Andy Pilley rolls the Fleetwood Town dice once again

Andy Pilley has what could be described as a boxer’s nose and a businessman’s convenient haircut.

With them come a direct and engaging matter-of-factness, words elucidated clearly, his mission statement willingly rolled out to anyone that cares to listen.

The ex-Enron employee is to football what Harry H. Corbett was to acting – a method actor mimicking the greats that came before him, a man comfortable in his garb, content to talk a good game and hire the right individuals around him.

His local drawl, unashamedly Fylde Coast or full of Wyre warbling, hints at a man still firmly embedded amid his roots.

 

The saviour or rather messiah of Fleetwood Town – if we ignore for a moment managers Tony Greenwood (2003-08), Micky Mellon (2008-12) and Graham Alexander (2012-15) – has all but transformed this tiny Lancashire club from a ninth-tier outfit into a respected, well run and highly polished third-tier red gem.

Through the state-of-the-art electronic turnstiles and gleaming doors lie facilities merely dreamed of when shy of a hundred people used to show up for matches over a decade ago: modern bars and restaurants, executive boxes and offices, swish team dugouts and spotless loos.

The numbers have gone up in every regard from the £250,000 Percy Ronson ‘Away’ stand in 2007, to the £1m Highbury Stand in 2008 (550 capacity), to the magnificent £4m Parkside Stand in 2011 (2,000 capacity).

To visit Fleetwood Town now is both a joy and a revelation. It has become an institution of sorts – a place of sustenance and calm filled with the rhythmic running of its modern day doyens.

League One has brought optimism – a gallant first year in the third tier (10th in 2014/15) – but it has also brought, more recently, fear (19th in 2015/16) – the ready understanding that life at this level is precarious, not to be taken for granted, difficult if overloaded with inexperience and the microwaved assumption that training facilities can compensate – overnight – for insight, awareness and effectiveness on the pitch.

Poolfoot Farm – that bastion of pride down the road in Thornton (costing twice what the Parkside did) – is indeed “fantastic”, “incredible”, whichever superlative you choose to pluck from the air.

What it is not, however, is an instant road to glory or stability or an excuse to cut the Samson locks which ultimately hold this club together.

Such a vexed subject appeared to be at the heart of Steven Pressley’s ‘resignation’ on Tuesday, 26th July. What Andy Pilley described as “an eventful 36 hours” on Wednesday, 27th (on BBC Lancashire Sport) was seemingly a neat way of circumventing just what went on. Pre-season has been…difficult.

None of the concerns overhanging last season have been patently remedied: lack of goals; the underwhelming spine of the team; a distinct lack of flair and dominance (those granite qualities synonymous with FTFC in the 21st century).

 

Pressley was right to ask for more experienced players and the existing senior players knew it (they did in fact push him towards the chairman’s door).

But Pilley was right to question what Elvis would have done with them or who he would want. Last season was harrowing at times. Stubborn tactics. Wrong personnel. Moronic substitutions. Negative football.

The feeling – as Coventry fans will attest – that SP really was watching a different game…perhaps via a portable TV in the top pocket of his body warmer. If asking for the money to alleviate such woes was at the forefront of Pressley’s mind, then Pilley did not buy it.

Perhaps the chairman felt that temporarily masking a deeper set of problems was not the answer.

This throws up a meaningful question now though following the Elgin man’s departure: Has Pilley gone from operating like a miniature sheikh to an impatient chairman with a sand timer in his hand genuinely believing that sustainability should be here just over three months after Sir Alex Ferguson officially opened Poolfoot Farm?

If he has, then Trading Standards appear to have raided the wrong part of Pilley’s empire. They should maybe have taken away some of the youth players who have refused to rapidly grow into experienced pros despite the ‘generosity’ of a dozen pitches beneath their studs.

This is, of course, ludicrous. Becoming good and carrying yourself like a man – an established pro – takes time. Fleetwood fans, for example, know that Nick Haughton is special.

They also know that Ash Hunter is keener than a kid gazing up at The Big One. But does Haughton get hustled and harried off the ball? And does Hunter flag and lose direction at times?

The answer to both questions is ‘Yes’. Without adequate quality around them therefore, the starting XI can look fragile with their inclusion. Crazy, but true. The real fattening and fertilising of a player only takes place when skilled architects surround him. And Fleetwood currently don’t have such players in sufficient numbers.

Against Wigan on Friday, 29th July – despite the grandiose scoreline (3-4) – there was a sense that the lemonade had gone flat. It did not feel like the final match before the real stuff commences. Sure, the friendlies against 5th-tier Gateshead and Scottish Premier high-flyers Hearts have been cancelled what with the turmoil of late, but the players did not seem together. This was noticeable in a few areas of the pitch, particularly across the defence.

Right-back Conor McLaughlin, fresh from his European Championship adventure with Northern Ireland, had the look on Friday night of a man disdainfully peering at a judge for wrongly sentencing him; the sentence in this case possibly seeing out his contract at Fleetwood Town.

McLaughlin has been a great servant and no one would begrudge him a ‘Pilley blueprint’ move to the Championship with Leeds United, Reading or Bristol City – whichever rumoured club happens to be valid (if any) – but having him around, despite his galloping forays, may turn out to be counterproductive.

