2 November ~ Are Crewe Alexandra the most inconsistent team in English football? Looking at the results of the Alex’s seven games in the past month, it is difficult to argue. Crewe’s form guide for October reads as follows: LWLWLWL. But it is Crewe’s previous two games that truly indicate their frailties. On October 25, the Alex secured a superb 1-0 away win at Cheltenham Town, a team who had just won five in a row. Yet four days after this supposedly morale-boosting victory, they travelled to lowly Aldershot and completely surrendered in a 3-1 loss, looking out of sorts for long periods of play.
So what is the problem? For a start, the team fielded by Dario Gradi against Aldershot had an average age of just 23. Add to that the loss of last season’s 29-goal striker Clayton Donaldson to Brentford and it is easy to understand why this young, inexperienced team are losing winnable games. But what concerns many Alex fans is doubts over whether the club will ever move forward as they did in the 1990s under Gradi, eventually playing Championship football for eight out of nine seasons between 1997 and 2006.
With these glory years still relatively fresh in the mind, some supporters find life in League Two very difficult to take. After a 2-0 defeat at Shrewsbury in August made it five defeats from Crewe’s opening five games of the season, Gradi, the manager for a total of 26 years, was the target of vitriolic abuse from travelling supporters calling for his head. But the standard riposte to such calls is simple: who else can do what Gradi does? It is a question to which nobody appears to know the answer – even Gradi. And it is not even for a lack of trying that a suitable successor hasn’t been found for the 70-year-old.
In May 2007, Gradi stepped down after 24 years as manager. By May 2009, Crewe were back in League Two for the first time since 1994, following the disastrous reigns of Steve Holland and Gudjon Thordarson. Manchester United and Arsenal are very different clubs to Crewe, but even they would do well to look at this example and see how difficult it can be to replace a long-serving manager. Promotion from League Two looks hugely unlikely in the immediate future.
There was a time where Crewe were regularly able to generate huge income from the sale of star players, but no such thing has happened since the £3.5 million sale of Nicky Maynard to Bristol City in 2008. (Nick Powell, 17, and Max Clayton, 16, could end up fetching similar fees in future, but for now they are still undergoing their education as players.)
All this has left Gradi with absolutely no power in the transfer market: the one player he brought in over the summer was the club’s current reserve goalkeeper, Alan Martin, on a free transfer. As a result, the club’s famous talent pool has been liberally utilised this season, with nine of Saturday’s starting XI at Aldershot having progressed through the academy ranks. This commitment to youth, alongside Gradi’s commitment to attacking football, often provides for incredibly exciting games alongside frustrating inconsistency.
There are many Alex fans, proud of the club’s nurturing of their own players, who would have it no other way (myself included). It is just a shame that at the same time, a return to the Championship is an untouchable fantasy. James Morris