Delusions of grandeur at Peterborough


Darragh MacAnthony –

Graham Westley has been sacked as Peterborough United manager this weekend, after a 2-0 home loss to Scunthorpe marked the team’s 12th defeat of the calender year. Westley was not the most popular choice as Peterborough United manager. He enjoyed an excellent start to his time in charge but results declined drastically, something this blog expected, having predicted a short tenure when he was first appointed.

Westley said that his target was for the team to have 25 shots per match and to complete 600 passes. This is an illogical statement, given the incalculable number of variables in a football match. If a player has a good opportunity to shoot, he should not pass backwards to comply with pass completion demands. If a teammate is in a better position to score, it would be wrong to shoot, regardless of how many shots had been taken previously. One would also have to question the attainability of those targets, given that Arsenal have completed the highest number of passes per game in the Premier League with only 559 and Hull in the Championship, 479. Completing 600 passes per game is both unrealistic and not intrinsically useful, even if it is done.

This blog would suggest that Westley knows this, that he does not buy into the 25 shots and 600 passes theory that he himself has talked about. At Stevenage, he demanded dynamic hard work and aggression from his players, rather than a categorical adherence to passing statistics.

The fact that a notoriously pragmatic manager like Westley is making these fanciful promises, perhaps partly due to influences upstairs, hints at deeper problems at London Road. He discussed a shots and passes plan not because it is a proven recipe for success, but because it creates the illusion of leadership and direction where there may in fact be none.

Darragh MacAnthony is an outspoken chairman who values confidence more than diplomacy. It may have been more satisfying for him to see a clear-cut plan from the manager of 600 passes and 25 shots per game, rather than the more realistic stance of ‘we’ll look at the squad and take it from there’.

MacAnthony expects the very best, he wants a project that fans can get on board with and is constantly talking up what his team can achieve. That approach compels fans for a certain amount of time, yet when success does not follow and when key players are sold, words hold less weight and trust can be lost.

MacAnthony deserves some credit for the work and money he has put into Peterborough United over the last decade. However, the club has gone backwards in every season since 2011-12 and in that time, the owner has been unrelentingly positive and ambitious. Now is the time that MacAnthony should acquire a more pragmatic and realistic mentality.

Given that 42 players have been used this season, that the defence looks unsettled and there is no reliable striker to profit from midfield creativity, there are long-term issues to address. It seems prudent to target a top half finish next season, which would give the new manager the time and leeway to condense the squad and assess which players are part of his plans.

Instead, MacAnthony has pledged promotion or bust, implying that going up will be the club’s sole aim. On current evidence, movement in the opposite direction seems more likely.