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Friday, September 25, 2009

Back To The Future?

As Ronnie Moore prepares to take the reins at Rotherham United for a second time, Nobes considers that old adage in football that you should never return.

There's something about football fans that, every time they have a vacancy in the managerial chair, it makes them look to the past. Through misty eyed glasses, looking back warmly on days gone by, they petition for a former manager to once more take on team affairs.

Of course, it goes against all beliefs that, in football, you should never return. Just don't go back. So why do
managers do it all the time? If you've had success somewhere, why go back? Why risk spoiling things? Why take the chance of tarnishing the the high-regard you are held in?

We'll never know for sure. Perhaps their own arrogance or self-confidence that they will be a success wherever they go, and really won't be putting their reputation at a club at risk.

Either way, it's just one of those elements of football that we'll never understand. However, perhaps we're the wrong ones. Maybe going back isn't always the disaster it's cracked up to be. So let's consider the evidence.

Jan Molby

The Dane was appointed manager at Conference club Kidderminster in 1999, and won promotion to the Football League in his first season at Aggborough. There, he helped establish the Worcestershire club in the fourth tier, before getting the call from ambitious Hull City.

His tenure at the Tigers was a short and unsuccessful one, and with Harriers struggling towards the bottom of League Two, Mobly returned to help keep the club up.

However, with Kiddy once again struggling the following season, Molby departed for a second time. Harriers were relegated at the end of the season and are still in the Conference today.

Verdict: Should never have returned. Fans felt betrayed when he left to Hull, and despite keeping them up when he first returned, he left them staring the Conference in the face.

Graham Taylor

Former England boss Taylor made his name at Watford when, after taking charge in 1977, he led the club from the Fourth to the First Division in just five seasons. He established the Hornets at that level and took them to an FA Cup final.

Left for Aston Villa after a decade in Hertfordshire, but returned via England and an unsuccessful spell at Wolves. Won the League One title in his first season back, and then took the club up to the Premier League the following year.

Couldn't prevent an instant return to the second tier though, and retired from the game in 2001.

Verdict: An unqualified success. Taylor once again weaved his magic at Vicarage Road, taking the club into the Premier League for the first time in their history. Man and football club went together perfectly.

Steve Parkin

Parkin took over at struggling Rochdale in 1999, and led the club to 9th in his first season. The next year they finished 8th, missing out on the play-offs by a point, and were riding high the following season when he left for Barnsley in 2001.

He failed to keep the Oakwell club up, and after a poor start the subsequent year, he left the Reds before returning to Spotland 14 months later. He helped stave off relegation, and led the club to 9th again in 2005.

A mid-table finish was secured the next season but, with Dale struggling, he was sacked in 2006 and replacement Keith Hill has enjoyed great success.

Verdict: Take away his final few months, and Parkin didn't do too badly on returning. Things had become stale before he left the club, but not a disastrous second spell.

Tony Pulis

Welshman Pulis joined Stoke City in 2002 with the club battling relegation from the Championship. He took them to successive top half finishes before parting company with the Potters in the summer of 2005.

Joined struggling Plymouth and turned around their fortunes before being persuaded back to the Britannia Stadium. Narrowly missed out on the play-offs in his first season back, before securing automatic promotion in 2008.

Kept City in the Premier League last season, where he continues to establish them.

Verdict: Pulis's departure first time around was controversial, and his return was greeted with a mixed response from fans. However he's worked wonders since and made the right decision to return.

Micky Adams

The current Port Vale manager took over at basement division Brighton in 1999 and, after finishing mid-table in his first campaign, won the league the next.

Albion were top of League One when he left to become assistant manager at Premier League Leicester, and the side Adams left won promotion at the end of the season.

He returned to the Withdean in 2008, but took a side who finished in the top half of League One the previous season into a relegation battle and he left after less than a year back with the Seagulls.

Verdict: A prime example of why managers should never go back. Adams enjoyed great success in his first spell, and was it always going to be hard to repeat that.

Steve Bruce

Bruce's first spell at Wigan Athletic came in 2001, when he helped the club into the League One play-offs. However, after losing in the semi finals to Reading, he walked out on the Greater Manchester club to join Crystal Palace.

Six years later, and he returned to the JJB Stadium with Wigan a Premier League outfit. Staved off the drop and then consolidated the Latics in mid-table before departing for Sunderland this summer.

Verdict: A difficult one to judge. His first spell was very short, and the club were transformed once he returned.

Paul Sturrock

Sturrock was appointed Plymouth manager in 2000 with the club struggling in the basement division. After a mid-table finish in his first season, the Pilgrims stormed to the League Two title with 102 points.

Two years later, the club were on the brink of promotion to the Championship when the Scot left for Southampton, but Argyle went on to win another title and promotion.

Re-joined the club in November 2007 from Swindon, and maintained the Pilgrims battle for the play-offs before eventually finishing the season in 10th.

However, last season the Devon side finished 21st, just a few points off relegation, after sliding down the table in the New Year. Sturrock remains at Home Park, but Plymouth currently prop up the Championship with just two points from eight games.

Verdict: If reports are to be believed, Sturrock is close to getting the axe at Argyle. Should it happen, it will confirm what was a mistake to return to a club where he was once so revered. Past success counts for little when relegation is in the offing.

So then, what does all that tell us? Well, perhaps unsurprisingly with the beautiful game, it's unpredictable and a mixed bag.

Interestingly though, all the managers who won promotion or a title with their club in the first spell, failed in their second coming. Those who didn't achieve as much first time around fared better on their return though.

Perhaps that's the problem. A successful manager returning raises hopes and expectation levels and it's always unlikely that lightning will strike twice. It just makes it all the more painful where a former hero ends up getting the sack.

So, unless you've some unfinished business and something to prove, let the good times and memories live on, and please, don't go back.

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