Paul Dickov creates Latics in his own image
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.