Yesterday I released the first part of my interview with Michael Appleton; discussing why he chose our club and what would be needed in order for us to ascend to the Championship.
I was also interested to know what he saw the benefits of social media to be, given how much it is now used. Players, fans and even some managers and chairman have social media accounts which they use to communicate a message and our boss hopes that technology can be used for the better over the coming years.
“I think social media can be destructive if you allow it to be,” he said. “I think you’ve got to be very selective and careful about what you want out there.
“I’d like to think over the coming months and years it’ll be used in a more positive way. There are a lot of mental health issue surrounding football and sports at the minute. I hope that it can be used for players and fans to open up, rather than just as a platform to have a go and a pop at people.”
Players such as Billy Kee have been frank and open about their battles. Kee has received widespread praise for the forthright and open manner in which he has taken on his battle, something that Michael believes can continue through the medium of social media.
I’d like to think over a period of time social media can develop to be used in a far more positive way – Michael Appleton
“The more players that can talk and be honest with each other about their feelings and how difficult it can be in the spotlight, the better. I’d like to think over a period of time social media can develop to be used in a far more positive way, rather than just to have a pop.”
I wondered if perhaps the openness that comes from players would also apply to a manager? Whilst it would be unusual for a manager to speak openly whilst suffering, given the position of power, surely they must feel the strain as I did managing a builder’s merchant?
“It can be difficult,” he said with a short pause. “It can be lonely, very lonely, can football management, and you must find ways of getting away from it at times. You do have to get away from it at times, you have to switch off to cope with the demands, but you always have to remain focused on the job in hand.”
That job is turning the club’s recent slump around and, as we covered yesterday, remaining in this division next season. Whilst few see us as being in a relegation battle, there are enough issues to keep the manager busy over the coming months and a run of results needs to come of his hard work.
One thing he’s keen to ensure is that we have an identity. We’d spoken off the record of the teams that have an identity, the likes of Portsmouth and Peterborough, as well as one promotion-chaser who currently does not. Getting that identity is at the forefront of his mind as he moves into the late autumn period.
“There are different clubs, styles and managers. Everyone is looking for an identity and a style of their own. When someone turns up to watch a club you have a certain way of playing and that’s something I want to do.
“It’s important to stay consistent with your message because the job is difficult enough as we know. Every Saturday and Tuesday you’re in the spotlight and to a majority of people out there ‘win’ mean ‘good’ and ‘lose’ means ‘bad’. The reality is that everything in between is what is truly important.
“I have to manage expectations in the club; staff, players and fans alike. I’ve got to do that and keep the message consistent, everything as positive as possible.”
Whilst we chatted about much more off the record I got a much better impression of what sort of man Michael Appleton is. I didn’t feel there were any defences as he spoke to me, no pre-determined rhetoric that’s rolled out to all media types. He was honest about the changes he’s going to make and open about some of his experiences over the last few weeks.
We chatted about the Oxford result, his links to Hibernian and his penchant for chocolate. He seemed very relaxed, but also very aware that the job he’s facing is far bigger than the one much of the football world believes he’s facing. ‘Do the same things’ would be the message many would send after three years of success, but that’s not the full story; as I’ve said the squad we have now was very much Danny’s squad, tailored to his approach behind the scenes as much as anything.
Michael Appleton isn’t Danny Cowley. He has different methods, as Tom Pett exclusively told me last week. He likes a different dynamic behind the scenes and I couldn’t help but suspect there’s an element of us being in transition; not just in terms of the manager but also the playing staff. We do have an ageing squad and whilst experience is vital, we’re seeing that pace, agility and guile is crucial too, more so than in League Two.
Michael Appleton will have to contend with loans returning, he’ll have to look at expiring contracts and perhaps overhaul the squad to fit his blueprint in the summer. My gut feeling, having spent time in this engaging man’s company, is that the current job is as much about dismantling as it is rebuilding; dismantling a successful squad that is approaching the end of its shelf life and beginning to build a new, exciting squad around the framework that’s left.
I certainly feel that any judgement must come in 12 months time, assuming that this season turns out to be one of consolidation. I don’t doubt that we have a manager with focus, a clear picture of what he wants and the skills to make it happen. I just hope we have a fanbase that allows the work to continue whilst understanding three years of trophy-laded success is now history.
Thanks to Michael for sparing the time to meet me, and to Liam Scully for making the meeting happen. I really appreciate the lengths the club goes to in order to accommodate the alternative media.