Sunday 7 December ~
Until recently Charlton Athletic were the epitome of a well run medium-sized club in the Premier League era. Current caretaker Phil Parkinson is now their fourth manager in the two years since Alan Curbishley left after 15 years in charge. Following yesterday’s defeat at Blackpool, Charlton slipped to the bottom of the Championship, their lowest position since 1980. The turmoil at The Valley serves as a warning of what can happen when club boards get drawn into a spiral of appointments and sackings. This season six Premier League managers have left their jobs (only one of whom, Harry Redknapp, left to take up a vacancy elsewhere). Paul Ince is now expected to be the seventh casualty, at another club that had been a model of stability.
Ince filled the vacancy created at Blackburn Rovers last summer when Mark Hughes was lured away to Man City. Sam Allardyce, now one of the leading candidates to replace Ince, had also been favourite to succeed Hughes but his association with Bolton generated opposition from a significant number of Blackburn fans. That resistance might be shelved in view of the club’s current position, but Allardyce appears to have another more attractive option, at Sunderland, where there will be money to spend in January. Blackburn, by contrast, seem resigned to losing Roque Santa Cruz to Hughes’s Man City. Ince was also unable to prevent another of his best players, David Bentley, from leaving in the summer and has had to shop around for bargain buys.
With their team having gone ten games without a win, Ince has been getting barracked by a section of Blackburn supporters and has spoken publicly about what he sees as a “hate mob” trying to drive him out of the club. Given that Ince is black, in an area of the country where the extreme right has gained support in recent times, it’s not unreasonable to think that race prejudice lies behind some of the more vehement verbal assaults on the Blackburn manager. Ince himself seems to think that he is targeted because some people still dislike him from his days as a famously combative player.
It is rare for a manager to move up three divisions, as Ince did in going from MK Dons to Blackburn, and this is only his third season as a club boss so he is still learning about the job. But while Blackburn are a couple of points adrift in the relegation area, they are also only six points from mid-table which is a much better position than the 19th-placed club would usually find itself at this stage of the season. Clearly Ince is troubled by the criticism he is receiving and he might have coped better with some of it, but that too is something that comes with experience. If a manager is going to be constrained by having his best players sold he has to be given a fair chance – but it doesn’t look as if that is on offer to Ince. The last time that Blackburn changed their manager when they were in the bottom three was in November 1998 when Roy Hodgson was sacked; a team that had finished sixth the previous season went on to be relegated by six points.