Soccer AM/MW - the home of lively and humorous discussion from the Football and Non Leagues

Monday, March 22, 2010

Tough at the Bottom?

As Darlington part company with their manager - former Premier League player Steve Staunton - Nobes assesses the job of top flight players becoming lower league managers.

They say for those involved in it, football is in your blood. I presume that's the reason why ex-professionals who have graced some of the finest competitions, clubs, and arenas over the years opt to go into management.

They must have a very serious case of the football bug, then, to decide to manage at the depths of the football pyramid.

However, that's what Steve Staunton, in his ill-fated and short lived reign as Darlington boss, did - and he's not the only one.

Oh no. Over the years many successful players have tried their hand at managing smaller clubs, and to varying degrees of success. So here's my list of the hits, misses, and undecided of those brave enough to try their hand in the lower leagues.

Paul Ince

An ex-England international, Ince's clubs as a player included the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool, and Inter Milan.

However, after being overlooked for the vacant job at Wolves, he began his managerial career with Macclesfield - rock bottom of League Two.

He inspired a dramatic turnaround in fortunes as the Silkmen avoided the drop and then he took over at ambitious Milton Keynes.

Winning the League Two title and Johnstone's Paint Trophy in his first season at the Dons, he had proven his ability in the basement tier.

Verdict: Big thumbs up. Jumped in at the deep end and proved he could get the best out of the budgets he received. Produced attractive, winning football.

Colin Calderwood

The former Spurs and Nottingham Forest defender took on his first managerial role at Northampton in 2003.

He twice took the Cobblers to the League Two play-offs before eventually securing automatic promotion in 2006.

Left Sixfields to take over a Forest boss and, after losing in the play-offs in his first season, took them to promotion the following year.

Was sacked after a poor start in the Championship, but is rebuilding his career as a coach at Premier League-bound Newcastle.

Verdict: It'd be wrong to ignore that Calderwood worked on good budgets at both Northampton and Forest. However, plenty of managers have money to spend and waste it.

He seemed to learn his lessons from near misses at his clubs, and eventually completed his brief of winning promotion at both.

Paul Lambert

After a brief spell at Livingston in Scotland, the former Celtic and Borussia Dortmund midfielder dropped into League Two at Wycombe.

There he led the Chairboys to the play-offs, where they lost out, and then moved onto Colchester - building a side capable of challenging for the top six in League One.

Now in charge of runaway League One leaders Norwich and on course for the first title and promotion of his managerial career.

Lambert is a rising star in the managerial game. He has shown improvement every season and risen to the challenge at bigger and richer clubs. Has adapted well in both lower divisions.

John Barnes

The Liverpool and England legend's first managerial job was a brief and harrowing spell at Celtic but, undeterred, he re-emerged last summer to take over at Tranmere.

Promised to bring stylish football and adopted a Brazilian 4-2-2-2 formation for the task. An opening day defeat at Yeovil probably told him how things were going to pan out.

Left the club after just two wins, seven points, and 26 goals conceded in his 11 league games. A nightmare start Rovers are still trying to get over as fight the drop from League One.

Verdict: A Soccer AM/MW and personal hero he may be, but cut out to be a football manager Barnes is not. The Tranmere move always appeared doomed, and he will be fortunate to ever get another chance at an English club.

Tony Cottee

The former West Ham and Everton forward took his first and only steps into management at League Two side Barnet in 2000.

He won his first game 7-0, however, in total he lost 15 of his 25 matches, and left a side who finished 6th the previous season staring relegation in the face.

Did the honourable thing and resigned, but it wasn't enough to halt the Bees's slide back into the Conference.

Verdict: And this man sits in a studio providing 'expert' analysis. Disastrous managerial move that just about threw away a town's hard-won Football League status. There's a good reason he's never tried to get back into management.

Tony Adams

As a player he had captained his country and been skipper of Arsenal as the Gunners enjoyed huge success. Surely then Tony Adams had a great career as a manager before him?

He chose to start it at League One strugglers Wycombe. However, although powerless to halt their slide into the basement division, he was at least expected to mount a promotion charge the following campaign.

It never happened, and he left Adams Park just a year after taking the job, citing personal reasons for his resignation.

Verdict: Adams's spell at Wycombe was poor, and his record at Portsmouth last season wasn't much better. He complained about working with lower league players, but perhaps his own shortcomings were as much to blame.

Chris Sutton

A Premier League striker at Chelsea and Blackburn, Sutton also played up-front for his country. He took his first manager's job at League Two side Lincoln in September.

The Imps had got off to a slow start and hoped to still mount a play-off campaign. However, after a promising start, they went 10 games without a win to plunge into the relegation dogfight.

A recent upturn in results has seen City move away from the bottom two, but they remain in 17th and looking at a disappointing finishing position.

Verdict: The jury is still out with Sutton after a mixed bag of results. His greatest test will come over the summer as he tries to shape a squad capable of competing at the right end of the table.

Dean Saunders

Former Liverpool, Aston Villa, and Galatasary striker Saunders was the surprise choice to take over at Conference side Wrexham last season.

He oversaw an immediate improvement in results, but things tailed off, and the side have been too inconsistent to challenge for the top five this term.

The Welshman, who had coached at Blackburn and Newcastle previously, took a major drop to go into the Non Leagues, and patience will begin to run out on him next season.

Verdict: He has underachieved so far at the Racecourse - Wrexham should be closer to the Conference play-offs.

He must use the experience he has gained over the last 18 months next season though. If he does, then he has the chance to lead the Welsh club back into the Football League.

Justin Edinburgh

Edinburgh played for over a decade at Tottenham, winning both the FA and League Cups, but chose to start his managerial career in the depths of Non League.

After a spell as player-manager at Billericay, he moved onto Fisher Athletic and Grays before taking over his current job as manager of Rushden & Diamonds last year.

Has surprised many by overseeing a successful season at the Northamptonshire outfit as they challenge for the the play-offs in the Conference Premier.

Verdict: Promoted at Fisher, got rid of by trigger-happy Grays for only achieving mid-table mediocrity, Edinburgh is now showing his worth at Nene Park.

Still has much to learn, but has shown a willingness to progress up the divisions - which is a good sign. Could have a promising career ahead of him.

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