"...this is the most articulate and accurate piece written about the club for years!" - Tales from the Front, http://www.otib.co.uk/

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Social Media: My favourite blogs, Part I

My latest article from Bristol City's matchday programme, Red Alert:
Birmingham, Oct 23rd

With more and more people using Twitter, reading blogs and viewing a tranche of news websites, finding what you want to online can be an arduous, confusing and time-consuming process.  To help you out if you’re just stepping into this labyrinth, or just want to explore further afield, I have identified some of my favourite destinations and will run through these today, and in some future editions. 

BLOGS Part 1: As you can imagine there are a copious number of blogs and no-one could read them all.  I’ve excluded any Premier League specific blogs for the simple reason I don’t really read them.  There’s more than enough space dedicated to the behemoth of English football as it is, so instead I’ll focus on four of the most interesting, varied and well written sites that concentrate on the Football League and its members:
The Two Unfortunates (thetwounfortunates.blogspot.com / @twounfortunates): Having recently invited one of the Two (now occasionally more) Unfortunates onto this page you’ll be familiar with the name, but if you want an all-encompassing, unbiased and authoritative view on the football league, it’s clubs, it’s players and the issues it faces then look no further. 
A meticulously researched weekly match preview and 'The Monday Profile', in which a player is hand-selected to be profiled are amongst the regular features, while the regular ‘Conversations with….’ Series offer a more in-depth look at a selected club.  I also enjoy reading their ‘Great Football League teams’, focussing on the glory years of one of the clubs who has enjoyed life outside the top flight.
The Seventy Two (theseventytwo.com / @the72football):  Headed and mainly written by Leicester fan David Bevan, this independent site offers a fabulous perspective on the current affairs of the world of football from a football league point of view.  Board and managerial changes are often covered with aplomb, whilst the recent Media Week series, where the site invited a number of other bloggers to focus on football and the media provided plenty of interesting views and a large sprinkling of humour.
Other more hard-hitting and potentially controversial recent pieces include suggestions that MK Dons could be good for English football and that the Premier League giants should be able to independently source TV deals.  Posts are always well worth five to ten minutes of your time and comment.
Girl on a Terrace (girlonaterrace.com / @girlonaterrace): Rochdale fanatic Sarah Lomas only created her blog earlier this year, but with nearly 50,000 hits it has become a great place to see a female perspective on football.  Although there is a strong focus on Rochdale – one of the more intriguing success stories of recent years – there is a strong general interest backbone to the blog, whilst a weekly poll gives an interesting insight into her readership. 
This intelligently written blog integrates videos, pictures and charts alongside the text and proves – once again – that Messrs Keys and Gray were sadly and disappointingly wide of the mark with the outdated comments that cost them their jobs, as Sarah explores some of the more fascinating off-the-pitch aspects of the beautiful game.
A United View (aunitedview.blogspot.com / @unitedite): Sheffield United follower Ian Rands is what I call a ‘proper’ football fan. Alongside an always informative mix of Blade-specific posts sits a brilliantly presented ‘Charting the season in football’ which looks at current stories through a series of charts and pictures and always makes me chuckle.
Additionally a handful of his personal experiences, watching either the Blades or his wife’s team Bolton Wanderers are written with real passion and generically enough that you don’t have to be a fan of either club to feel real affiliation with the articles.  His Dislikable XI series in the summer was also a huge success, with all contributors neatly mixing players from their fierce rivals with those who just downright annoy them!

Enjoy your reading!

On becoming new Nottingham Forest manager last week, Steve Cotterill wasted little time in banning players and staff from Twitter (I wonder if his Chairman is included in the ban?).  This is why, courtesy of one of the better-paid players in the squad, Ishmael Miller:

“Listen I don’t wanna here anything bout I don’t look interested! Everyone can **** off in don’t like it don’t follow me!!!!!!!”

Clearly Cotterill was upset at the spelling and poor grammar….

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Derek McInnes: Is the ex-Saint our Saviour?

"This time next year...."

