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Friday, May 28, 2010

Brief Encounter

As Steve Cotterill leaves League Two Champions Notts County, Nobes looks back on his time at Meadow Lane and why it's come to this.

Steve Cotterill won 14 of his 18 games during three months in charge of Notts County

At the start of the season, Turls compared the takeover at Notts County to a relationship. The brief reign of Steve Cotterill as County boss can be viewed in a similar context.

The 45-year-old's departure from Meadow Lane came after he failed to sign a contract extension to his short term deal.

It's unclear exactly why Cotterill was unwilling to extend his Magpies tenure.

He rejected overtures from Coventry last week, although he is now being linked with Portsmouth - newly relegated from the Premier League.

He had always been reluctant to be too emphatic on his Notts future though. Quite understandably too - the East Midlands outfit have been on a financial rollercoaster since their now infamous takeover last summer.

That fell through, leaving Sven Goran-Eriksson and their Premier League dream in tatters. They couldn't even be sure of League One football next term. Enter Cotterill.

His professionalism and ability to forge a winning mentality amongst the County squad propelled the team on an extraordinary end of season run - taking them to the League Two title.

However, he was always unsure of just what the future held for Notts under new owner, Ray Trew. Could they provide assurances about holding onto key players? Could they guarantee he'd have funds to strengthen and push the former top flight club on further?

It's fair to say that he was keeping his options open. This relationship certainly wasn't exclusive as he seemed to openly flirt with other clubs. Coventry clearly didn't take his fancy, perhaps Pompey will.

However, both Notts and Cotterill can look back on their few months together as a mutually beneficial coming-together. The club had been floundering in League Two and flagging in the promotion race after a succession of under-performing managers.

For the man too, the chance to take over at County gave him a route back into the game after more than two years out. The former Stoke boss had almost been a forgotten figure since departing Burnley in November 2007.

That was despite a record at Cheltenham - taking them from the depths of Non League to the third tier that proved he knew how to manage in the lower leagues

A solid performance at Turf Moor further illustrated someone who could work on a tight budget and keep a club in the Championship.

As any manager will tell you, too, the longer you spend out of football - the harder it is to then get back in. You are forgotten, your achievements consigned to the history books. You suddenly find yourself yesterday's man.

If you are lucky enough to get another job, you can suddenly find that things have moved on quickly. Cotterill has used his break back in to great effect though.

The chance to take over the best, but underperforming, squad in League Two and take them to a promotion most expected back in August, was too good an opportunity to turn down.

Now County can look forward to life back in the third tier after a six year absence. Cotterill, too, is suddenly flavour of the month - seemingly with his pick of clubs.

Notts chairman Ray Trew must find a new manager for their return to League One

In the end though, this relationship ended, as many do, because neither party trusted one another.

Cotterill didn't trust Notts to provide him with the backing he felt he needed. The club didn't feel their manager was loyal enough and couldn't be kept waiting.

For County they must try and find someone who will ease the transition up from League Two and ensure last year's hard-won promotion isn't thrown away.

There will surely be four teams worse than Notts in next season's League One, but they can't afford a poor appointment.

They were expected to run away with the basement division this term, but it was only when they found the right guidance that their expensively assembled squad began to fulfil its potential.

It is true that the club couldn't allow Cotterill to simply treat them as a 'last resort' if he didn't receive a more attractive offer. However, he will be a very difficult man to replace.

On the face of it then, it is the manager who has come out of this union the better. He will have another chance to manage in the Championship - although he will be up against it if Fratton Park is his destination.

Portsmouth are a sinking ship and in financial peril. The loyalty and backing of their fans cannot be questioned - but they have also been notorious for chopping and changing managers with regularity.

Cotterill cannot be certain of being given a prolonged spell to get things right.

Trips to Scunthorpe and Doncaster will still sting hard to a club that has been in the Premier League for seven years and appeared in the FA Cup final in two of the last three seasons.

Some might suggest that just a brief period to prove himself would be ironic. Cotterill's departure from Notts has led further credence to the thought that, for him, the chance to further his career comes above any club loyalty.

When he took Cheltenham up to League One in 2002, he left to take on the Stoke job in the Championship. Just a few months later, he answered the call to be Howard Wilkinson's assistant at Premier League Sunderland.

Now he has left the club who gave him a route back into football to, in all likelihood, make the jump to the second tier.

Perhaps it is the kind of 'striking when the iron is hot' mentality that is understandable from a man who spent so long out of the game. How often will a chance like this present itself?

However, in an era when managers are always quick to fire a broadside at club chairmen for not giving them enough time, they too could show a greater degree of loyalty and stick with a club.

If not, managers like Cotterill are in danger of creating a reputation for themselves, and no club will wish to hire a manager who could up sticks a few months later - however good he is.

Only through both manager and chairman creating an atmosphere of mutual trust can a football club function properly. Let that be the lesson in love from this particular brief encounter.

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