then you have to build a team to get out of League One, and for that you need a good management team, etc etc.

And as wonderful as Sturrock's first spell was at Argyle, he really seems to have lost the dressing room, the fans and most importantly a LOT of football matches. If, as seems likely, Argyle go back to the bottom of the division this week, it's hard to see how things can be turned around without removing Sturrock and his team.

And maybe Paul Mariner - a well-respected coach in the US - will help. Maybe he'll be allowed to bring in his own people. Or - and here's my fear - maybe he's a replacement for Kevin Summerfield and he'll stay a while before falling out with Sturrock and leaving.

Something more major has to change than the assistant. If not, it's back to division three and the cycle begins again.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

18 October 2009: Coach

And it's confirmed: Paul Mariner is the new 'Head Coach' of Plymouth Argyle.

Following yesterday's defeat at Blackpool (and given the speed of the announcement this morning, you have to imagine the decisions were all made beforehand, irrespective of yesterday's result), Argyle have announced that 56-year-old legend Mariner is coming back.

Question is, of course, what exactly is his role?

Because the problem is this: Sturrock remains at the club. The official statement says that Sturrock will now be 'assisted' in his duties by Mariner (who, by the way, was a legendary player but as a coach has only risen to the dizzying heights of assistant coach to a Major League Soccer side), which at least explains Kevin Summerfield's departure earlier this week. But can it work? Will Mariner be coach/almost manager and Sturrock as Director of Football with less of a hands-on role? It hasn't exactly been a successful model in English football in the past, although it works ok in Europe.

Beyond the Mariner appointment, it seems there's been some kind of relationship built between Argyle and Mariner's former club, the New England Revolution. Argyle chairman Sir Roy Gardner said:

The two clubs have agreed a first step of a potential ongoing relationship with a plan that a number of the New England Revolution younger stars will join Plymouth for a few weeks for joint-training sessions later in the season.

So maybe it'll be a wonderful thing and Argyle will rocket up the league. But given that yesterday's first goal conceded was scored for Blackpool by Marcel Seip, there might still be a problem. Seip is an excellent defender who fell out with Sturrock recently - as a result he was sent on loan to Blackpool, and he was allowed to play against Argyle yesterday, and probably enjoyed scoring against us. Add to that names like Stack, Walton, Easter and several others I can't think of this early in the morning - the problem right now (at least, the reason for the problem, if you define the problem as being 8 points from 12 matches) is Sturrock.

Put simply, if Sturrock stays - in whatever capacity - Seip isn't coming back.

And maybe this is a long term plan to slowly replace Sturrock with Mariner but right now what Argyle need isn't a legend from the past (unless, possibly, he's going to get his boots on and play up front), and they don't need a youth feeder arrangement with an MLS side, and they don't need a reshuffle of coaching titles. They need points, they need clean sheets, they need confidence. And while I respect the board and think they actually do have both the ambition and the resources to match the ambition, this whole approach smacks of amateurism, or at least missing the point.

When you look at the hard facts, Kevin Summerfield has been replaced by Paul Mariner as Sturrock's assistant. That's the sum total of what has happened. And now everything's fixed and solved, right?

That's what I thought.

Monday, October 12, 2009

12 October 2009: Mariner

Rumours have been around for a fortnight, but it seems to be getting more credible by the day.

Paul Mariner, former England striker and Plymouth Argyle protege back around the time of my birth, might be coming back to Home Park at the age of 56. Not, sadly, as a centre forward but as a coach of some description.

He was first touted as being a 'Club Ambassador' in the attempt to get games in the 2018 World Cup, were England to be named hosts, played at Home Park. Then rumours surfaced that Paul Sturrock was to be sacked due to Argyle's astonishingly long winless run, and Mariner was the man to take over. Then Argyle won two in a row, so that rumour died down a little.

But then a news story came up that Argyle had approached Mariner's current employer, the New England Revolution, with a view to Mariner becoming 'Technical Director' at Argyle. So there was more to this than met the eye.

And so now, over the last few days, the UK news outlets are getting hold of it and it seems that some kind of announcement of some kind of change is imminent. One rumour is that Sturrock will move up to 'Director of Football' with Mariner coming in as Head Coach - just like Saints with Steve Wigley and Sir Clive Woodward. Which was arguably the biggest managerial screw-up and disaster of Rupert Lowe's tenure at Saints, and that's saying something.

The other, more substantiated rumour, is that Mariner will come in as Sturrock's assistant, replacing Kevin Summerfield. That one comes from the Plymouth Evening Herald and so might just have a grain of truth to it.

Hmm... I wonder what Billy Rafferty is up to these days?

Postscript: The Daily Mail version of the story lines up with the Herald's assessment of Mariner as new assistant, but stops short of making it clear whether his appointment will cause cancer or cure cancer.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

6 October 2009: Perfect Gift

1 October is the busiest day of the book retail year, I've read. All the Christmas books come out, essentially all those big pointless hardback ones 'written' by celebrities that mainly contain glossy photos and aren't actually about anything.

But it was also the release date for the most anticipated award-winning romantic fiction debut novel of the year, and as the author is my sis, it's time to remind everyone that it's a perfect birthday, hallowe'en, Thanksgiving or Christmas gift, all for only £4.99 (or £5.99, depending on where you buy it). Locations to buy include Your Favourite Book Shop (if you're in the UK) or, of course, online.

Good webby places to look presently seem to involve Play.com and, to a lesser extent (because they're already out of stock) Amazon.co.uk. One place you probably want to avoid is the US Amazon site because (as shown above) the book has been rather substantially marked-up. I'm thinking of writing to the seller and asking whether this novel is a Fair Trade product and a good percentage of the tag price actually goes to the producer. Somehow I doubt it.

The best bit is that the shipping still costs $3.99. So that's how much delivery costs, the rest is just all about the price of the book...

If you're in the US, bookstores will order it if you give them the ISBN number (ISBN-10: 0755352939, ISBN-13: 978-0755352937) and if you have friends at a library, maybe you can pull a few strings?

Meantime I just read this morning that there will be new rules in the US for bloggers endorsing products before too long, stating there must be full disclosure of any connection to the product maker or any benefits received. Therefore I'll take advantage of the currently opaque rules and just openly state: