"He's crazy, but in a good way"
Five months on from his arrival at Blackpool, Elliot Grandin's voice still goes up half an octave when recalling his first meeting with manager Ian Holloway – the sound of revelation. "I was surprised [by him]. I thought, 'England's like this?'" he says and laughs. Yet when it comes to emphasising the influence the Premier League's most celebrated maverick has had on Blackpool's – and Grandin's own – season, the midfielder's tone becomes significantly more sober.
For all the joie de vivre Blackpool have brought to the top flight in their first season there in 39 years, they know stakes are high for the match with West Ham at Bloomfield Road tonight, as will Holloway. "He's mad, he likes to joke around, but he can be very serious too," Grandin points out. "He's someone who's very close to his players and he's very protective of us. We're a real group. It's not a case of him being apart from the players – we're all together."
The Frenchman would not, however, argue against Holloway's more publicised side being a major Blackpool strength. "He's an individual, a bit crazy, but in a good way," says Grandin. "He brings a lot of positivity into training, and it's great for us as players to have a coach like that."
That personality has seeped through every facet of Blackpool's approach this season. Though promoted Hull briefly delighted in 2008-09, their manner was never quite as bold. Grandin says the squad does not share the outside world's marvel at their progress. "We always knew what we could do. We have a very strong team ethic." The question now is whether Blackpool can avoid the type of new year slump that ruined Phil Brown's side. Holding on to Grandin's fellow midfielder Charlie Adam will help.
"It's not going to be easy," admits Grandin, "because the other teams know us now. But we have to stick to our values; scoring goals, pushing forward instead of sitting back. We're always to going to keep attacking."
Grandin experienced the other side of the coin on loan at Grenoble, whose ultra-defensive approach eventually ended in relegation last season. "It's not a good way to play," he asserts. "Above all, in football, you have to score goals, take risks. If you lose playing like that, at least you've given everything you can. Ian Holloway wants us to pass the ball, and his vision of how football should be played is the same as mine."
The 23-year-old seems to see Holloway as a football saviour, rescuing his promising career after a few wrong turns. "He's been very important for me. I'm lucky to have fallen into working under a coach like him."
After failing to make a dent at Marseilles, who he joined aged 20, many in France thought Grandin washed up by 22, exiled to ply his trade with CSKA Sofia. "It was an adventure," Grandin says. "Bulgaria wasn't easy but it was something I needed – to go far away, to be open to new ideas and it did me good. I was able to concentrate on my football away from France. It's thanks to my time in Bulgaria that I've ended up in the Premier League."
A solid start is not about to make Grandin get carried away and he acknowledges the West Ham match is pivotal to Blackpool's future – "They are a direct rival for staying up" – but sees good times ahead if the present can be safely negotiated. "We've learned a lot in the first part of the season. We've conceded quite a few goals towards the end of matches – for most of the players in our squad it's their first season in the Premier League, so with experience, we'll get better at finishing games."
As a quick learner himself, Grandin is well placed to comment.