Never mind Del-boy's famous quote from Only Fools & Horses, a week is a long time in football.  Seven days ago there was still an expectancy of Dave Jones, Billy Davies or even Gianfranco Zola being appointed as the next manager of Bristol City and few were talking seriously about Derek 'Del' McInnes.  Those that had him on their radar were mainly saying “Derek Who?” and accusing the board of taking the cheap option by looking at him.  They wanted a big name, and they wanted them quick.  Check out my views on those excessive demands here: http://exiledrobin.blogspot.com/2011/10/how-long-does-it-take-to-get-new.html

Since it became evident that McInnes and former City player Mark Robins were the shortlisted two it appears Wikipedia has taken a battering from eager City fans desperate for information on the man soon to be installed as Keith Millen’s successor.

The reaction since 5pm tonight has been remarkable.  Widespread delight and excitement has greeted the appointment, with everyone suddenly aware what he has achieved at perennial yo-yo club St. Johnstone and hopeful that similar success might follow at Ashton Gate.

What is also clear from the reaction on Twitter tonight is that McInnes will be sorely missed by Saints fans, with more than one tweeter saying he’s the best manager they’ve ever had.  Not an inconsiderable remark when you remember Owen Coyle was at the Saints before taking Burnley into the Premier League.  Not a single person has begrudged the move, wishing him well as he takes the next step, whilst all have expressed their sadness.
Other comments have included “a top class management team” whilst there has been unanimous thanks for the fantastic job McInnes, and his assistant Tony Docherty, have done.  Some have even commented that Bristol City have become “their English club”.  @Husky_Macca said he was “massively disappointed as he’s the best manager we’ve had since I’ve been watching”.

From all the comments it appears we’ve appointed an intelligent and forward thinking management team.  A pair who have moulded a hard-working team that has overachieved in recent history.  Any manager who has been able to harness the talents of Jody Morris must have something about him with regard to motivation, whilst McInnes’ time as Millwall captain indicates an inherent toughness and steel that will be required in the coming months.

This does of course herald a possible second chance for some.  Kalifa Cisse and Damion Stewart have already seen an upturn in personal fortunes since Millen left, albeit due to a number of injuries, and who’s to say that Nicky Hunt won’t go on to become a City legend under new management.  It also puts the seemingly automatic selection of some players at risk and that alone might lead to a mini-revival, as players all seek to prove they’re worth their plump Championship wages and starting place.
What is key is that this man is given time.  We might go down this season. 
There, I’ve said it.  We really might go down. 

We are bottom for a reason and that is not solely or even largely down to Keith Millen (partly, admittedly, but we’ve lost both matches since he left too).  McInnes inherits a large squad that seem all too comfortable with life and the fact that most of the fight we saw at Selhurst Park last night came after the final whistle, says a lot about the state of attitude.

If we do go down then that is when the job will really start, but given time all the indications and accolades point towards the fact that Scotland may soon have an 8th manager in the Premier League.  Let’s hope so…

So, aside from what you can read on the ever-reliable Wiki, who exactly is Derek McInnes and what will he bring to the Westcountry?  I’ve garnered opinion from a handful of St.Johnstone fans to find the reactions from those north of the border.

I think it’s fair to say most City fans knowledge of McInnes will be limited to perhaps a fleeting memory of the spells he had as a player with West Brom and Millwall, and what we can find out online about his managerial career. So, who is Derek McInnes?
@SainteeTMafia: Del first arrived in Perth as a player. I think at that point very few people would have had him pegged as a future occupant of the clubs hotseat. When Owen left for Burnley a section of our support viewed Del's appointment as something of a let-down. The cheap option by a board famed for their frugality.  If it was, then frankly it was the bargain of the century.  For our club he has proved to have the tactical nous and (maybe more importantly) contacts book to elevate us into the upper echelons of the SPL.

In summary he is young, astute and adaptable. It is fair to say that he is not the finished article yet with some questionable moves in the transfer market blotting his copy book a little. But all in all he is a very fine talent with the potential to manage at the very highest level.

