HIAFKI; sounds like an obscure form of Martial Arts, but really it is an acronym (admittedly made up by the author of this piece) for what is arguably the most rudimentary way of playing football. It is outlined by Neil Warnock in his autobiography as to how he’s asked his players (particularly his defenders) to play throughout his managerial career – he wrote that above all else, he asks his players to concentrate all else on being able to become a team that gets results by “heading it and flipping kicking it”.
Blues’ powers that be need to stop trying to appeal the hipsters of this world by trying to cultivate some purist style of football. Our CEO and whoever is above him need to stop thinking that Blues is some real-life version of Football Manager. The squad of players we have is, by and large, currently not equipped to play football in any way other than a pretty rudimentary way.
The close season will in all probability be much shorter than the usual break periods between campaigns, so there will not be all that much time to bring in that many new players or try and shape our players into playing in a way that doesn’t automatically suit them. More to the point, even if the Jude Bellingham money (assuming he is sold this summer) possibly puts us in a slightly better financial position than most clubs in our league, the combined effects of COVID-19 and the financial hangover from our previous spending sprees mean that the chances of Blues going out and splurging in the transfer market to drastically reshape the squad to suit a particular style are slim to none. On that basis, the notion of appointing somebody like Slavisa Jokanovic goes out the window.
Chris Hughton was heavily mooted straight away and for me he would be a great choice; a man who managed to get the best out of a squad put together on the hoof and gave the club one of the most exciting seasons we’ve had in years. It is risible when people say that Hughton played negative football at Blues; the easiest way rebutting this accusation is to point out that during season 2011/12 we scored the most league goals in a season that Blues have managed for a quarter of a century, and when you include goals scored in other competitions we were just shy of hitting a century that season. But it is very doubtful that he will even consider coming back to Blues – he knew when the time to get out of the club was because of how the previous regime was running the club, so it is very much doubtful that he would be enamoured with how Dong and those above him have behaved at Blues in the past few years.
As mentioned earlier, Neil Warnock was the inspiration behind the coining of the term “HIAFKI” – some people label him a dinosaur, but it was only a couple of years ago that he was winning promotion with Cardiff (and by the way that Cardiff team was the worst on paper to get promoted from this level for a long time). His teams are more often than not most effective at HIAFKI to a tee; they play however they need to play to get results. And before Cardiff, wherever he has been at this level he has always managed to get teams to play way above what they would be expected to. One question mark with Warnock is undoubtedly his age and what his real motivation would be for taking the job at this stage of his career; we don’t want something akin to Harry Redknapp who treated the job almost as a hobby.
Of the other managers currently unemployed who would fit the criteria covered here, one who surprisingly not been mentioned much but more than has the past credentials for the job is Mick McCarthy. It could be said that a mark of a good manager is that when they leave a club the club always ends up worse off, and that was definitely the case when he left Wolves and Ipswich. He would probably be in the salary range that Blues could afford right now as well, unlike somebody like Tony Pulis who would when judging his previous jobs would want excessive amounts of money, both on his payslip and in his transfer budget. Nigel Clough did wonders over two spells at Burton but at bigger clubs such as Derby and Sheffield United he never pulled up trees; appointing him may keep the club stable for a season or two but it would be a frank admission that there is no real desire to challenge at the top of the division any time soon.
There is always a chance, depending on different factors, that Blues could always look to appoint somebody currently employed elsewhere. Lee Bowyer is one who would be very popular with the fans; the turmoil at the club and the fact that amongst other players their star striker is refusing to play once the EFL season is resumed then his Charlton side is looking a good bet to go down into League One this season. That should be no real mark against his name if it does happen though, because with everything that has been going on at The Valley he should be commended that he even got the club up to the second-tier in the first place. Mark Robins is a name that has been bandied around, but I doubt he would leave the employment of our tenants at a time when he is riding the crest of a wave with Coventry. Steve Evans at Gillingham; a name that makes a lot of people coil with horror owing to his colourful past, but his record in the last decade is unparalleled amongst managers in the EFL and has shown at this level he has the ability to get the most out of his players. A name that fills hipsters and the faint hearted with dread but he is a worthy candidate for the job, because Blues are looking for a football manager not a scout troop leader and he deserves a proper chance at a bigger club than he has usually found himself employed at.
Filtering through those names, it would be reasonable to generate a shortlist of four; Neil Warnock, Mick McCarthy, Lee Bowyer and Steve Evans. Warnock, on track record alone, is ultimately the stand out candidate of those four simply because of the number of promotions on his CV and the fact that he has been able instantly to be the Red Adair for clubs in our sort of situation time and again before.
Ultimately though, the appointment comes down to the people who will see the whites of the eyes of any candidate they speak to. The success of the appointment will come down to how our owners and in particular our CEO allow the next manager (whoever he is) to conduct the running of the team. The powers that be have to seriously take stock and realise that the best way forward for the club has to be achieved through pragmatism on the field rather than forcibly trying to impose any purist ideals they believe they hold on the side.
The next Blues manager will be the eighth (EIGHTH) man to pick the team and sit in the dugout in less than four years; you would have to be as thick as a sausage not to see that a large portion of the blame for our travails on the pitch (not to mention off the pitch) lies on how the club has been run from on high. They now have to get this appointment right and for the next appointment to be right they have to let whoever they appoint have control over picking the team and picking who comes in and who leaves the club. It’s time to bring in a manager who suits the team right now not the team they want, it’s time to bring in a manager who will simply get the team to be able to HIAFKI.