Dickov Struggling To Get The Message Across At Doncasterby Mike Holden / 25 August 2015, 12:21Tweet
Doncaster Rovers have doubled in price for the League One title following a slow start to the season. Mike Holden (@Ratings_Mike) takes a closer look at Paul Dickov's approach and why it might not be working on the pitch... yet.
The phrase 'playing on the front foot' means different things to different people. To the vast majority of British footballers, it's basically another way of saying 'to attack the opposition'. To Paul Dickov, it apparently means something else. But then Dickov always was one of a kind.
As a player, he was a relentless harrier. Not blessed with greatest of attributes, Dickov was notorious for his ability to harass opposing defenders non-stop for 90 minutes. And let's not do him an disservice, he made a bloody good career out of it. He probably forced more defensive errors in a season than most other forwards would manage in their entire careers.
But just like the superstar playmaker who drops down into the lower divisions and cannot understand the technical shortcomings of the personnel he inherits, Dickov must learn to accept that players who aren't five-foot-six and Scottish might struggle to match his tenacity.
A striker by trade, he managed a respectable haul of 101 goals in 421 league appearances, but he was, first and foremost, the first line of defence, a player whose primary purpose was to unsettle the opposition and stop them from playing their normal game. It's a core value he has taken into management.
Tactically, Dickov is a defensive manager, his teams are reactive. At Doncaster, he regularly starts games with one striker, even when they are clear favourites to win. Yet when it comes to executing a game plan, he likes his players to be proactive, and that leads to some confusion. To many players, the two stances are fundamentally contradictory.
To Dickov, 'playing on the front foot' means being aggressive with your defending, winning second balls and getting in opponents' faces - just don't then go overcommitting bodies to attack once you've restricted the opposition and upset their rhythm.
It's a strategy that can lead to spectacular results when expectations are low. Indeed, it says much about Dickov's managerial career that he masterminded Oldham's extraordinary FA Cup win over Liverpool three seasons ago, then resigned a week later due to poor league results. With that in mind, we shouldn't be surprised that Dickov also harbours an aversion to high expectations.
Last season, Doncaster boasted the fourth-best shot ratio in League One from November onwards, yet Dickov continually shied away from play-off talk and tried his best to play down his team's capabilities, even when they were sixth in late February. Naturally, Doncaster fulfilled their manager's prophecy and finished 13th.
This season, there is no room for excuses - Rovers are widely-expected to mount a promotion challenge. However, four games in, they've yet to score a legitimate goal (discounting Harry Forester's controversial effort on the opening day) and on Saturday, a former disgruntled striker came back to haunt them, Uche Ikpeazu causing untold problems with his starring role in a 3-0 Port Vale win.
Reports afterwards suggest Ikpeazu had an axe to grind. He was widely-regarded as one of the brightest young talents in League One last term and it was considered a real coup when Doncaster snapped him up on loan in January. But Ikpeazu barely got a look-in, largely due to Dickov's risk-avoidance when selecting his starting 11.
So that's one chicken that has come home to roost and more will follow unless Dickov plays the favourable hand he has been dealt by showing the tactical bravery it demands. He has to ditch the low-risk approach and start going after teams inferior to his own, rather than just matching them up and waiting for them to cut their own throats.
Eleven players hard-wired like Paul Dickov would no doubt clinch promotion by forcing errors and playing the way he wants Doncaster to play. Instead, though, Dickov must find a way that suits the blend of everyday players he has at his disposal, many of whom are blessed with natural attributes rather than his tenacity.