When he joined Millwall the then manager, Nigel Spackman, made McInnes captain stating that “Every Millwall player… should be a Derek McInnes”. That paints an obvious picture of his character, is it a fair reflection?
Steve: Yes, I'd say it was. He was always very professional when he played for us, and as manager you can see the respect he has had from seasoned pros like Jody Morris and Michael Duberry.  He was always great with the fans too. Professional and widely respected is a fair reflection of him.

Scott: My recollections of him as a player are that he was committed, skilful and resilient. In a Liverpool FC context he would be Lucas Leiva
@SainteeTmafia: There is no doubt the man is a leader. But not in the face painted lunatic from Braveheart sort of way. He has a measured, almost scientific approach to a football match with hours of preparation and DVD’s pored over in the days preceeding a game. Every player that walks out onto the pitch knows their job and knows it well. Del makes sure each of his charges has been disciplined in their role and responsibilities. And more importantly, they carry out his wishes to the letter.
Comparisons with Owen Coyle are inevitable, following the excellent job he did at Burnley following a move from McDiarmid Park. Is this a case of ‘the new Coyle’, a tag that often leads to failure?
Steve: No, I don't think it is. The path they've taken to English football has been the same, going from Saints, but they were very different managers.  Also, McInnes won a title and established us.  Coyle didn't win anything.

Scott: He could be worse than doing an "Owenie"!  I think our chairman is building a pedigree of finding young ambitious and talented managers and giving them space and time to do there thing.

@SainteeTmafia: Of course the past is often an excellent indication of what the future might hold. But Del is not Owen Coyle. Owen could not get us out of the First division; Del managed it in his first full season. He has then kept us in Scotland's top flight for two consecutive seasons with a couple of cup semi finals thrown in for good measure.  To be blunt, Coyles record in Perth doesn’t even come remotely close to standing up to Del's achievements with us.

It’s probably worth pointing out as well that (IIRC) Coyle did not move to a club that was anchored to the foot of the Championship. The challenge Del faces at Bristol would appear at first glance to be much greater than Owen's move to Burnley presented. An excellent comparable job at Bristol this season would probably be achieving mid table security. Comparisons with Coyle's promotion might elevate expectations higher than that.
So just how successful has he been for you?
Steve: A League title, established in the SPL and several Semi Final appearances in his 4 years. We beat the Champions elect, Rangers, 4-1 last season. We've won at Celtic this season. Defensively we are up there with the best in Scotland. He's bought very well too, with Murray Davidson being in Scotland squads, amongst a few other players being recognised at various international levels.

Scott: All I would say here is Del has left us in a much better position than he found us. No question about that.

@SainteeTmafia:  He has been our most successful manager for quite some time. For a provincial club our size to achieve SPL status and maintain it has to the priority. Del achieved that without any real difficulty. Our only real disappointment is that he could not negotiate the club into a cup final, something that most considered a real possibility under his stewardship.

It is however not all positive. For a period of last season the team could not buy a goal despite signing a variety of forward thinking players. There were a couple of poor signings (that I’m sure Del would hold his hands up to) that contributed to that statistic. That was a steep learning curve for the manager, one he scaled this season by signing some fine players who can do a job in the final third. 
Looking purely at league positions he seems to have built the club up, improving very gradually year on year. Is he the man to wrench us from the bottom of the table and keep us up this season?
Steve: I definitely think he can motivate and he certainly made St Johnstone a tough team to beat, first and foremost. Without being aware of your playing staff, I know his tactical ability as a manager can do the job against a variety of opponents, home and away.  He'll steady things at the back and make you tough to beat.

Scott:  You have landed a top young manager who will build a good team.

@SainteeTmafia:   Only if he is given time, patience and the opportunity to bring his own players in. He has a seemingly endless supply of pedigree players ready to come and play for him. In the last five years we have welcomed players like Jody Morris and Michael Duberry to the club. A large part of his success with us was the tremendous backing by the board and the chairman. And that is crucial if he is to succeed.

