It’s odd what difference a couple of months make.
In early March, seventeenth place and four points above the relegation zone is cause for panic and a sacking. By late April, seventeenth place and four points above the relegation zone became apparent cause for celebration.
York survived at the end of their first season back in league football after eight years away. Needing a point away at Dagenham on the final day, they won 1-0. Job done, priority number one achieved. It was always in their own hands given the fixtures in the run-in, but credit is due. A few weeks ago, it looked like the best hope was to be marginally less rubbish than a couple of sides in a similar position, but while others could scrape a few points together, the last couple of weeks saw York turn into something like a model of consistency, stringing three straight wins together to pull away from danger.
So all’s well that ends well then? In issue zero of The Blizzard, Sid Lowe interviewed Juanma Lillo, the coaching guru who was so much the mentor and inspiration to Pep Guardiola. It’s a wonderful interview, a rich, wide-ranging piece that covers vast swathes of territory (Issue zero still available in digital formats at The Blizzard’s website – http://www.theblizzard.co.uk/product/issue-zero-digital-download/ – and worth it for that article, let alone the rest of it). One of the key passages I took away from it followed the question “Are we wrong to judge the process based on results, even though the process intends to achieve the result?”
“Human beings tend to venerate what finished well, not what was done well. We attack what ended up badly, not what was done badly. The media does that. And beyond the possibility that maybe you don’t have the capacity to judge whether the methodological process is the correct one, it’s flawed to judge on those grounds.”
At no point have processes been given due consideration at York. Win games, it’s all rosy. Lose games, the sky is falling in on our heads. For weeks towards the end of the Gary Mills reign, voices in the crowd were urging “just lump it” and “get a big man up front”. In the games against Accrington and Southend recently, similar voices were insisting that we “get it on the floor and bloody pass it”. For the last ten games, York have been more direct, playing low-percentage football but doing enough to garner the points that have ensured survival. It ought to be something to if not celebrate, then at least be pleased about. It doesn’t feel that way and that’s because it all feels so aimless, on and off the field. What is the plan? I do not wish to venerate what finished well when I don’t believe in the process behind it.
The planning for next season appears to have begun in earnest, but the whole thing is rather confused. First, we were told that Jason Walker was first out of the door with Matty Blair thought to be close behind. Then we get news that the board are in discussions with Nigel Worthington over continuing as manager before Worthington announcing the retained list. If he’s not actually signed on for next season, who is making these decisions? How can any plan be made until you have someone with a plan to implement? It’s all a bit muddled and hardly sounds like the start of an era of doing things well, of getting the processes right as Lillo insists.
Walker leaving looks significant. A diminutive front-man, he immediately looked on the outer once Worthington arrived. He’s a fair leap on him, but was always at a disadvantage when competing for long, high balls forward. His strengths lie in linking play with his back to goal, receiving the ball to feet and bringing others in. That’s clearly not going to be the case from here. See also Blair, Paddy McLaughlin and Scott Kerr; midfielders who like to knock it around on the deck. Down with that sort of thing. That the last vestiges of Millsology are the first things to be abandoned marks a definite full stop at the end of a chapter.
It appears to be the end of ambition at the club. Maybe that’s realistic. After all, the vast majority of the club’s history has been in the bottom division, and more often than not near the bottom of that. Financially, we remain a minnow in the division. Maybe it’s enough just to survive at this level, to be just like every other small, northern club. Maybe we’ve got to forget everything, accept where we are and that it’s so unlikely that we’d ever do well any higher up so what’s the point in trying. Maybe we’re not a club big enough to listen to the likes of Juanma Lillo and it’s only the outcome that’s important and not the process that delivers it.
The end of ambition, that is, of playing progressive football. When Worthington was appointed, however, chairman Jason McGill spoke of exactly that. “I’m sure all the fans will think this is a great coup for the club, and shows our ambition”, he told local news. Well, perhaps. After all, Worthington has coached in the Premier League, at international level. And yet, as Tor-Kristian Karlsen – a man who has been a scout, chief executive and sporting director at clubs around Europe – wrote in the Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/blog/2013/apr/03/paolo-di-canio-sunderland-manager-research) in April, “The reasoning rarely goes beyond “he did a good job at x, so let’s have him”. Rush, panic, lack of preparation and poor advice eventually lead to equally unfortunate sporting consequences.” Like Lillo, Karlsen suggests that there’s a process to be applied here in the same way as there is on the playing side. The ambition in this instance seems to be more about employing someone whose CV has ostensibly impressive-sounding entries on it rather than assessing the next step and appointing appropriately on that basis and in terms of the resources available.
Maybe we’ve got to learn to love the hoof, clap if it works, shrug if it doesn’t and apply no critical thinking to the methodology – or lack thereof – behind it. Maybe we’ve got no choice, but it is my fundamental belief that if the answer is Nigel Worthington and the style of football we’ve seen from him so far, then the question is flawed.
Written by John Dobson, We Are Going Up’s York City Blogger
John tweets at @johnnydobbo