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Thursday, September 16, 2010

I Can't Make You Love Me

Nobes looks at some of the reasons why managers like Carlisle's Greg Abbott, despite winning games, still struggle to win around fans.

Greg Abbott and Graham Kavanagh - but who do fans give credit to?

If the key to football management is about winning rather than losing, then that applies to fans almost as much as games.

Lose support from the terraces, and a manager's days are numbered. Win the affection of your club's fans though, and you buy precious leeway for making mistakes and not getting results.

To an outsider it can often seem ludicrous.

Managers so obviously out of their depth can receive unwavering support from fans despite their lack of success. Likewise, opposition fans can be left bemused by fans of a successful club who still haven't taken to the man in the dugout.

Sometimes it can be as simple as fans failing to take to a manager's style of play. Despite taking them to the fringes of the play offs, Oldham fans never took to Ronnie Moore and his direct football.

Equally, despite a poor record in the job, Darren Ferguson's philosophy of playing attractive, attacking football seems to have curried favour with Preston fans willing to accept defeats as long as they're entertained in the process.

Buying into a club's ethos, therefore, is key to winning around fans. Any manager who goes into a club like Norwich or Nottingham Forest will find passing football more of a pre-requisite than an optional bonus to points on the board.

Not having any past connections with rival clubs undoubtedly helps too. Bristol City's appointment of Tony Pulis in 1999 always appeared misguided.

The Welshman had enjoyed two spells with City's neighbours Rovers and winning around the Ashton Gate faithful, despite his good record at Gillingham, never seemed likely. A few months later, he was gone.

Another Welshman, Simon Davey, never managed to fully win around the support of Barnsley supporters unconvinced at the former Academy Manager's appointment at Oakwell.

Even after taking them to the FA Cup semi finals in his first full season, his more pragmatic style of play compared to the free-flowing attacking game practised by his predecessor Andy Ritchie never won around Reds fans.

While results ultimately cost him his job last season, disenchantment with things on the pitch wasn't the only factor in his dismissal. He had failed to convince supporters he was anything more than someone promoted beyond his ability.

You know football management really is an impossible job when fans are chanting against you before you've ever been appointed though. Some managers, it seems, come with a health warning.

Ipswich fans protested vehemently against the appointment of Joe Royle in 2001. As well as once playing for East Anglian rivals Norwich, he had endured run-ins with the Portman Road faithful while manager of Manchester City.

There were also concerns about the brand of football that fans brought up on the passing style of Sir Bobby Robson and George Burley would be forced to watch.

As it turned out, despite financial problems, Royle twice led Town into the play offs only to lose in the semi finals. They were also described as the best footballing side in the division by opposition managers, including Preston's Billy Davies.

Although some fans were still happy to see the back of Royle in 2006, it's worth pointing out that, despite significant money spent, the Suffolk outfit haven't finished in a higher position since his departure.

Ipswich fans protested against Joe Royle before he was even appointed

For whatever reason, some fans seem unwilling to give their manager a chance before a ball has even been kicked.

In the really extreme cases though, a manager can achieve results on the pitch, adopt a decent style of football, and work to a budget, and still not win around many supporters.

Which is the scenario, perhaps unbelievably, still going on at Carlisle United.

After Saturday's win at League One giants Sheffield Wednesday, the Cumbrians sit joint-top of the division and are one of only two sides yet to taste defeat in the third tier this term.

All of which should be a glowing testament to manager Greg Abbott. Especially so when you consider United were in a relegation fight when he took over in 2008.

After engineering a final day escape from the drop, he took them to a respectable 14th place last term as well as an appearance at Wembley, where they lost to Southampton in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy final.

However, despite the promising start to this season, some of the Brunton Park faithful are still unwilling to heap praise on the manager.

An American businessman, Dwight Morrow, once joked that the world was split into two groups: "People who do things, and people who get credit." It is something Abbott can probably well identify with.

Despite wins on the pitch, perceived poor PR skills and frustration at his diamond formation tactics have seen some fans struggle to warm to the 46-year-old.

Instead, they put much of the Cumbrians' good form down to the work of assistant manager and former Republic of Ireland international, Graham Kavanagh.

A change to a more positive approach - as well as playing more football - is, they argue, not the work of the manager, but his assistant.

Of course, it's virtually impossible to know exactly where, and how much, credit should be directed for Carlisle's unbeaten beginning to the campaign.

It seems stubborn at best and naive at worst to believe Abbott deserves less praise than his staff though. In the end, the pride of some fans will never allow themselves to admit their initial opinions were wrong.

Ultimately though, it need not matter who gets the praise as long as Carlisle maintain their assault on a place in the Championship over the coming months.

Although, if so, the manager may find himself winning around even his harshest critics.

And, if not, he can bear in mind the thoughts of scholar Benjamin Jowett who claimed: "The way to get things done is not to mind who gets credit for doing them." Abbott should agree.

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