Blackpool relegation would be a big loss
ESPN analyst Kevin Keegan is one of English football's most respected figures and he will be writing for ESPNsoccernet throughout the season. As a player, Kevin represented Liverpool with distinction, winning numerous titles in domestic and European football, and was twice named European Footballer of the Year during his time at Hamburg. Kevin has managed England, Newcastle United, Manchester City and Fulham and is one of the most respected voices in the English game.
Given that Tottenham, Bolton and Manchester United are the three sides awaiting them at the conclusion of the season, it looks as though Blackpool are in terrible trouble, but whether they avoid relegation or not, they have given a lot of people a lot of pleasure this season, including me. I really like the way they play, their adherence to an attacking philosophy, and I would be delighted to see them survive. They have been a credit to the Premier League with the way they have entertained us this season.
I think most people will feel like I do: that if Blackpool go down the Premier League will lose something. Ian Holloway and his players have given so much to the top flight. How many times do promoted sides go 2-0 up against Manchester United? They have lost leads, of course, but they have been a breath of fresh air to the English elite.
Ian Holloway has been accused of sticking too rigidly to his attacking principles, but you can't just abandon the way you play when results are turning against you. People used to say that when my Newcastle side had a 12-point lead in the 1995-96 season we should have adopted a more defensive strategy. But you set your team up to play in a certain way and, with Newcastle, the best form of defence was attack because of the players that we had and the team that I assembled. It is the same with Ian Holloway and Blackpool. It was right for half of the season and if you suddenly say at Christmas that you are going to go all defensive, all the players will question why.
The benefit of hindsight is a great thing, but you ask your team to play with a certain style and mentality because you feel it is the best way to get the most out of the players that you have at your disposal. If Blackpool are going to stay up now, they will have to stick to their principles and play like they did at the start of the season. A draw is no good, so what is the point of setting up defensively and getting a 0-0 draw now?
In the current climate, even a team like Real Madrid, who have collected some of the best attacking players in the world for huge fees, are not averse to employing defensive tactics. Jose Mourinho has got a great track record, but I think he got it totally wrong against Barcelona. It backfired for him and perhaps it would have backfired for Blackpool had they retreated into their shell earlier in the season.
On a Clasico theme, it is probably fair to say that in the early part of the campaign, Charlie Adam was to Blackpool what Lionel Messi is to Barcelona: a talisman, particularly given his prowess from set-pieces. That's how important he was for the club.
Because of his significance to Blackpool, I think the speculation surrounding him in the transfer window has played a big role in the club's slump, which has seen them win only two of their past 18 games in the league. Adam has not played as well since January and that is not to say he hasn't tried, because I am certain the lad has, but when teams like Manchester United and Liverpool are mentioned, any player with any sense of ambition is going to say he wants to go there and cannot turn it down, no disrespect to Blackpool of course. That hasn't helped their cause because while Adam earned a place on the PFA Player of the Year shortlist, he has only been an average player in the second half of the season.
The other big factor influencing Blackpool's drop in form is that just like a lot of new teams in the Premier League, and indeed some new players, they were an unknown quantity at first, and opponents had to have a look at them and assess their strengths and weaknesses. Blackpool no longer have that air of mystery about them and teams are not underestimating them as they may have done earlier in the season. Now opponents have realised that if you play Blackpool and keep it fairly tight, you will get chances because they concede an awful lot of goals.
Their early-season optimism, playing with gay abandon and no fear, has dissipated now, which is sad to see. It seems a long time ago that Blackpool were doing the double over Liverpool, and a combination of Adam's drop in form and their opponents' growing familiarity with how they play are the two factors that have sent them into freefall.