Jul 10, 2012

Killing Honour: Lessons from the Managerial Merry-Go-Round

The Premier League close season managerial changes have so far been more noteworthy than any player moves. The immediate post-season sackings of Kenny Dalglish and Alex McLeish from Liverpool and Villa respectively were hardly shocking. They did however kick off a chain of moves which say a lot about those concerned and the clubs involved. McLeish’s P45 in particular was not only the most predictable tax office filing of the year, but also had specific interest for Newcastle fans. His immediate replacement at Villa, Paul Lambert, was himself replaced at Norwich by Chris Hughton, possibly the unluckiest managerial sacking at Newcastle ever. Hughton in turn was replaced at Birmingham by ex-Newcastle midfielder Lee Clark, also unfortunate to be sacked by Huddersfield. Kenny Dalglish had spent the season defending the indefensible in terms of both behaviour and performance. When he was summoned to meet with Liverpool’s American owner immediately after the close of the season it was possibly the least appreciated Atlantic Crossing since my last visit to a second hand record store. The transatlantic boot having been applied to his behind, a recruitment process took place which appeared from the outside to be anything but planned. Swansea’s Brendan Rogers had initially passed up the chance to speak to Liverpool without having been shortlisted first but eventually took over when other avenues led nowhere.

Lambert forced through his move when Norwich tried to rebuff Villa. Remember this was only a few days after publicly ordering Grant Holt to stay when the striker requested a transfer. Loyalty appears to be a one-way street for Lambert, something he demands from everyone around him while keeping an eye out for the main chance on his own behalf. After a difficult start to life as a manager at Livingston, Wycombe took a chance on him. After catching the eye there with a cup run he left after less than two years to move up a division to  League One Colchester. Less than a year later he moved again to Norwich. Following two successive promotions and an impressive first Premier League season Villa came calling. His record so far has been undeniably good, but he runs the risk of becoming another Steve Bruce. Bruce blazed a trail through the lower divisions, taking advantage of a reputation as an up-and-coming talent to swap clubs repeatedly when he perceived there to be advantage in it. The downside for him is that now his reputation has taken a few blows, many clubs are wary of taking on someone who will be off somewhere richer or more glamourous at the first hint of success. What is the benefit of taking a chance on someone who either fails or leaves immediately he attracts attention? While Lambert continues to impress he won’t care, but he should be wary of moving on too soon without achievement.

Whelan: stubborn

The most interesting thing about the whole set of moves was the reaction of clubs to their manager being approached. Swansea and their chairman were lauded for being ‘classy’, in standing aside and allowing Rogers to up sticks when the mood took Liverpool to ask him. Contrast that with Wigan’s Dave Whelan, widely derided as the nightmare chairman to end them all, who argued, refused to give in, and generally made life anything but easy for both Liverpool and Villa when they were reported to be interested in his manager Roberto Martinez. Look what happened to the managers of those clubs. The annoying embarrassment of a chairman retained the services of his manager, the respected honourable man of his word lost those of his.

Which of Swansea’s and Wigan’s fans do you think were happier? I know which type of chairman and owner I’d rather have in charge at my club, and I know which we’ve got at Newcastle in Mike Ashley and Derek Llambias. I won’t go over ancient history but we all know mistakes were made, mistakes which prevent some, many even, from ever approving of their tenure. Even those who refuse to give credit for successes of the Ashley regime such as the improved financial situation must surely recognise that those in charge of the club drive a hard bargain, whether buying or selling. They might say that Ashley only acts as if he’s spending his own money because he is spending his own money, but either way that cussed refusal to do anyone else a favour acts in the interest of our club. The job of an owner or chairman is not to curry favour with fans of other clubs. Another season like last would mean someone showing interest in Alan Pardew, but it’s a certainty that only after kicking and screaming by the club would he be prised away, and that is something I have no difficulty in approving of.

Author: Mark Brophy

Website: http://markbrophy.wordpress.com/ for a back catalogue of Mark’s writing.

Follow Mark on Twitter @mark_brophy


  • This article conveniently ignores the fact that McNally (known by the affectionate moniker McNasty) also tried his darndest to keep Lambert at Norwich but possibly pushed him away by refusing him permission to talk to Villa. Which sort of cancels out your argument about Wigan. So the only real lesson we can learn is that there’re more factors than just the ruthlessness of the Chairman.