What sort of football style and formation can we expect at Ashton Gate?
Steve: Passing football, built on a solid defensive unit.
Scott: Not necessarily Barcelona, but a strong creative team who build from the back and look to score goals.

@SainteeTmafia:  Generally speaking, you’re looking at a 442. However he also has previous with the dreaded 451. If I had one true criticism of the manager, it would be this. In games where he views the other team as technically better or there is a lot at stake, the 451 formation is almost always wheeled out. I can’t think of one match where it served us well, in fact I can think of about three where it contributed to our downfall. But he does tend to persist with it against stronger opponents, despite its rather poor success rate.

One of the areas woefully lacking in the last decade at Ashton Gate is development of the academy players into first team regulars. Is McInnes a “if you’re good enough, you’re old enough” type of manager or does he prefer to stick with tried & trusted players?
Steve: Definitely "old enough, good enough".  Liam Caddis made his SPL debut at 16 and played at Parkhead and Ibrox. Stevie May scored his first senior goals at 17.  Steven Reynolds also featured as a teenager. He's not afraid to play the young guys if they merit it.

Scott: He will look to tried and tested to be fair. But does a bit of the Harry redknapp in spotting a player, getting them cheap and getting the best outbid them. Not afraid to throw in youngsters Such as Kevin moon and Steven may at Saints

@SainteeTmafia:  The SPL is not the type of league where you are afforded the opportunity to develop young players. The margin for error is miniscule and most teams will stick with tried and trusted up here. That said he has handed starts to a couple of under 21 players. But by and large, you will find he sticks with players who have already developed.

Francisco Sandaza has been earning rave reviews.  Are you concerned that he, or any of your other top players, may follow Del south of the border?
Steve: Yes, definitely worried we'll lose Sandaza, Millar and Murray Davidson for starters.

Scott: I have no doubt this will happen. No grudges there, that's football. You guys are in a different ball park to St Johnstone in terms of salaries, bonuses etc. players need to do right by themselves I suppose.

@SainteeTmafia:   Absolutely. I think we all expect both Sheridan and Sandaza to leave the club in the not too distant future, we are after all a stepping stone. It is definitely a worry that Del's exit may hasten their departure.

And finally, Tony Docherty is coming with his manager as No.2. What does he bring to the partnership and how crucial is he in your view?
Steve: He brings a drive and passion to the sideline, that compliments McInnes' outward calm. I see them as a pair, definitely. For success you need both of them. The players seem to love them and I think that says everything about a managerial partnership.

Scott: The Doc is a crucial part of the team. He is a very funny and lovely guy. Saints are a team that are close to the fans and the fans can mix with the players. TD was always first class. Thanks and good luck to you guys. There will be a lot of people looking at City results from now on!
@SainteeTmafia:  The Doc is an almost mandatory companion. There is no show without Punch and they come as a team.

Steve added “I really hope he does well with you guys. You've probably gained several thousand new fans overnight and that says more about how well thought of Derek and Tony are than any story you'll read in the press. Just tweet Michael Duberry or Jody Morris and they'll say the same”.

Many thanks to @SainteeTMafia, Scott Webster (@ScottWebster1) and Steve McGillivray (@thesteve71) for spending time answering my questions. As well as being a big Saints fan, Steve also writes for www.musosguide.com, www.thefourohfive.com & www.glasgowpodcart.com
Also thanks to a number of St Johnstone fans who have retweeted or responded to my questions over the past week, including @CDunnett81, @Husky_Macca and @stjohnstone1884 and to @SainteeTMafia who has geared up his followers to respond to my requests.

I’m sure I speak on behalf of all at City in wishing you continued success under whoever your new manager is.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Interview: Darragh MacAnthony, Peterborough Chairman

The latest publication of my 'On the Social' column from the Bristol City matchday programme, Red Alert: Peterborough, October 15th 2011

This week I’m privileged to welcome Peterborough Chairman and regular Tweeter Darragh MacAnthony (@DMAC102) to ‘On the Social’ as he gives his views on tweeting, rows with fans, blackmail, lawsuits and getting the truth out into the public domain.

