King Falls On His Sword
After the F.A. cup victory against Cardiff on the 6th of January this year a question was put to manager Steve King regarding the size of the achievement. During his answer he tellingly noted that “they’ve never been into the 4th round before” – oddly distancing himself from the club at a time when he had just made history for us and was entitled to truly feel part of Macclesfield Town. Was it an indication that he didn’t feel welcome or perhaps a sign that he wasn’t really committed to the club? If it was the former he could hardly be blamed. Since his shock arrival back in May of last year the supporters became split into two camps – those that begrudgingly accepted he was here now so we may as well get behind him and those who couldn’t wait for him to slip up so they could start the “King Out” chants. If it was the latter, however, then that would just confirm the suspicions that most fans already had about him.
The buzz word in football lately seems to be ‘project’. Every ambitious club must have a ‘project’. Zlatan Ibrahimovic recently attempted to seduce Wayne Rooney into getting on-board the PSG ‘project’ (the plan seemingly to throw lots of money at absolutely everything). Manchester City are living proof of how much success that sort of ‘project’ can be. Even Liverpool has one (with less money being balanced out with some “philosophies” and a series on Channel Five).
If Macclesfield Town decided on pursuing a ‘project’ following their relegation last year then it seemed to involve the following –
- Employ a manager nobody really wants with a rather dubious background
- Give him carte blanche in the transfer market to do pretty much as he chooses
- Sit back and pray he can somehow get us promoted
In my debut piece for this site last year I spoke about the worries regarding the appointment of King and how events in his past made it justifiable to be wary of exactly what would happen. These worries were hardly assuaged when he underwent a major rebuilding process that involved dismantling almost the entire first team squad and rebuilding a new one from scratch (in the hours following his dismissal spurned players took to twitter with Ben Tomlinson announcing “..can’t really say I’m shocked” and Ross Draper ranting “Any1 who comes to a club and disregards all players out of contract through stubbornness, deserves what they get!”)Regardless of that, the season somehow started well for Macclesfield. While the manager the majority of fans had clamored for – former Silkmen legend Steve Burr – hung around the relegation places with Kidderminster, this new look Macc side stormed up the table whilst playing the brand of easy-on-the-eye football we had been promised. By September we were top of the league. After years and years lumbering around the bottom of league tables it felt like we’d never had it so good.
We wouldn’t for the rest of the season.
It may have been a case of too much too soon but the moment we hit the top spot we started to stutter. King struggled to attain a consistent spell of form from the team that would see us as serious automatic promotion challengers and gradually we fell away back down the league. A good run in the F.A. cup papered over some of the cracks and the attractive style of play made it difficult for dissenters to truly voice their opinions (“Sure we lost due to some cheap defensive errors but at least we are losing now with the ball on the deck rather than in the stands!”). The fans seemed divided and amidst this cauldron of discontent rumours began to take hold – about how much money the club had, about whether this season was promotion or bust, about whether King even bothered to show up to training and how late he arrived on match days.
The manager himself continued to tinker with his side in a way that suggested he didn’t have confidence in the very people he had signed. Players recently purchased were sent straight out elsewhere on loan (the sort of thing Chelsea or Manchester United do.. clubs who can afford that kind of thing). Players came in on loan. More players went out on loan (not just fringe players – former captain Nat Brown and first team player Tony Diagne were both sent to Lincoln earlier this year just prior to a crucial part of the campaign). Some came and left without even making a meaningful appearance. Even as late as March he was bringing new faces into the club as if still in search of that perfect combination that would somehow leapfrog all those sides who had since passed us by on their way up the league. The not-so-subtle message being sent out was that he didn’t know what he was doing. With the end of the season in sight we were still somehow within reach of the play-off places. Time for the manager to come into his own. Time to start grinding out some results.
A disappointing draw at home to Stockport last Saturday was followed by a further point gained away at Wrexham. It set up a must-win match at the Moss Rose against Grimsby – the side holding the final play-off position. The result at the final whistle was a 3-1 loss and realistically an end to any chance we had of returning to the football league at first ask. Shortly afterward it was announced Steve King had been terminated from his role as manager.
Two questions spring to mind – why and what now?
Why? Was King appointed under the condition that he simply had to achieve promotion? That nothing else was acceptable? If so then why remove him when, although entirely unlikely beyond any reasonable stretch of the imagination, Macclesfield still mathematically have a chance of getting into the play-offs? Why not wait until the hope of that being achieved is completely gone? More likely it is something behind the scenes that, along with a poor run of form, has triggered his sacking. Indeed a statement from chief executive Jon Harris that “..while I appreciate supporters are looking for answers we are unable to comment further at this time.” suggests something a little more sinister is afoot. If neither was an issue then the sacking seems harsh. Why appoint a man and allow him the chance to rebuild a side from the bottom up and then get rid of him before a single season has passed? Surely that sort of club regeneration needs time to reach fruition? What hope of ending a transitional period if constantly putting yourself in a state of transition?
As for the question of what now? In the short term club legend John Askey will take charge but his previous spell in the hot seat proved he is not a realistic long term solution.
Any hopes of snaring Steve Burr – the man supporters were desperate for at the end of last season – seem pretty much in vain with his current side top of the league and with a great chance of gaining promotion to the football league. Elsewhere the former Tranmere coach Eric Nixon used Twitter to garner support for his bid for the job (“Would love to manage that club! Great people, great fans, great history.” he tweeted, before spoiling it a little by claiming we have “still got a great chance of the playoffs” which suggests either his maths aren’t up to scratch or he is optimistic to the point of being delusional).
What is undeniable is that the next appointment is crucial. Whoever does come in will inherit a decent group of players but one that is very much in Steve King’s image (how many of those will actually want to stay now remains to be seen). We have to try to keep the core of this squad together. We can’t afford to gamble everything again. Not like last time. We need stability and someone who can put together a side that is capable of eventually leading us back into the football league. We need somebody with a long term plan and a desire to do well at the club. Betting everything on red is not the answer.
Let’s hope those in charge have learned from the lessons of this season. If not the result for Macclesfield Town could be disastrous.
Follow me on twitter: @FragileGang