21 January 2016

GUEST BLOG: Can Nolan reignite Orient's flame?

In this guest post, Andy Brown tries to make some sense of the madness consuming our club and asks: Can Kevin Nolan be the man to make sense of this all? 

For the second time this season, the chant of “We’re f**king bored” accompanied by the now familiar mobile phone flashlights echoed around the stadium after another lifeless performance against Exeter, a defeat that pushed Orient further into mid-table obscurity and ultimately cost Ian Hendon his job.

Irrespective of views on the chant, what it signified was how Orient have become stuck in a rut this season – in terms of player quality, tactics, style of play and overall performances.

After a phenomenal start of five wins in a row (despite shaky moments even in those opening five games), the club failed to recover from a 4-0 thrashing down at Exeter, and it was the return fixture that was to be Hendon’s undoing. 

Too many woeful performances, direct, long ball football, dire defending (as a team) and too many draws has seen real apathy set in down at Orient and the mood sour dramatically from the positivity of performances in August.

Hendon: Setup to Fail

In retrospect, it appears Hendon was setup to fail, irrespective of performances and results.

Rebuilding a club from scratch with a squad decimated by want-away and out of contract players following relegation, Hendon had to rebuild an entire team from scratch on a far more limited budget than his predecessor, Fabio Liverani. 

This limited budget also impacted the size of the squad and the appeal of joining the club in League 2 is also a challenge. Injuries to vital players such as Paul McCallum and Dean Cox clearly also limited options in the first team. 

Coupled with highly questionable tactics, results simply didn’t materialise and despite Jay Simpson’s 20 league goals (which merely prolonged the inevitable), Hendon was released on Monday 18 January.

The background to his appointment was many fans seeking a more experienced manager that would have a good understanding and ability to guide the club back out of League 2 at the first attempt. And although the appointment of Andy Hessenthaler as his assistant allayed some fears, it was clear that his appointment was not only a gamble, but in fairness to Ian Hendon, a task of Herculean proportions.

Bizarre Becchetti

Interference from the club hierarchy made this job even tougher. Following the televised defeat at Hartlepool, the players and management were bizarrely incarcerated in a hotel in Waltham Abbey for a week on Becchetti’s orders, while the president was fined £40,000 and charged with violent conduct by the FA after the Boxing Day win against Portsmouth for launching a kick at Hessenthaler.

All this has happened against a backdrop of uncertainty around Becchetti’s seizure of assets by the Albanian government and an arrest warrant issued on behalf of authorities in Albania. 

The Metropolitan Police’s extradition unit in London arrested Becchetti in connection with fraud and money laundering and released him on bail after a security of £50,000 was paid. He was placed under curfew between 11pm and 5am and had to give his passport to the police.

Come Train with Me
On 8 September 2015, Premier League veteran and former West Ham captain, Kevin Nolan turned up to train at Orient.

Ian Hendon said: “It is great to have such a model professional in Kevin at the club, and I am more than happy for Kevin to come in and train with the squad. It is good for our players to be training with a vastly experienced and talented Premier League midfielder."

Nolan spent three months training at Orient, on the pretence of getting fit for a new club, no doubt getting to know the set up. Hendon confirmed the club made a serious offer for Kevin Nolan, which was turned down towards the end of last year.

Et tu, Kevin?

My first reaction to Kevin Nolan signing as player manager was disbelief. It appeared pretty obvious that Hendon was blindsided while Nolan was training at the club and the speed with which the club named a successor seems to suggest an agreement was already in place. 

Moreover, it seems bizarre that Becchetti moving onto his sixth manager in 16 months, has once again opted from a young manager, only this time with absolutely no management or coaching experience whatsoever.

With a good number of experienced managers available, it seemed strange that Orient had once again gambled wildly on a player who was a leader on the pitch, but completely unproven in management.

Might it just work? 

The more consideration is given to the appointment, the more sense it makes in the context of Orient’s structure and hierarchy. Hear me out.

Becchetti is trying to shape the club hierarchy in the manner of a European football club. This means the trainer or first team “manager” is not responsible for any affairs beyond the immediate playing staff and tactics. 

Transfers and non-playing activities are typically handled by a manager or technical director. The role of a first team manager in British clubs is often broader and extends to what players they want to bring in etc.

Hiring an experienced manager would automatically create friction around roles and responsibilities. It is possible that Kevin Nolan is happy to purely focus on the playing staff and tactics, supported by an experienced assistant manager, who has yet to be officially confirmed.

In addition, the appointment appeases many fans, who have been frustrated by the lack of leadership on the pitch since the departure of key players like Vincelot and Cuthbert. Nolan will resolve those issues on the pitch and may be able to identify those who have the leadership potential that has been severely missing this season.

There is, of course, the possibility that at 33, Nolan makes little difference on the pitch and his lack of managerial experience means Orient continue to slide in League 2. Only time will really tell if this was an appointment of real wisdom (or luck) or sees us looking for manager number seven in under two years. 

As uncomfortable as the underhand nature of this appointment makes me feel, Nolan’s arrival may just lift the atmosphere and banish the chants of “We’re f**king bored”. Well, for the rest of this season, at least.

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