You are one of only a handful of football club Chairman to use Twitter. Did you have any doubts as to whether it was a good idea?
I have never been a big fan of social media sites such as Facebook, Myspace or even Twitter. My wife loves that stuff as do many millions of people. It was actually an employee who is trying to help rebuild my online reputation who insisted I give it a go. She thought that my honest and direct views would give people an idea who I was and that the nonsense written about me online wouldn’t be so easy to believe.
I started using Twitter whilst away for 20 days in June with the family in the Bahamas. I didn’t think it would work or if I would like it but funny enough after the first week or so, I realised it’s not a bad way to communicate, quickly as well if something needed to be put across.

I have always loved having contact with Posh fans, doing public forums, interviews and so forth but now Twitter has opened up ways to communicate even with away fans from other clubs. I love a bit of healthy football banter like the next guy and thus far it’s been good old fashioned fun so to speak. I am after all a football fan like everyone else but privileged and fortunate enough to be able to own a football club.

Do you feel forums, blogs and Twitter have influenced the 'instant success' culture we see at many clubs?
We live in an age where there is massive leniency on the freedom of speech given to the internet which isn't always a good thing as recent things involving internet trolls have shown. Everybody is entitled to an opinion as long as they own it personally by using their name, and of course it’s factual, not lies or nonsense.

I definitely feel more and more managers and directors of clubs read forums to gauge public opinion as do the players, and it’s not always a good thing for a variety of obvious reasons. I have no doubt as time goes on that managers will lose their jobs due to pressure exerted from opinions and emotions built up by forums at football clubs, and there-in lies the danger and damage some could do. I also worry about young players reading sites and how that affects their confidence if they are slaughtered online every day, as not everyone has a thick skin.

Many players and managers say they take no notice of forums or blogs yet I’ve noticed you have had a few heated Twitter conversations with Peterborough bloggers @OnTheGlebe. Is this a deliberate attempt to refute what you see as excess negativity or does your passion just get the better of you, leaving you unable to stay quiet?
Sometimes my passion does get the better of me and I can be too direct or impulsive in a response if I don’t like the trend or tone of a particular message. The Glebe guys do a good podcast most weeks but have a tendency to dig out the same players every podcast and this I cannot agree with, so will make my feelings known.

As much as the supporters are allowed their opinions, I too am allowed mine and we won’t always agree. But as long as it’s healthy communicative banter then it’s all good. I am a big believer in positive mental attitude and keeping a positive environment around our club as it’s too easy to fall into a negative stupor as shown in past and that snowballs into a worse situation.

Following you on Twitter is enjoyable as you seem determined to tell the truth and not let the press have their moment in the sun. I particularly remember a series of tweets in the summer about a player who you had on trial, and you were also very honest around transfer deadline day with regard players you may or may not be buying or selling. Do you feel this is a natural next step of communication for all clubs, and might it eventually reduce the insatiable volume of rumours and stories that spread so quickly in this era?
One of reasons I am enjoying Twitter is I have the instant opportunity to answer back to any mis-truths or false comments that are out there and yep, I used Twitter this summer to dispel some of them and give an accurate account of what’s going on.

The BBC and Sky signed up to my Twitter feed and have used my comments for stories but at least it is 100% accurate and so definitely a way for future stories to be put to bed quickly and kill any rumours.
Our press department at the club were getting a bit agitated with me for breaking news on Twitter first so I had to pull back a little but fear not, I shall continue to speak the truth when needed!

You also have your own website – www.darraghmacanthony.com – and have most notably used it to write an astonishing open letter concerning extortion, persecution and blackmail. This related specifically to the contents of a lawyer’s blog which were eventually used in filing a lawsuit against you. Could this have happened in the same way without the advent of social media, and does it not put you off the whole thing and make you never want to look at any of it ever again?
I had to come out fighting for a change as there have been some disgusting stories written online and in the media about me which have no truth to them but give me little chance to respond, and blogs like this and others seem to be able to write or print whatever they like and when they want.

