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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Ideal World

Nobes looks at the managers who refuse to abandon their purist beliefs - and why he hopes they succeed.

Tony Mowbray has taken over at struggling Middlesbrough

There can't have been many more obvious appointments. A local boy done good, a club legend as a player, a proven manager for their division, and an advocate of the beautiful game.

When Middlesbrough parted company with Gordon Strachan, there really was only one choice then - Tony Mowbray. However, it's perhaps the last description which is the most interesting.

Boro were favourites for the Championship title in pre-season, but struggled badly under Strachan - and eventually ending up in the relegation zone.

To salvage them from their plight though, they have put their faith in a manager who, at West Bromwich Albion, was known to be unwilling to compromise his footballing beliefs.

The 46-year-old is a dying breed in management - a purist. For Mowbray it's not just the winning that counts, it's how you take part.

It saw him derided by the national media as he failed to keep the Baggies in the Premier League. Accusations of naivety, incompetence, and inflexibility were directed his way.

How did he expect to keep Albion up when he refused to compromise his beliefs in an open, attacking, passing game?

West Brom were always going to win a lot more admirers than they were points. Their relegation at the end of the 2008/9 campaign was no surprise.

So Boro's turning to Mowbray goes against the conventional wisdom that, in such relegation fights, it's steel, not style, that is required to dig you out of the hole you find yourself in.

Rather they are banking on someone who has the Riverside club in his blood to instill the fight and passion - as well as harnessing the quality present in the squad - required to turn things around.

Certainly Boro do have the quality, coupled with ample time, to get themselves out of trouble and towards the right end of the table.

Even if the top six alludes them this term, too, they can have confidence that a manager who has won this division before will get them competing at the summit next season.

Doing so would be a significant, and I believe much-welcomed, boost to those who claim that football is more than just about results.

After all, if, as so many people claim, footballers are paid so much because they're in the entertainment industry, shouldn't supporters then expect to be entertained at matches?

Mowbray is not alone in his thinking. Indeed, alongside Boro towards the bottom of the Championship are Crystal Palace and Preston - whose respective bosses George Burley and Darren Ferguson are also committed to a certain style of play.

If the managers have their way, their teams won't go down fighting as much as exciting. They play the game the right way, but get the wrong results.

In short, such managers are idealists. They believe in a world where beautiful football can be combined with success. To paraphrase the great Brian Clough - they not only want to win, but win better.

Mark Stimson is in yet another relegation battle as a manager

What about when you're not winning much at all though? It's the scenario currently facing the Football League's bottom side, Barnet.

Perennial battlers against relegation, a summer of upheaval at Underhill after yet another near escape from the drop saw them appoint Mark Stimson as manager.

A new boss, but the same old story. The Bees currently prop up the rest and have the worst goal difference in the basement division.

Barnet fans attach much of the blame to Stimson - a manager who suffered two relegations in his three seasons at Gillingham.

The 42-year-old made his name for the attractive, attacking game he adopted at Grays Athletic. He took the Essex side to consecutive promotions into the Conference Premier, where they were play off semi final losers in 2006.

He also secured back-to-back FA Trophy successes, before taking over at Stevenage and winning the competition with the Hertfordshire outfit for his third successive victory.

However, when the Gills, struggling in League One, came calling in November 2007, the Londoner struggled to make the step up in divisions.

Despite plenty of time, the various players he brought with him from the Non Leagues failed to have the desired impact. Gillingham went down.

Stimson bounced back, taking the Kent outfit back up at the first time of asking, but a disastrous win less away record last term saw them instantly relegated back again - and the boss paid with his job.

It's hard to see why Barnet, a side known for relegation battles, decided to employ someone with a poor track record in them, therefore.

More than that, a huge summer turnover saw Stimson completely rebuild the team - in the skillful, attractive, passing style he favours.

In the rigours and rough-and-tumble of League Two though, the Bees have struggled to convert their attractiveness into effectiveness. Stimson's best intentions are paving the road to the Conference.

That's not to say it can't be done. Few fans can be happier with life at the moment than Doncaster's.

The South Yorkshire side play one of the most attractive brands of football outside the top flight and, thanks to the wily Sean O'Driscoll, continue to punch above their weight in the top half of the Championship.

It is the dream scenario. Rovers need never qualify for the top six and fans at the Keepmoat can still have little cause for complain.

For the good of the game, it is also the kind of scenario which would be most welcome if repeated elsewhere.

While critics may argue that, in such a results driven industry, there is little place for idealists like Mowbray, successful teams playing the right way can only serve as positive inspiration.

Then maybe one day the Ideal World will become the real one.

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