The close season is supposed to be a quiet time for football fans, especially in odd-numbered years when there is no World Cup or European Championships. Clearly no-one told the Brighton & Hove Albion hierarchy that this summer.
Since that fateful night when Crystal Palace visited the Amex two and a half months ago, we have faced accusations of leaving excrement in the away dressing room, suspended our manager and coaching staff, made over a dozen admin staff redundant, re-instated our assistant manager (only for him to leave by mutual consent days later), sacked our manager whilst he was live on national television, announced our first team coach has also left the club, and employed a completely new coaching team for the upcoming season. Only in football could a fan be taken on an emotional roller coaster without his team playing a single game!
With all of that going on, it’s probably fair to assume the club’s PR department has been working overtime, and it’s also probably fair to say they haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory. Confirming Gus Poyet’s sacking whilst he was working as a pundit for the BBC was a particular low point, it’s amazing to think the Board actually sanctioned that. Thankfully the whole sorry saga is behind us now, with the light at the end of the tunnel provided by new head coach Oscar Garcia.
I’d be lying if I said I’d heard of Oscar three months ago, but his pedigree speaks for itself. In his one year in senior management so far, he took Maccabi Tel Aviv from mid-table obscurity to the Israeli title. Before that, he was in charge of Barcelona’s youth team – no-one gets that job without having a fair amount going for them. Alongside Oscar will be his backroom team from Tel Aviv – Juan Torrijo and Ruben Martinez – plus Nathan Jones, whose coaching career has been coming along leaps and bounds at Yeovil and Charlton since he left Albion as a player in 2005. After a turbulent few months at best, we finally have reason to look forward to the new campaign.
If there is one area where Albion have been slow on the uptake this summer, player recruitment is it. With only one completely new face – Adam Chicksen – arriving so far this summer, we are definitely behind other sides in terms of squad strength at the time of writing. However, with Kemy Agustien’s arrival from Swansea all but confirmed, and David Lopez finally signing a new deal with the club after it seemed certain he was going to ply his trade elsewhere, Oscar is clearly beginning to flex his muscles in that department. Our squad right now is not good enough to get promotion this season, but I don’t believe that will be the case in a month’s time.
So, how has our threadbare squad fared so far in pre-season? In truth we’ve done pretty well, with our only defeat coming against a Villarreal side who oozed class last Saturday. There isn’t a team in the Championship as good as the Spaniards were that night, so the 3-1 reverse shouldn’t heighten fans’ concerns too much. What was also apparent was the new attacking philosophy that has already been introduced by Oscar. The tiki-taka principle that was the hallmark of Poyet’s tenure is still there, but the players didn’t appear scared to get forward and shoot as they did on occasions last season. The new 4-3-3 formation Oscar prefers also looks set to promise goals – opposition defences will need to be on red alert!
Oscar’s first challenge though is to prevent any hangover from last season harming our promotion prospects come May. With almost the entire squad having been part of the disastrous play-off defeat to Palace, there must be mental scars still lurking in the players’ minds. The first few fixtures churned out by the computer could certainly have been kinder – Leeds away, Derby at home and a League Cup fixture against Newport that has banana skin written all over it is certainly not the comfortable start we all hoped for. Hitting the ground running is going to be essential if we are to challenge again this term.
As with my pre-season blogs in years gone by, it only seems right that I end by predicting Albion’s fortune for the coming season. I have every faith in the new management team, and will therefore go for a 6th place finish, and another punt at the end of season lottery. Will that prediction look ridiculous in nine months’ time? Hopefully not!
Written by Liam Dawes – We Are Going Up’s Brighton and Hove Albion Blogger