Internet trolling is becoming a danger and there are too few laws in place to stop them. Already we are seeing high profile people and even their children targeted, and in some cases in the US there have been suicides involving teenagers who have been bullied online by said internet trolls.
I want laws brought in so that criminal action can be taken and strict sentences given before it gets out of hand. To stop people being able to hide behind pseudonym names online, and forums or blogs where the server is hosted overseas and beyond reach, or not held accountable for their actions. I feel strongly about this and will push for change until it happens.

There are an increasing number of footballers on Twitter, not without controversy. Do you think they will still be allowed to tweet in the future?
I think clubs will take individual stances on this subject and go from there. From what I hear legally it’s important to put this into player’s contracts if you want to ban them from using social media and even then it’s tough to impose. I think as long as they use it in right manner and liaise in a healthy way with fans it’s ok, but needs to be defined more.

Finally, a couple of questions on today’s match: Peterborough have surprised many by their start to the season – have you been surprised and how do you think the rest of the season will go?
I am not surprised or stunned as I kinda knew from our pre-season summer trip that our youngsters were showing encouraging signs and the style of football our Gaffer plays might just suit the Championship. It’s a terribly unforgiving league but a massively entertaining one, and one we need to work hard every day to compete in and stay in so Posh can keep moving forward. I am a big believer that you get what you deserve and am hoping our style and way of playing gives us many good years to come.

And finally, what do you think the result tonight will be?
I hate making predictions but have no doubt it will be a great game for sure and my only hope is that whoever plays the best and deserves the result, gets the result. My wife is a Bristol girl and I bought her folks a house in Bristol but am hoping their loyalties stay with the Posh for today.

All the best for season after today!

“How have we lost that game? Powder puff shooting when in box frustrates life out of me. Big thanks to referee as well for awesome officiating”
“@(edited) More racism from ya. Do you want to be banned from football for life? Nobody wants racism in football. Grow up.”

“Wouldn't it be nice to get referees with balls the size of melons instead of peanuts sometimes. Another home ref today.”
Following the 7-1 win over Ipswich: “Listening to Talk sport about Game on Sat, All about whats wrong with Ipswich, any danger of complimenting Posh and way we played! Yawn!”

“Cant stop laughing, just read email demands of agent for 19 yr old kid who never kicked a ball in football league. putting the silly wages to the side, he wants 12 first class flights + hotel rooms for kids family every year of his contract lol. Talk about greed over ambition! Never know a summer like it for agents & players demands. You would think money has gone up 30%, not down. Clueless clowns some of them!”

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

How long does it take to get a new manager?

If you’re a football fan using Twitter and you follow fans of your club you may occasionally get frustrated at the opinions of others with regard to players, the manager, the tactics being used or even the best pub to have a pre-match cider in.

However, the last two weeks has seen interaction like never before if you’re a Bristol City fan.  Heart-breaking defeat against Reading and abject capitulation at Blackpool inside five days caused a huge groundswell of calls for Keith Millen to be sacked.  The natural impatience of the modern-day fan meant that when news wasn’t forthcoming by the Sunday morning, many were getting frustrated.  By Monday morning the announcement was made and thoughts naturally turned to who the new man might be.  What has followed has been fascinating and intriguing.
The way many fans would see a club go about appointing a new manager is incredible, with a whole number of criteria (some are listed at the bottom) apparently more important than getting the ‘right’ man.  I don’t doubt this is the same at many clubs across the country and not just symptomatic of the West.  I’d be interested to hear from Forest fans to see if this has panned out in a similar way this past week.

