Seasiders struggling for players
21 July ~ While other Championship clubs have got their squads assembled and are busy preparing for the new season, Blackpool are, not for the first time, scrambling around for players at the last minute. Even in the Seasiders' sole Premier League season, manager Ian Holloway was forced to entertain a number of trialists including the forgotten man Francis Jeffers. Twelve months ago, then-boss Paul Ince complained about having to field so many auditionees in a pre-season friendly at Penrith: "We're a Championship club, and with no disrespect to anyone, we shouldn't really be looking at trialists."
This past weekend, Blackpool were back in Cumbria and had seven trialists in the squad that beat Penrith 4-0. Of Blackpool's eight contracted professionals, only six were deemed fit to play and new manager Jose Riga had to borrow five players from the youth team in order to boost the numbers up to 18 for the first of the club's two scheduled friendlies this summer.
As if the lack of players wasn't a big enough concern, the dearth of warm-up games will add further concern for Blackpool fans, with the side surely going to be undercooked when the season starts in less than three weeks' time – they entertain Burnley on August 2 in the only other scheduled pre-season fixture. A planned training camp in La Manga incorporating two friendlies against Spanish sides had to be cancelled with the club stating the time could be better utilised recruiting much-needed players.
The current predicament would appear to stem from a stand-off between Riga and chairman Karl Oyston, who it is believed cannot agree on the transfer policy. One would have imagined something as important as the budget would have been discussed when the former Charlton manager took the job early in June, but around six weeks later only one player has arrived, the Estonian international Sergei Zenjov. The Blackpool Gazette has reported that Riga is insisting on four specific players being signed, who will form the spine of his team, before conducting any other transfer activity. Yet time is running out.
At this point, Oyston has been backed into a corner. Either he backs Riga properly or there may be forced into parting ways with a manager who has barely arrived. An alternative option is that Riga lowers his sights in the transfer market, just as his predecessors reluctantly did, to meet the club's frugal operating budget despite vast cash reserves. With two near misses in recent seasons however, going down this route would leave fans concerned that Blackpool might not be so lucky in escaping relegation a third time. Chris Walker