  • An interesting argument that refusing permission to talk to another club pushes a manager out the door of a club he’s already attempting to leave.. The article also does not state the lesson is finite to the ruthlessness of a chairman – merely an observation of what has happened this summer and it’s possible application to Newcastle.

  • Lambert was off one way or the other, giving him permission to speak to Villa would have only hastened his departure. There’s only so much an awkward chairman can achieve – if someone wants to walk out of the door and sign with another club and let the courts sort out compensation, then short of putting him in leg irons he can’t be stopped. The point is that making it easy for someone to leave is generally not in the interests of your own club. You could however make a valid counter argument that you may make people you are interested in less likely to sign with you if they see how difficult you made it for their predecessor to leave when they wanted to. All the same, I’d say that although everyone wants to better themselves, if someone is thinking of leaving before they arrive, you’re better off without them, no matter how talented.

  • Mark – If you had done your research correctly – you wouldn’t have put ‘unfortunate’ before ‘sacked by Huddersfield’. Lee Clarks sacking was one of last seasons biggest footballing ‘mis-conceptions’ by fans and players inside the English game…..outside Huddersfield.
    He’d lost the plot, overspent, panic decisions, the unbeaten run was made up mainly of draws – the majority of them from winning positions and his inexperience and immaturity largely came to the forefront. He’s on a learning curve – especially for the next 5 yrs at least and sadly I predict his reign at Brum to be a short one. The decision to sack him was correct – and far from unfortunate. Period.

  • TeamDevil HTAFC – You know more about Huddersfield than I do obviously, and I’m not saying there weren’t reasons for his sacking, just that to be sacked in Feb while 4th in the table seems a bit harsh by many people’s standards, especially as there hadn’t been a dip in form or anything. And my research tells me that Huddersfield did better with him in charge than after the sacking, in terms of points-per-game.

    However I’m aware how irritating it is to be told about your club by outsiders, a comparison would be people telling me how unfortunate Sam Allardyce was to be sacked by NUFC when I & anyone else who went to the games could see a massive nose-dive developing and he’d also saddled the club with loads of poor buys on long contracts.

    When all is said & done you went to the games and I didn’t. If you think the decision was correct, especially with hindsight, then it’s difficult to argue, even if the cold stats point to a certain harshness in it.

  • Great article Mark, some valid points. I hope Chris Hughton get’s to carry on where he left off with you and another mid table position but it’s a big ask. It will be really interesting to see how your season goes I can see you climbing the table yet again this season.

  • TeamDevil HTAFC has it right. Lee Clark was tasked with achieving promotion and failed to achieve it, despite being very well backed financially and allowed to sign over 40 players during his three years plus, as well as numerous backroom staff. Over the same period, Paul Lambert took Norwich from League One to the Premiership – and kept them up there. Last season, after two failures in the play-offs, his target was automatic promotion. When he was sacked we were 4th with increasing gaps forming between us and the automatic places. Nobody believed he would be successful in the play-offs.

    Not many chairmen would have been as patient as Dean Hoyle and many Town fans wanted him out long before he was sacked. His first year or so seemed promising as he encouraged attacking football but after that things seemed to go backwards and game after game the tactics and play seemed far too negative. Despite all the signings, he never had a settled team; some players were dropped (and even loaned out) after making a single mistake, whereas others were poor for match after match and never got dropped.

    Grayson was never going to be popular at Town because of his history (dirty Leeds) but most of us now have a grudging respect for him. Bald statistics like points-per-game don’t tell the whole story because “Larry” spent his first few games giving a chance to all the first team squad, including those who had been frozen out under Clark, and encouraging a new way of playing. We had some disappointing results in his first couple of months but he ended up seemingly knowing his best starting 11, a settled squad, better football, a better spirit in the dressing room, more positive tactics, and at the end of the day, promotion.

    Clark is extremely dedicated, extremely hard-working, and I really wish him well. I just don’t know how he’ll do under pressure and without funding for unlimited signings. Things seemed to go downhill once Fazakerley left for Leicester, so now they’ve been reunited it might go better for him.


  • NUFC blog varying from inane rantings to precision statistical analysis. Alternative match previews & reports plus a broader based (and heavily biased) footballing opinion on anything worthy of annoyance.

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