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Monday, 6 June 2011

Managerial Merry-Go-Round

Silly season is here again, says Drew Kearns. But it's not just the players taking the bloody piss...

June 2nd 2011. Remember this date when you pull on that new replica shirt in August as it was the day silly season started this year. With Mark ‘Sparky’ Hughes resigning/leaving/quitting/gardening/not renewing his contract at Fulham, the bi-annual merry-go round begins. January flirts with the idea of mass movement in the world of football, but even with the introduction of the winter transfer window it doesn’t hold a yellow ticker to the beast that is the summer months - a barren wasteland for all football fans where rumour, gossip and inaccuracies grow like wildflowers.

Fuelled by 24-hour news, Twitter and the like it’s become something of a sideshow to the season and indeed the football (remember that?) itself. Usually this centres on players, after all they play the game, they earn the money and it’s their faces we watch kissing/swearing at cameras throughout the season. However, a concomitant trend has developed. Not to be outdone by their playing staff, the gaffers are beginning to fight back in the crazy summer months. Enter Sparky.

As far as I can gather, he had a verbal agreement to sign an extended contract for another two years at Fulham. He went on holiday, had a change of heart and walked away from the club. His contract for the season was up so he had the right to do exactly that. But when doing so he released a statement which was part banal, fan-pleasing stuff but also a kick to the groin the Welshman would have been proud of during his playing days, citing how he is a young manager and wants to “further my experiences”. Jeez.

Quite frankly, I admire anyone who thinks so much about themselves. I certainly don’t have that level of confidence. I certainly wouldn’t have it if as a manager I had won absolutely nothing. Like Mark Hughes.

Common sense tells me that if he wanted to further his experiences he could have done a lot worse than stay at a stable, well-run and established Premier League club, who are in Europe next season, and actually try to win something. He decided not to. Pleasingly, his manner of departure appears to have scared Aston Villa off signing him (although whether they will come back for him when the terms of his Fulham contact expire on July 1st remains to be seen). Nevertheless, more owners of football clubs should consider the way (and reasons) a manager leaves his former employers.

Chelsea have no manager, Villa also and now Fulham. Brilliantly, Fulham are now being linked with Martin O’Neill whose last job was at Villa, a club he walked out on citing lack of ambition – couldn’t make this up really could you? You could easily win an argument if you felt Villa were a ‘bigger’ club than Fulham. So O’Neill going there is a delicious twist in the summer silly season. My head spins with it all.

I fear certain managers are getting a little carried away with the shiny world of the Premier League. They would do well to remember all that glitters is not gold. Usually I would criticise the owners as not enough of them back their own choice of manager through tough times. However, the power seems to be shifting. Similar to the players, who are able to dictate their terms to clubs who are compelled to comply (Rooney, Tevez et al), managers are now beginning to head down a similar path. Citing ceilings, a lack of funds or ambition shortfalls, managers are all too often walking away and leaving clubs.

Very rarely in these cases have circumstances changed significantly at the club under their management. What better way to make your mark as a manager than to move a club like Fulham on to bigger and better things? This takes time and stability. Managers walking away give themselves no chance of making any such impact. I would like to see a ban on player and manager movement during the season. Owners would have to choose more wisely and plan for the longer term. Managers wouldn’t be able to leave clubs mid-season and, therefore, in the lurch. Players would have less power when trying to renegotiate contracts in January. Everybody knows what they start with and that has to be enough. Suddenly the skill and art of football management from the top down would become a talking point, not who X wants to go sign for in January.

Manchester United have been the most successful club in the country for the past 20 years not because they have had all the best players, spent the most money or even had the best manager, but because they have had stability. Ferguson has made mistakes. He’s now made two tactical errors in two separate Champions League finals, losing both games, but quite rightly there isn’t a hint of change.

Chelsea and Manchester City want what United have, but fail to identify the key ingredient to success in football. Get a good manager and back him – for a long time. Stoke with Tony Pulis, Everton with David Moyes and dare I say it, Mick McCarthy at Wolves (more on him in a minute). These are clubs and managers alike realising their relative size, strengths and ultimately ambitions. The winning of trophies is a distant memory for these clubs (in some cases very distant, and with the exception of Stoke’s run to the FA Cup final), but they each accept what it takes to work towards getting closer to that elusive goal. Build slowly, carefully and consider that the devil is in the detail, and the chances are you will be building something of real significance and importance for the manager, club and fans to be proud of.

Both McCarthy and Hughes have managed their countries. Both are a similar age and have similar managerial experience in terms of clubs and time managed. They are cutting their teeth in what could be lengthy managerial careers. Yet their approach appears are starkly different.

Hughes is seemingly happy to jump from club to club in an attempt to find a place he feels he deserves and more pointedly deserves him. McCarthy took a big personal hit at Sunderland and grafted his way back. I have thoroughly enjoyed supporting Wolves under McCarthy as well. We play with passion, pride and commitment. Simple qualities but under the God-awful Glen Hoddle (another manager more concerned with his ego than staying somewhere and building success) these were alien to all at Molineux. McCarthy has assembled a group of players I am proud to support. A group who clearly care about the club, the fans and each other.

McCarthy improves players. George Elokobi, Stephen Ward, Karl Henry, Matt Jarvis – all have made huge strides as footballers under the Yorkshireman’s tutelage. Three of those four are now internationals. We’ve been promoted to the Premier League as champions and remained there long enough to be stating our third season in the top flight this August. McCarthy has turned the club around. I supported Wolves under Hoddle, but I loved them before. Now I love them again under McCarthy. His commitment to the club and his job is reflected in the way the players play. In short, he won’t walk away – and he’ll be remembered for that very fact.

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