What specifically caused me to pen this piece though has been the reaction this week to Chief Executive Colin Sexstone’s statement that there may not be a new man in position by Saturday for our next match.  The majority of fans seem to find it flabbergasting that it is all taking so long (eight days and counting).
This is the most important appointment at the club – the whole club – in years.  Probably since we were languishing in the middle of League One and Gary Johnson was appointed manager. 
Take a step back and look outside football for a second.  How many medium-sized companies would appoint a new CEO just a week after releasing the previous incumbent?  Whilst I appreciate this scale is not comparable, the Tesco Chairman would be crucified by shareholders across the globe if he replaced an outgoing CEO so quickly – no-one would believe he had done enough due diligence on the new person to possibly know they were right for the role.  How could he, unless he had spent the entire week living with them and breathing the same air?
So why do football clubs rush this decision?  Why do they jump to conclusions on a new manager having probably only met them once, or sometimes before they’ve even met?
One could argue it is an extreme results-driven business.  What a manager has achieved at another club is clear for all to see – the results are online and printed in the papers, the highlights are on TV 24/7.   Whatever else goes on at the club, if the senior team are getting results on the pitch then all is rosy.  If they’re not, in most cases, any other good work being done is irrelevant. 
But is this any different in the ‘real’ world?  If a business is looking to appoint a new CEO, why are they concerned about their long-term plans, their style of management, their ideas on employee culture or their investment ideas?  Why do they want to know the characteristics of the person across the interview table?  Why do they put them through assessment centres and second interviews and make them come back in and present their thoughts on what the business will look like in five years, or what direction they want to take the brand in?
Why don’t they just look at the financial results of their previous business and decide that person is the right fit? 
It’s because so, SO much more goes into results than just on-paper records and high-profile performances, in both worlds; business and football.
For football clubs this comes down to aspects such as playing style, interaction with players, interactions with fans, the staff line-up they might want, the investment they’d expect and how they plan to bring the youth players into the first team and develop the younger set-up.  Do they want a reserve team?  Will they move to the area? How many games do they go and watch?  Do they have good connections within the game? Do they know European football and the players?  Are there any agents they work closely with, or can’t work with?  What motivates them?  What are their less positive characteristics?  What are their long-term plans for the club?  What is their ambition for the rest of their career?
These are just some of the questions that should come to the fore and that’s well before the agent starts sticking his oar in and starts discussing salaries, bonuses and contract protection.
Yet in this one industry, undoubtedly due to the passion involved and the idyllic world many wish the club lived in, this is all just a side issue.  If they did well with club ‘x’ then they’re obviously the right person for us.  Aren’t they?
Of course, in an ideal world the new manager would come in immediately and have the maximum time with the players.  Of course someone who has got results elsewhere should be on the shortlist and should be spoken to.  And of course, if the right man is available then we should go for him quickly. 
As far as I’m concerned the appointment can take a month, or more, if it turns out to be absolutely the right decision.  Admittedly that’s a big ‘if’, but what's a month if you're ensuring five or more years of success and achievement?

 Four other typical views I’ve seen this week:
1)      We need a big name - For some unless the club is courting Jose Mourinho or Arsene Wenger then we’re not being ambitious enough.  OK, a touch tongue-in-cheek perhaps, but some of the names being discussed are quite frankly ridiculous for a club bottom of the division and with a well-advertised £20m debt.  It’s a bit like a slightly balding, tubby 35 year-old business man walking into a night-club and wondering why the attractive, sophisticated young girls aren’t eyeing him up.

2)      The Board will take the cheap option – Not unlinked to the first point, somehow fans seem to think they know how much each manager will be paid and jump to conclusions about the names being linked, with the cheap option meaning we’ve ducked a big decision and are happy treading water. 

3)      I haven’t heard of him – It seems that unless you’re a known name then you are nothing.  In the old days this was all that happened.  Managers started out at non-league clubs and worked their way up – quickly enough if they were good enough.  Arsenal fans once said ‘Arsene Who?’; I’m sure there was even a clutch of Man United fans so oblivious to what was happening North of the Border back in 1986, that they hadn’t heard of Alex Ferguson.  Experience and know-how of the division you’re in doesn’t always guarantee the best results.  Sometimes a lean, hungry ambitious manager is just what the whole club needs.

