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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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