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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Penney For Their Thoughts

Oldham Athletic's decision to sack manager Dave Penney leads to Nobes discussing the increasingly impossible job of football management.

Oldham boss Dave Penney has departed after just over a year in charge

"He is a very professional and thorough person who ticked all the boxes and who has an excellent track record. We are delighted to welcome a manager of Dave's calibre to Boundary Park."

The words of Oldham's managing director, Simon Colney, in April last year. The Latics had just appointed former Doncaster manager Dave Penney as their new boss.

Just 12 months later, and Penney was sacked by the club after a disappointing season saw them flirt with relegation and end up a disappointing 16th.

"It is a hard job, there's no doubt about it. It's very difficult to compete and the fans have to realise that," said Colney in reaction to Penney's departure.

All of which begs the question why, when he knows how difficult it is for Oldham to challenge on their budget, have the board decided the manager is to blame?

Even more so, does one disappointing campaign make a manager whom he once described as "ticking all the boxes" suddenly unsuitable for the job?

If Athletic fans must face up to the difficulty of challenging in a league with the likes of Leeds, Norwich, and Southampton, then the board must also wake up to the realities of football management.

Even good managers - and Penney's track record deserves respect - can take time to strike the right formula, find the right players, and develop a winning team.

When you're striving to punch above your weight - as Oldham have acknowledged - it's even more important to give a manager time and exercise patience.

Quick fix jobs are few and far between - and are usually built around the kind of ugly football fans loathe.

Indeed, the kind of quick fix job Ronnie Moore did at Boundary Park. Taking a side who just survived in the previous season, and finishing just outside the play-offs a year later.

Of course,
poor season ticket sales from fans, turned off by their Saturday afternoon watching, saw him fired.

What then are Oldham hoping for? Challenging at the top end of the division playing good football? Unfortunately, that's just what they were doing under John Sheridan before he was removed last term.

Sooner or later the Manchester club must wake up to the fact that, if they're to end their 13-year spell in the third tier, they must give a manager the time to build a successful team.

Excessive chopping and changing simply does not work - as we have argued countless times on this site over the last season.

Ironically, I wrote myself just the day before Penney's sacking that, given the club's track record, he would have every right to feel nervous about his long-term future.

However, instead of going down the line of the usual club-bashing, let us take time to think just how the managers themselves must be feeling.

It's all change again in the manager's chair at Oldham's Boundary Park

Quite simply, football management is turning into an impossible job. Unrealistic demands, huge pressure, lack of patience from employers, and job instability. Hardly an appealing working environment.

And a working environment it is. Sometimes it's easy to forget that this game we love is not just a passion for players and managers - it is their way of life, their source of income.

It is their means by which to pay the bills, look after their family, and provide for their children.

Somewhere along the way as fans heckle and boo and jeer after a game on Saturday afternoon we forget that managers - and players - are just human beings.

They're doing a job - and being judged on it by thousands in person and millions on TV. They're trying their best, and yes, like everyone, they make mistakes along the way.

In some cases - they are out of their depth, they need to be removed when they fail, and there is a time that changes have to be made.

However, the key question in regards to Penney and many others is whether 12 months is really a fair length of time for that kind of judgement to be made?

Let's get things into perspective. Oldham haven't been relegated under Penney. Instead, they've gone through a transitional season where they've sometimes struggled - particularly for any consistency.

Should that really come as a surprise when a manager is working with a team that aren't purely players he recruited. It's quite likely he would have looked to ship out some under performers in the summer and bring in his own players.

Only when a manager has his own players and a team he can rightly call his own can he fairly be judged. That might take time, and it certainly requires patience from the terraces, but it's also a fact.

Unless a manager is massively backed in the transfer market - like Nottingham Forest did with Billy Davies last summer - it is impossible to construct a whole new team that is capable of challenging in less than a year.

If such backing doesn't transpire, then everyone at a club must understand that a transitional season is more than likely to transpire.

It might not be great box office, it might not sell season tickets, and it might not get fans excited before the start of a season. However, it is the reality of football management.

Penney's tale is not a lone one this season either. John Trewick was dismissed by Hereford after less than a year in charge. Mike Newell's tenure at Grimsby lasted a little over a year.

Similarly with Brendan Rodgers at Reading and Brighton's Russell Slade. Managers who were given only a matter of months to achieve instant results.

It makes you wonder what possesses them to get back into the game - Slade has already found re-employment at Leyton Orient.

It is why people describe football as a 'drug' - something those involved in can't get enough of, even if they find themselves tossed out by it unfairly.

In effect, it is the enduring lure of the beautiful game. While high on beauty though, football seems to be severely lacking in the brains department. It's time for it to wise up.

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