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Friday, August 13, 2010

Up For The Challenge

After Steve Coppell announces his resignation from Bristol City and retirement from football management, Nobes considers the importance of motivation for a manager.

Steve Coppell was in charge at Ashton Gate for just two games

On his appointment as Bristol City boss at the end of last season, Steve Coppell spoke about the ambition of his new club and the "challenge" of taking them into the top flight of English football.

However, his resignation just two games into the new campaign - citing an inability to become "passionate" about the role - suggests the 55-year-old himself wasn't up for such a challenge.

It's not the first time the Liverpudlian has departed a club after such a brief stint - he left Manchester City after just 33 days in 1996 because of the pressure involved with the job.

His decision on this occasion to pack in management altogether though illustrates a man who has lost the fire and determination required to succeed in this most cut-throat of industries.

It is the kind of hunger that friends and colleagues speak about in amazement in regards to the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson - who at 68 continues to have the same desire to succeed that he always had.

That passion to continue working in such a demanding and pressurised environment - where expectations are always so high - is not for everyone.

For Coppell working in it, as part of a long-term plan to build a team capable of reaching the promised land, was clearly something he felt he no longer wanted to engage in.

It was no doubt a feeling heightened and a decision accelerated by a poor start to the season that saw City thrashed 3-0 on the opening day at home to Millwall before being knocked out of the League Cup in midweek to basement side Southend.

Of course, there will understandably be a sense of anger, bemusement, and even embarrassment in the West Country at this briefest of encounters. Why, they will be thinking, did Coppell even take on the job in the first place?

Here, his previous record at Manchester City will probably count against him, with observers suggesting he is someone who lacks the bottle and, when the going gets tough, he inevitably walks.

That would be harsh on a man who felt, after leaving Reading in 2009 and spending a year out of the game, he had re-charged his batteries and was ready for another crack at management.

Perhaps he had to get back on the training field and in the dugout to realise that, actually, it wasn't a break he had required, but a permanent hiatus from football management.

This is also a man who showed loyalty to Reading after relegation from the Premier League. Reports suggested he wished to leave the Madejski Stadium, but the support of fans persuaded him to stay on and try and get the club promoted.

Only after being beaten in the play offs and failing to re-capture their spot in the top flight did he hand in his notice and bring to an end his five-and-a-half-year association with the Berkshire outfit.

Some might suggest that it would have been better had he left after relegation - as he cut the figure of a man drained from his efforts with the Royals.

It would also be worth remembering, too, that Coppell has worked in the industry for nearly 30 years after being made Crystal Palace boss aged just 28. Football management can take it out of even the strongest characters.

Keith Millen and Steve Lansdown will now pilot City's top flight dream

On reflection therefore, his decision to part company with Bristol City early doors could, for all the current turmoil, be beneficial to the club
in the long run.

Just as there is no point in keeping a player at a club who wants to move, there is no point having a manager at the helm who isn't completely committed in his position.

City have able to respond quickly, too, with assistant Keith Millen - who oversaw a good run of results as caretaker last term - taking over permanently. Ambitious Chairman Steve Lansdown will hope it is a smooth transition.

Millen, so long the Number Two at the club to former bosses Brian Tinnion and Gary Johnson, now has the opportunity to take the Robins into the Premier League for the first time in their history.

It is the kind of challenge that requires great drive from a manager - and Millen will undoubtedly be keen to prove that he is up to the task of being in sole command and worthy of the role.

Unlike Coppell he is a man with no real track record who will have to prove the doubters wrong and ensure his first attempt as a manager is a successful one.

Of course, there is no knowing whether he will do a good job or not - but he at least will bring the hunger to succeed that Coppell was, by his own admission, bereft of.

I spoke last season after Southend's demotion to League Two of the need for their long-serving boss, Steve Tilson, to have the required drive for the re-building job at Roots Hall.

A manager only thrives when he is aiming high and pushing himself to succeed in the same way he pushes his players.

It is the same reason why fans should never, despite their disappointment, begrudge their manager for moving onto a new club - even if it turns out to be a wrong move.

Taking a new opportunity at a bigger club or accepting a fresh challenge can help re-invigorate a manager and help them improve themselves. It can even help cure any staleness surrounding his former employers.

That desire to better oneself and, at the same time, improve a club's fortunes are essential to a successful managerial appointment. It's why managers can leave a club in a higher division, or even leave a bigger job, to accept one lower down the table.

Simon Grayson knew exactly what he was doing in leaving Blackpool for Leeds in 2008.

He wasn't just taking over at his boyhood club, he was accepting the challenge to resurrect a sleeping giant, albeit one who were, and still are, at a lower level than Blackpool.

He felt unable to take the Seasiders any further after consolidating with them in the Championship. How long before things became stale at Bloomfield Road and he was simply going through the motions?

Ultimately, it was a beneficial move for both club and fans.

After all, supporters want their manager to reflect the same kind of passion and hunger for the club's fortunes that they do. That's why, for both Coppell and City, this decision was the right one.

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