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Monday, June 14, 2010

Short back, and Fides

As Notts County appoint former captain Craig Short as their new boss, Nobes considers why clubs often put their faith in ex-players to fill their managerial vacancy.

New Notts boss Craig Short has been managing in Hungary with Ferencvaros

When football clubs look for a new manager they're often said to draw up a shortlist of candidates. In Notts County's case, a man named Short came out on top of theirs.

Craig Short to be precise, was a key figure for the East Midlands outfit for three seasons - helping them to win promotion to the top flight in 1991.

Now Notts chairman Ray Trew has turned to the 41-year-old to lead their first season back in League One following promotion last term.

It was telling that, in announcing the decision to appoint Short, Trew spoke of desire to find someone who had "Notts County in his heart."

Perhaps it was a line of thinking understandable after the departure of title-winning coach Steve Cotterill - who seemed to be openly inviting offers from other clubs to move on from Meadow Lane.

There should be no such problems of commitment with their new man though.

Working at a club where he enjoyed happy times as a player - as well as getting his first break in management in England - is a dream scenario for the new Magpies boss.

Short has already had his first taste of management - having spent the past season in charge of Hungarian team Ferencvaros.

However, while an Englishman serving his apprenticeship in Hungary might be an unorthodox story, the appointment of a former player as manager at a club is a common one in the game.

Indeed, it's not new territory for the Football League's oldest club - former striker Ian McParland spending three mostly underwhelming years at the helm before being dismissed last October.

They will hope Short's reign will be of greater success. However, it is striking that clubs persist with the notion that appointing a former player is often the best solution to fill the manager's chair.

One explanation why, as already touched upon, is the matter of loyalty. Cotterill's ambition was always going to make his time at Meadow Lane brief.

Short, with his emotional ties is, Notts hope, more likely to stay with the club should other offers arise.

It was part of the thinking of Burnley's appointment of Brian Laws last season after the betrayal, they felt, of Owen Coyle leaving them in the lurch in their Premier League relegation battle, and for neighbours Bolton.

They trust Laws, who began his career at Turf Moor, to show greater commitment to the Clarets cause and not run at the first sign of a better job.

A chairman also hopes that appointing someone who was popular with supporters will, in turn, gain him some popularity.

The club may also see an increase in interest through higher season ticket sales and bigger attendances to the manager's first few games - all important money-wise to clubs who need every penny.

They will also hope that fans are more willing to cut the manager some slack, give him time, and not be so quick to judge and put him under pressure should results not be so good at first.

Fans will also always respond more to a manager who they feel 'understands' their club - and who better than an ex-player? Someone who knows about the history and traditions of a club, someone who they can relate to.

It's particularly important in the case of a club with a tradition for playing the game a certain way - and whose fans demand it. The hope is that the returning hero will deliver it.

There is also the hope that an ex-player, particularly someone who enjoyed success with a club, will be able to inspire his new charges to do exactly the same thing.

Gary McAllister failed to emulate his success as a player at Leeds when manager

Someone who will show the same kind of passion in the dressing room at half time as the fans do on the terraces - because he knows what winning at this club feels like.

Indeed, with a list like that, you find yourself wondering why every club doesn't immediately look and see whether there's a suitable ex-player waiting to make a glorious return to their old stomping ground.

The harsh reality is that the although although the theory often sounds ideal, it doesn't always turn out that way.

Often the burden of pressure and expectation can be greater on an ex-player returning as manager. Fans will believe the great player can also be the great manager. It's not always the case.

Ask Leeds fans - who revelled in the appointment of Elland Road legend Gary McAllister to replace the unpopular Dennis Wise. The Scot had helped the club become English League Champions in 1992 - but couldn't match his playing success in the dugout.

They lost out to Doncaster in the League One play-off final in 2008 and a poor start to the following campaign saw him given the boot.

Their Yorkshire rivals Bradford City attempted something similar when they dropped into League Two three years ago. Back came Stuart McCall - captain during their Premier League days - to lead the charge back up the divisions.

Or so they thought. McCall eventually left earlier this year, after failing to get the Bantams challenging even for the play-offs in League Two in three successive seasons.

Of course, while there are tales of failure, there's also those of success. Roberto Martinez had never managed before he returned to Swansea, a club he had captained as a player, in 2007.

However, in his first full season he led the Welsh side to the League One title, then followed it up with a top half Championship finish the next. All of which was achieved playing the kind of football normally reserved for La Liga teams.

Ronnie Moore took Rotherham to successive promotions at the turn of the Millennium - a club he had enjoyed time at as a striker in the '80s.

Peter Jackson spent two successful terms as manager of Huddersfield - a club he had previously skippered. It's these kinds of success stories Short will be hoping to emulate at Notts County.

However, the danger remains that clubs can place too great an emphasis on sentiment
when they make managerial appointments. Playing connections with a club are all very well, but is it the most important factor?

For instance, would Brian Laws, a man who had been sacked for leading Sheffield Wednesday into a relegation fight in the Championship, have even been a candidate for the Burnley job had he not played for them?

If the answer is 'no', then why was he appointed? A question supporters of the Lancashire club were no doubt asking as they slipped to a painful relegation back to the Championship.

Does understanding a club's ethos really matter for a new manager then? Does he need to have emotional connections, or just be good at managing a football team?

The answer: both, ideally. Maybe the best example is that of Cheltenham last season. After a torrid spell under Martin Allen, the Gloucestershire outfit were looking for a new manager and turned to Kidderminster Harriers's Mark Yates.

As a player, the 40-year-old had played for Kiddy in the Conference and won promotion to the Football League with the Robins.

His progress at Aggborough had impressed those at Cheltenham and he was a natural choice to help the club's fight against the drop.

It was a fight they successfully won - as well as an appointment that united supporters split by Allen's regime. It is the kind of victorious combination on both the pitch and the terraces which other clubs dearly desire.

As football is an emotive game therefore, then it is arguably the appointment made with both the head and the heart which is the best solution. Perhaps that's the long, and the short, of it.

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