Holloway vows Blackpool will try to punch above their weight at Stamford Bridge
Saturday 18 September 2010
Ian Holloway evoked Henry Cooper, Sugar Ray Leonard and Herol "Bomber" Graham as he promised to go toe-to-toe with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge tomorrow. It was vintage Ollie, colourful, quotable and thoughtful. Thoughtful? Oh yes.
With his vivid speech and strong Bristolian accent – a rarity in football – Holloway is regarded as a "character". He is, but such casting obscures the fact that he also has a very shrewd football brain honed by 14 years' experience in management. This knowledge and intelligence has enabled him to steer Blackpool to an improbable fourth in the Premier League. They will not stay there, we know that and so does he, but they have a fighting chance of staying up, which is more than most thought at the start of the campaign.
On the face of it, tomorrow's match should be a ritual slaughter. Blackpool may have won at Wigan and Newcastle but they shipped six at Arsenal while Chelsea have scored 22 goals in five matches this season and 31 in their last six at home.
Would Holloway not be better off "parking the bus" like Rangers did at Old Trafford in the Champions League?
That is not his style – as a reference to admiring Leonard's "showboating" underlined – but, besides, he said: "I don't think my players could do it as effectively as Rangers did. I haven't got the people to do that. So I'd be pretty stupid trying to."
With those words, he challenged his players to prove him wrong.
He then added: "We are respectful of everyone and fearful of no one. We are taking on one of the giants but we have always been good underdogs. It would have to be one of them unbelievably special days to get anywhere near them, but the object is to pick three points up. I believe you have to try to hit a champion; try to knock him out. Even Henry Cooper did that to Muhammad Ali and that shocked the world, didn't it? So why can't Blackpool score a goal against Chelsea?"
With those words, he told his players to believe in themselves.
Holloway added: "I know the lads are up for it. It's a wonderful opportunity for us to have a free shot. We might get hurt, but will it hurt us that much? I don't think so. Most people go down there and get beat anyway."
With those words, he took any pressure off his players. In terms of using the press to get a message across, Holloway is as smart as Jose Mourinho.
He knows his football too. There are two remarkable elements to Blackpool's breezy opening to the season. They have done it with an adventurous approach and a personnel that was still being assembled when the campaign began.
It is one thing to organise a group of players into a defensive framework, it is another entirely to mould them into a fluid creative force. So far Blackpool have played a 4-3-3 formation which involves a lot of interchanging of positions. That usually requires a significant amount of work on the training ground. Due to the late recruitment Holloway has not had that time. That he has integrated new players into this system so quickly speaks volumes for the clarity of his coaching.
Holloway hinted that he might try a new approach at Chelsea, but only if he was sure his team had absorbed it. "Players make excuses if you haven't got your tactics right. They don't feel comfortable. But I'm working on an option that, if Chelsea ever leave their chin open, means maybe I can land something on it." Ducking and weaving to illustrate, Holloway concluded: "Herol Graham was great defensively, the best defensive boxer around. But if you don't throw a punch, eventually you'll get knocked out."
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