4)      Why haven’t they just offered Manager X the job?  Well who knows?  Perhaps he didn’t apply.  Perhaps they’ve spoken to him but they didn’t get on?  Perhaps his agent demanded we sign Lionel Messi or he’s not interested?  This is linked to the main article but I do find it incredible that some seem to think it’s all so easy and straight-forward.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

The Boot-room

Ever since Liverpool’s glorious reign in the 1970’s and 80’s under a succession of managers appointed from within the club there has been a romantic view of the old boot-room.  A dingy, cramped room with a grey painted floor, a garish unevenly painted wall and discarded mud pulled from studs all over the floor.  I envisage a shower room with half the taps not working properly and the rest producing only cold water.  There is a blackboard in the corner with chalk lines and circles all over it, depicting the previous match tactics and detailed perusals on the opposition.  There a couple of balls lying around, a few shin-pads and probably the odd pair of used underpants. Above all there is a musty smell, but it’s a comfortable smell.  An aroma that personifies consistency, loyalty and a feeling of comfort.  Why bring in new people, new ideas and a fresh outlook, when all you need is right under your roof?

When Bristol City appointed from within there were perfectly rational reasons.  The club needed some stability after a period of relative success but following an ultimately disappointing campaign.  A ‘big name’ had just ultimately failed.  The side seemed on the face of it to be decent enough, and maybe appointing a boot-room candidate would ensure the team was able to mature into one of heroes.
The first season appeared one of mild transition, with a few old faces moving on, as any manager would want, and the recruitment of a handful of players who no doubt had been watchfully evaluated for some time.  Some of the ideas and tactics from previous years remained, but ultimately you could tell the new man had made some alterations, brought his own style to proceedings.

The following season began with some optimism, that last year’s performance might be out-stripped.  The old football adage about having a full pre-season – equally applicable to managers as it is players – was rolled out.  The thought that just two or three signings could give this team the edge, the momentum required to really press on.
However, a lack of goals and a somewhat shaky defence meant that a fair way into the season only six points had been won, with a single victory to the team’s name.

City then travelled for a match that, although they weren’t necessarily expected to win, certainly didn’t appear a lost cause.  Indeed, a half-time score of 1-0 to the home side indicated an undeniable competitiveness in the match.  However the end result was catrastophic, embarrassing and worrying in equal measure.  The defence pulled apart as if they’d never played together previously.  The goalkeeper making mistakes you wouldn’t expect from a decent Downs league keeper.  Early substitutions were made that smacked of desperation and panic rather than astute tactical nous.

That day City lost 7-1 at Swansea.  A club legend, Brian Tinnion, was sacked soon after.  I bet you knew that's who i was talking about didn't you? 

The boot-room approach can lead to success and it can develop and garner tam spirit in a way a new manager, fresh to the club, never could.  However, the team has to be right in the first place – a team full of potential to grow further, with leaders ready to take command when glimpses of the new manager’s inexperience become apparent. 
And the manager must be the right man for the job.  Bob Paisley was not just an assistant.  Kenny Dalglish was no staff member.  These were strong and tactically astute men.  Full of knowledge and experience and able to motivate players who they had once been close to as team-mates, colleagues, friends.  It is one of the biggest challenges anyone faces in their career, to step up and manage personnel who look to you as someone they can have a laugh with, someone who’ll be sympathetic to your quirks and fads and lucky traditions.

It’s not just as simple as looking at coaching badges.  It’s about whether the man you’re looking to appoint has the right credentials, the toughness and sheer bloody-mindedness to succeed.  Do they have enough of their own ideas to change things when matters on the pitch are looking decidedly uncertain?
It’s the hardest decision to sack a manager you’ve promoted to that position.  Far tougher than doing so with an outsider, someone who was brought in as a fresh face but ultimately someone no-one at the club knew prior to their appointment.  Sometimes though, unfortunately, the hardest decisions are the right decisions, and then the merry-go-round starts all over again.

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