I’ll admit that this weekend, I was worried. Again.
I’ve felt like this before. Back in 2004 (I think) Keith was linked with a move to Peterborough and it fried my brain for a couple of days. Then it was Ipswich and the Cowley’s, then West Brom and the Cowley’s. Sheff Weds were next before Huddersfield finally got their men. Recently, it’s been Michael and Bristol City and finally this weekend, Michael and West Brom.
There was no contact between West Brom and Lincoln, nor was there any real substance to the rumours according to Birmingham Live. It seems our boss was on the shortlist, and rightly so I might add, but their owner Guochuan Lai refused to go for a manager that would cost money. It is unclear how much Michael might cost another club, but I would think it is somewhere in the region of £1m, the sort of money a Championship club is happy spending on a player with little more than potential. It’s a funny old world and thankfully, we’re able to laugh about it now.
I didn’t say too much about the interest for two big reasons. One, I didn’t know if it was a rumour or based on fact, and therefore I didn’t feel confident enough to rubbish the story. I did that once before, writing for Football League World I did an article discussing why Danny and Nicky wouldn’t go to Huddersfield, three days before they did. I’m not making that mistake again!
The other reason was the move seemed entirely feasible and something Michael might go for. You have to be pragmatic about these things, our manager did incredibly well on a tight budget last season, taking us to Wembley, leading the table for so long and being one game from two appearances in finals. He managed us through a pandemic, signing top-quality players and juggling injuries every week. He brought some great football out of players who came to us a little raw and his tactical approach was rarely wrong. Forget anything he did before Oxford United, Michael Appleton is an exciting, up-and-coming coach with the right credentials to have a stab at a bigger club.
West Brom were the obvious fit, he knows the club well, he coached there and played there. They must feel a bit like his home club and they needed a new direction. Big Sam couldn’t keep them up, and he had to leave as he is, with the greatest of respect, a football dinosaur. West Brom need a younger man, one who has clearly kept up with developments in coaching and tactics and who is at his peak right now. Michael is, in my opinion. As he did at Oxford, he is building a legacy much as his predecessors did, and as he does so, he will get noticed. Don’t think for one second that this type of story won’t come up in a month, five months or ten. Other clubs will look at Michael and if we get to the top six again, and sustain a promotion push, he’ll be hard to hang on to.
Something still might go wrong for us and David Wagner might not end up with the Baggies, but it does seem as though we can now rest easy. There is a train of thought that it is best to lose a manager now, so the new man has time to adjust and bring in his own players, but I don’t agree. If you are successful, say top five, and someone takes your manager, there is a platform to build upon and even a big crash would see you safe for the following campaign. If we had lost Michael now, we’d appoint a successor in what, three weeks? That would put us behind a lot of teams when it came to new signings, something that could get the season off to a bad start.
Hopefully, these are things we don’t have to worry about now. I’m pleased for Michael in a way, he deserves attention and speculation because he is doing a good job. He had some rotten luck in his playing career, and in his first three management posts, and he deserves to be talked about for his achievements in the dugout. I don’t begrudge him an eventual move and don’t want this to sound like an article wishing to hold him back, because it isn’t. I think he can get success with this Lincoln City side next season, I think we can be around the top six with the right signings and I suspect another good run in the EFL Trophy too. With a slice of luck, a favourable decision or bounce, we could be a Championship side in 22/23, we’re on the right track but we need the continuity in the dugout, and I’m convinced, 100%, Michael is the right man to put us there.
What I am looking forward to is a decent night’s sleep, because I genuinely have been worried this weekend, despite my own advice. Like you, I love this football club and I’m enjoying being on the ride we’re on. I fear one day we slide back into League Two, rocking up at Stevenage or Carlisle with hope, rather than belief, aiming to finish 10th because it is better than the 15th we achieved the year before. I know that was us for many years, and I never felt unhappy with our lot until we got relegated from the league. Still, having been where we are for two years now, having experienced Wembley joy, having beaten Sunderland, Portsmouth, Ipswich and Charlton, I just don’t want to go back. I thought a change of manager right now might set us back on that course, and it was the last thing I thought about before I fell asleep each night for the last four nights.
Here’s to Wagner, a tight-arsed West Brom chairman and a good night’s sleep.