The Merson Report
Now the dust has settled on the departure of Paul Merson perhaps the time is right to reflect, was it really all bad...........?
As a player he was a man of undoubted skill as fans of Arsenal, Middlesborough, Villa will testify. Who will forget that warm August day against the Albion. However the arguments in league one were not of his ability but whether he was a luxury item we couldn't afford to carry or the key to unlocking opposition defences. Yet it will be the mark he has left on our club as a manager that will be debated. In my memory there has never been a manager who has divided his own fans more. Love him or hate him times under Merse was never dull.
When his management career started with a 5-0 defeat at Norwich, there was not one Saddler fan that didn't want it to work for both Merse and the club. Relegation brought increased financial restraints as well as a need to replace the spine of the team as the better players left for new challenges. Whilst history should not be re-written this proved to be a difficult baptism especially when the 'We will score more than you' belief turned out to be they scored more than us reality. A number of loan signings towards the end of the season papered over the cracks with a six match winning run, which continued into this season. The more negative approach meant the football was less enjoyable and with the poor results combined to drive attendances down until the sacking, following another 5-0 reversal at the hands of Brentford brought an end to the Paul Merson era.
So what did the commercial goldmine that is Paul Merson bring to Walsall?
Players: without question his contacts and the very name Paul Merson brought players to the club, would the likes of Staunton, Kinsella, Joachim and younger players such Fox and Gerrard be hear otherwise? I doubt it. Sometimes it was difficult to see what Merse saw in a player, the ultimate professional Joe Broad springs to mind in this category. The release of these players after giving them contracts could only unsettle players and put extra strain on financial resources. However the most damming conclusion was there was no thought of the overall picture when players were brought in weaknesses in the squad were not covered, some positions overstocked with players that wanted to play.
Tactics: I feel that sometimes the footballing mind of Paul Merson was too difficult for the players to follow, and certainly frustrated the followers of the Saddlers. Players playing out of position for various reasons led to confusion and frustration. An inability to have a creditable plan B meant we were often out thought in the second half of games.
Backroom factors: rumours of arguments with players and a perceived lack of discipline and fitness led to calls of the club being unprofessional. Yet the players had the opportunity to get rid of Merse, yet time and time again they saved his neck. Whatever the truth behind the scenes the staff backed the manager up to near the end.
Youth Development: we have never had so many youth team and younger players have a chance at first team football. If this would have still happened if the financial situation had been different we will never know. Yet credit must be given to Merson and the staff which developed these stars of the future.
The 'Aftermath Hindsight' is wonderful thing and I am sure Merse would have done things differently and he has learnt a lot. Also the way he conducted himself after his departure deserves a lot of credit. However you can't help but feel it was too much too soon. I for one think Merse could make a manager but needs the right support as he learns, become a coach, an assistant manager and work his way up. I just fear that these experiences and his addictive history will prevent him been given the chance.
Overall grade for Merse at Walsall D-
But the man himself we loved, it speaks highly that despite the events, deep down a lot of Saddlers still hope Merson will succeed in his dream somewhere, such is his charisma.
By Jorges Jottings