Paul Dickov creates Latics in his own image

Posted by on Oct 19, 2011 in Uncategorized | One Comment
Paul Dickov creates Latics in his own image
Image available under Creative Commons © jennicatpink
Our latest guest post features a club we have perhaps covered less than we might have done since starting the blog two and a half years ago. My twenties features many memories of derring-do from a string of great Oldham Athletic sides and we hope to feature their promotion winning squad under Joe Royle in our Great Teams series at some point. For the moment though, Craig Worswick confines himself to an analysis of the seventeen month reign of Paul Dickov at the Boundary Park tiller: When Paul Dickov signalled his intention to extend his football career further by becoming a manager in June 2010, there would have been a whole host of clubs wanting to hand him his first chance. Fresh from their early summer clear-out of managers, clubs, particularly those in the lower leagues of England, tend to like to take a punt on inexperienced incomers who have played at the very top. They bring with them long lists of contacts to call upon and have often worked with some of the best managers and coaches in England, leaving them able to handle every character and situation.Paul Dickov, then 37, was handed a contract at League One’s Oldham Athletic, and his reputation within football alone had the fans excited but, after he meandered through his first full press conference with child-like enthusiasm and delivered a real feeling that he was pleased to be at Boundary Park, the backing from the home crowd was to become huge.It can be very difficult to excite Oldham Athletic fans and they have good cause to treat every new appointment with caution. The Latics last tasted promotion way back in 1991/92, and have been in League One since 1996/97. Fifteen years is a long time to be static in the same division and various owners have overseen the running of Boundary Park in the depressing knowledge that fans are leaving the ground for the final time, leaving attendances below four thousand. The club needs a promotion.Dickov brought with him a tough, hard-working nature: a characteristic that every Scottish manager in English football seems to be instilled with. The Premier League has more Scottish bosses than it does English ones, and the majority have gone on to have incredible careers. Dickov’s eyes, as odd as it sounds, have that glare that only a man brought up in tough Scottish towns have in them, and that’s no bad thing. He is perhaps one of the smallest managers in the game, but the home support can immediately realise that they have a no-nonsense man leading their club. The general feeling amongst Oldham fans is that he will be successful, and this excites them.

Initially, Dickov looked towards a youth policy. It led to teenagers Carl Winchester, James Tarkowski and David Mellor all receiving call-ups from the club’s academy to the first team. They were subsequently joined by youngsters Jean-Yves M’voto and Oumare Tounkara, who signed from Sunderland on season-long loans.

Latics’ old head, club captain and reigning Player of the Season Sean Gregan was dropped to the bench (eventually leaving the club to join Fleetwood), and those considered deadwood were simply told to find new pastures. Dickov’s ruthless approach surprised a few, but he quickly shaped the team, showing belief and pride in the youthful side he had assembled.

His style of man-management, perhaps influenced by former managers with whom he has worked, paid immediate dividends. Heading into the New Year, the club had been beaten in the league just three times, and dozens of fans adorned t-shirts with ‘Galacdickovs’ printed on them. There was a real buzz around Boundary Park.

The team had been instilled with a refusal to roll over and simply lose. Despite a few too many draws and not enough goals, performances mirrored Dickov’s career: never overly prolific, but representative of a dogged, tireless attitude which picked up positive results.

Unfortunately, things were not to last for Dickov and his side. Just days after squeezing into the Play-Offs after a tremendous 4-0 home win against Hartlepool, rumours began to circulate that the club was having financial difficulties, and it quickly began to affect the team, leading to a dramatic, season-destroying run of results.

From the start of February, Oldham managed two wins in a spell that almost saw them dragged into a shock relegation battle. Goals completely dried up, with a sequence of eleven matches passing and the side finding the score sheet only once. Commendably, Dickov refused to barrack his players, and their never-say-die attitude meant they competed to the last minute in every match. The sort of team spirit on display during a tough time only encouraged the gaffer to declare more and more pride in his players.

Ultimately, Dickov’s first full season in management resulted in a seventeenth place finish. It was disappointing in some respects, but a lot of positives could be taken into his second season. The young players who had come through the ranks had fought and won their places in the first team, and players such as Dean Furman and Kieran Lee had finally come of age.

A real strength of his management style is his ruthlessness to act if something is not working. The decline had been a case of not enough predatory instinct in the final third and too much inexperience through the spine of the side – so Dickov sought to act fast and change things.

During this most recent pre-season, the Scot took out his contacts list and brought in a host of top-quality professionals, surprising fans with his captures of Shefki Kuqi, the 34-year old veteran striker formerly of Crystal Palace and Ipswich, and Zander Diamond, who had received interest from Celtic. Nathan Clarke and Robbie Simpson also arrived, but Charlton made offers for Dale Stephens, Latics’ top scorer during the previous season, and Cedric Evina who had been snapped up after his release from Arsenal — financial offers the club could not refuse.

Early stages of the current campaign are difficult to interpret. At times the players will play to Dickov’s taste and desire, with some lovely passing and plenty of width; yet on too many occasions players will fail to turn up, which have brought about some poor results.

Shefki Kuqi has immediately become a fans’ favourite. His trickery at the age of 34 delights the supporters, and with five goals already to his name he could be Athletic’s main source of goals. The recent return of Dean Furman will ease the lack of bite within the central midfield positions, and with a win in front of the Sky cameras against high-flying MK Dons just last week, it has set up a potentially promising season for the hero of this article.

The Two Unfortunates
The non-partisan website with an eye on the Football League

1 Comment

  1. Ben
    October 20, 2011

    Glad to see someone's getting the best out of Kuqi. A farcical signing for my club in February, one that couldn't have smacked of desperation more, following the flogging of Andy Carroll. Needless to say, his opportunities were few and his contribution negligible. At a lower level, though, he clearly still has something to offer.

    As for Dickov, he always struck me as a complete hot-head (as a player), so reading about his man-management skills calls for a reappraisal.


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