Hull City dropped out of the Premier League yesterday ending our second two season spell in the top flight. This relegation doesn’t feel as devastating as the first one did. The club isn’t in the same catastrophic financial position – as far as I know – and the squad is a blend of players who are more than worth keeping and some who have sell-on value and potential suitors.
While relegation wasn’t heart-breaking, it was utterly needless and was caused by under-achievement on the playing and management side. I’ve picked out the five lessons I think the club must learn in order to bounce back from the Championship and to make a better fist of the Premier League if we are lucky enough to do so.
I am happy to see Steve Bruce remain as manager despite the mistakes that have been made. He is a thoroughly decent man who is honest enough to know that he’s made errors and is determined to make up for them. Without sweeping changes throughout the football side and a whole new approach – we are not going to find a better manager in the Championship than Steve Bruce. For that reason, he should get the first shot at turning things around but he needs to address the problems that have contributed to relegation.
1. Protect the team ethic
Steve Bruce’s promotion winning side was built on togetherness in the dressing room - excellent professionals who worked hard for each other. While our football was neat, it wasn’t a team blessed with flair but one that won games the hard way.
On winning promotion, Bruce set out to bring in players who had Premier League experience but were solid professionals. Even in the January transfer window when he splashed out on two strikers in Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic – he signed players who fit the team ethic he’d instigated.
Unfortunately the care taken to foster a fine team spirit was abandoned in the summer of 2014. Each big money signing on huge wages pushed out of joint the nose of Bruce’s established workhorses. Meanwhile an excellent professional in George Boyd was allowed to leave. The carelessness became recklessness on September 1st when Bruce went out and panic bought Abel Hernadez for almost £10m, Mo Diame, Gaston Ramirez and the poisonous Hatem Ben Arfa.
I admit that last opinion is spouted with the benefit of hindsight. Back in September, I was wetting my knickers with everyone else at the prospect of Steve Bruce dragging the best out of these lost souls. The players signed to help take the club two steps forward instead dragged it back several. Bruce is fortunate that it hasn’t cost him his job.
2. Avoid training ground woes
I have no idea what we do in training. That isn’t ignorance or flippancy. It’s the result of watching the team make the same mistakes time after time while failing to address issues like poor set piece delivery and an inability to create and take chances. Bruce has had two assistant managers, Steve Agnew and Mike Phelan, and nothing has changed under either.
Can you name a player who has progressed since joining the club? Bruce has a knack for getting performances out of players who are under-achieving but his staff does not improve players. Players with promise like Jake Livermore, Tom Ince and Andy Robertson have regressed since we signed them.
Another serious issue is the amount of injuries we’ve suffered. It’s hard to think of a player who hasn’t had a spell on the sidelines in the past three seasons while some have suffered time and again. We are riddled with muscular injuries and we rush players back into the fold before they are ready.
The club is hampered by the facilities available at the training ground, which you have to make allowances for - it’s a long standing problem, but must strive to improve the personnel on the coaching and physiotherapy side.
3. Scouting - Be prepared!
There are many areas in which Hull City is well short of being a Premier League club. That is understandable given that we have only been one for four of our one hundred and eleven year existence and that only ten years ago we were just getting out of League One for the first time in almost fifteen years. One important area is scouting.
The scouting setup at the club is rudimentary. There have been steps taken to improve it but it is still way behind most others. Many signings in the past three years have been players known to the manager (or well known to everyone) who have often been acquired for excessive transfer fees because our options are limited.
When we’ve strayed from that formula – the results have been poor. Nick Proschwitz and Abel Hernandez have been expensive failures. Yannick Sagbo and Fathi were cheap gambles but also struggled. Gedo was reasonably successful the first time and Dame N’Doye – who Bruce says he’s watched for several years – looked a good fit for the Premier League.
More responsibility has to be taken in the future to ensure that we get value for money in the market. Paying top dollar for established players isn’t sustainable as an only option.
4. Be positive
Both of City’s spells in the Premier League have started well and seen the club win friends playing attacking football. Both ended with managers setting up only to try desperately to avoid defeat.
Numerous times this season, fans left games away from wondering why they’d bothered turning up when the team hadn’t. Not just in the level of performance but the lack of intent. It’s an approach that is utterly senseless as well as negative.
We have struggled to score goals for five seasons. It’s been an Achilles heel for a long time under three managers. As a consequence, if we concede a goal, we very rarely get anything from the game. That makes going into games hoping for a nil-nil draw a ridiculous risk.
The league table mid-way through the season also showed the lack of value in picking up too many draws anyway. Going out to win games is the only way to approach the Premier League. You’ll lose more than you win but you’ll win more than three other teams.
5. Value the support
I’m not going to blame off the field dramas for our failure. We have been relegated because the manager and the players have not done their jobs to the best of their abilities.
However it hasn’t been as much fun as it should have been to follow a team hitting new heights in winning automatic promotion, reaching an FA Cup Final and qualifying for Europe because everything has been built on a backdrop of negativity.
I don’t want to rant about the specific issues. Maybe some other time! But the attempted name change, the raising of disabled concessionary prices (to raise an amount of money that wouldn’t pay our worst player for a week), the eviction of sports clubs from a community sports venue, refusing to spend the Premier League’s ASI (Away Supporters Initiative) fund on our own supporters and a number of minor misdemeanours has caused consternation amongst fans.
Some fans have felt alienated and left or reduced their input into the club while those left behind are divided. City fans booing City fans for singing a City song has to be one of the saddest things I’ve seen from our support.
Hull City is incredibly important to the City and the community. Not only is a successful Hull City a force for economic improvement but it puts the City on the map. That half of the column inches dedicated to the club on a national (and international) level in the past two years have been dedicated to a ridiculous idea born out of a disagreement between a spiteful multi-millionaire and a comatose local council has been a massive waste.
What should have been a golden period has and continues to be soured by off-field nonsense. While I won’t blame that for the club’s relegation – it has done us no good whatsoever.
When relegation was confirmed after a 0-0 draw with Manchester United, 23,000 Hull City fans stayed to the end and as one, rose to appreciate and console the players despite everything. It was a show of immense class that made be proud to be part of the club and for which Steve Bruce offered his heart felt gratitude to a “unique” set of supporters.
That support should be embraced and valued by the people in charge of the club regardless of how much of the revenue they make up. More than anything on this list – I hope that is a lesson that can be learned from our recent experiences.