He still has the presence and accuracy of a top-notch player, yet his wantaway mentality might start to eat into other parts of the squad.

 

Newly appointed manager Uwe Rosler (as of Saturday, 30th July) will have to address this and so many other concerns which linger around Highbury like a pack of gremlins.

In bringing in the Altenburg-born ex-centre forward – formerly the boss at Brentford, Wigan and Leeds – Pilley has acted quickly and admirably.

He has wisely avoided the trainee megalomaniacs Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs whose attention, given their £200m St Michael’s property venture, might not have been entirely on the job.

Good managers can motivate players out of a dark malaise and sometimes beyond their apparent capabilities. They pick up on players’ latent talents – re-position them or fuel them with a new-found hunger rarely seen before.

With Rosler one senses that his default position is ‘buoyant overdrive’ – his staccato English complementing this by softening the blow of his high demands on the squad.

The relationship between a foreign manager and British player has always been an interesting one – easier in some respects, less pride versus pride.

Jack Sowerby, Fleetwood’s 21-year-old central midfielder, is an example of how not to re-position a budding virtuoso.

Criminally played at left-back during pre-season, the Preston lad is conspicuously dying on his feet, wasting away, his range of passing and tackling neglected (the misspelling of his name [Soweby] on the official teamsheets against Liverpool and Wigan a further insult).

He is not the only professional to be misemployed and mishandled during the languid Pressley era, but he remains an acute illustration of and testament to poor management.

Whether Rosler has the magic touch to overcome this seemingly apathetic or pococurante state is yet to be seen but his stats are, on inspection, healthier than his immediate predecessors (42.5% win percentage versus Pressley’s 37.3% & Alexander’s 40.9%) and his words somewhat more forceful. “Over time you will see a side that will have a lot of energy, that is willing to attack in numbers, that is willing to press high and fill the box.”

It is clear that but for his friendship with technical director Grétar Steinsson, Rosler might not be here. Now that he is, however, talk of energy, numbers and pressing high is to be heartily welcomed.

Fleetwood fans are desperate for a bit of fire, an unmistakable stamp of confidence in the team – something which has slowly whittled away.

There is promise in the ranks in the form of striker Aaron Amadi-Holloway and winger Keano Deacon – together a battering ram and tricky workaholic – yet sculpting them and utilising them properly (along with others) has been FTFC’s problem of late.

The Cod Army ship has sunk a little but maybe the German hunt terrier, Rosler has started to yap on deck at the right time, warn the previous incumbents that all it takes sometimes is the right spur, personnel and steely tactics.

Rosler comes in with the knowledge of how to score – something Pressley could never impart. During his heyday at Manchester City (1994-98) he scored 50 goals in 152 appearances.

Great stats but not necessarily a harbinger to far-flung management prowess. His self-proclaimed ‘heavy metal’ attacking football is a style purportedly similar to Jurgen Klopp’s at Liverpool and encouraging though.

“The next [manager] I want to be here for a period of years not months,” Pilley said, before Rosler was parachuted in. “We’ve got a Premier League training ground….[we’re a] forward thinking, smart football club….[and he would have the] full backing of a very sensible owner,” he immodestly continued.

The man above Rosler wants the best. He has a habit of falling in love with managers, but when their time is up he finds them singularly unimpressive.

This isn’t perforce a sign of vacillation. It is just that as the dossier on his manager thickens, Pilley begins to have doubts.

Not wishing to be known as League One’s Massimo Cellino, Pilley will be conscious of getting this latest appointment right. “Undoubtably,” he reiterated last Wednesday in answer to a number of points raised around the subject, not realising his grammatical gaff.

Errors or mistakes are fortunately few with Fleetwood’s chairman if we shut our eyes to off-field events, however.

The success story of Fleetwood Town is like a giant rainbow bursting from the murkiest of puddles.

 

The prospect of relegation back to League Two Pilley refers to as a “disaster”. The 2015/16 season was “somewhat alien” to him, he refreshingly admits. Such a mindset is crucial but it must also understand what pushed us to that point.

‘Asset stripping’ would be too harsh an analysis, yet ridding the club of medium-salaried professionals would be somewhere near the mark.

Quite simply, we have hit the buffers but are keen to stay on the same platform with a smaller wage bill.

This isn’t outrageous. Neither is it over ambitious. But it takes time. It isn’t something, in corporate terms, that can be achieved in one or two quarters – despite the glee such a conference call would bring to the top brass.

Absolute trust in Uwe Rosler must now come in the form of three decent-sized cheques (bar a training ground miracle). Jimmy Ryan, our only marquee signing in the third tier, has long since needed someone of high calibre alongside him.

And the same can be said of the position behind and in front of him (centre half and centre forward). We need steel. We need players proud of the badge. Despite the light crowds. And despite the unique north-west location to which Fleetwood belongs.

“It’s about the chemistry…it’s about the fit…there is some money still available,” Pilley stresses. Let’s hope so. Let’s hope there are a few safes behind a few works of art on his wall.

We have until the end of August to get the right mix of players in place. But more than this, it is now about Uwe. Will he deliver with his ‘heavy metal’ football?

Anything to prop up the eyelids of the comatosed fans.

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