One factor of football that remains ever constant like it does when Autumn arrives, temperatures drop, leaves fall off trees, dark nights descend and heavy pitches being the norm. Bringing with it the traditional wave of manager departures, of which there have been many high profile ones down the years. That includes Don Makay at Blackburn Rovers with owner Jack Walker replacing him with former Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish in 1991 and Tottenham Hotspur appointing Harry Redknapp replacing Juande Ramos in 2008.
In recent months, we have seen two Championship clubs in Derby County and Sheffield Wednesday lose faith and opting to sack yet another manager. A decision that affects so many people in a football club. From the manager’s secretary right down to the academy. I can recall November 1997, I was attending a tribute dinner for our all-conquering youth team. My academy manager at the time took to the stage to highlight the achievements of the team. When he opened his speech in front of the owner, fellow directors and chief executive. “Today is a very sad day for me my friend and colleague as just been sacked by this football club,” pulling no punches in the process resulting in him being reprimanded by the club’s hierarchy the next day.
Highlighting the raw emotion of a departure. Managers will often see the signs long before the axe finally falls, but spare a thought for the backroom staff whose roles may be equally precarious. They may not become immediate casualties of a board who have lost faith in the top man but can soon find themselves surplus to requirements when a new manager is appointed. With far-reaching consequences for both them and the players.
It made me think how clubs often turn to experience in the situation they find themselves. In the hope that they can restore normal service that is winning games of football. With Sheffield Wednesday being one club that saw Gary Monk depart. The owner opting to appoint someone what some people would term ‘old school’ and say his brand or style of football not for me. But what is a style or brand of football the so-called type of football is down to the players you have at your disposal.
It is about putting in basic principles. Discipline, honesty and respect, being organised and hard to beat are key components. Is the simplest way to win? Stop goals going in at your end. In the modern game, everybody thinks that shouldn’t be the first priority, but if you want to stay in a job, it’s an absolute must. The reason is obvious if you keep a clean sheet, you only need one goal to win. But if you let a goal in, you need to score two to win. If you concede two, you need to score three. It’s simple but it’s true and defensive shape is something you can coach any group of players to get right. It’s amazing what a bit of leg work can do.
With Tony Pulis being the man for the South Yorkshire club. Pulis brings a wealth of experience having overseen a mammoth 1,123 games senior games through almost three decades in the dugout prior to his appointment by the Owls. Along with him will be a balanced coaching staff both experienced and someone who always looks to bring a young coach with him and someone who knows the best players in the academy.
Alongside tried and trusted methods, “I like to have a mixture of people around me. You test them, they test you”, with his own team around him and the standards that he would want and expect of anyway, hard work on the training ground, some would say repetitive. What that ensures is everyone knows the roles and responsibilities in team formation shape whatever you want to call it. So, it becomes second nature during 90+ minutes of football.
In appointing an old stager, the thinking goes something like this: A large power plant broke down causing major disruption. Numerous engineers tried to solve the problem but failed. The top brass called in an old-timer who had long since retired. He immediately went down into the labyrinth of the factory, tapped on a particular pipe, and the system restarted with full power. The old man then submitted his bill for one thousand and two francs: two francs for knowing which pipe to tap.
Flare may impress the sophisticated, but honest-to-goodness know-how (a potent blend of experiential knowledge, ability, and the lessons of trial and error) is the key quality which separates the winners from the losers in the hard, practical world of professional football.
What we do know is old heads are experts at giving destiny and Lady Luck a helping hand.