Soccer AM/MW - the home of lively and humorous discussion from the Football and Non Leagues

Friday, June 24, 2011

Flavour Of The Month

Torquay's appointment of Martin Ling as their new boss has Nobes talking about how quickly a manager's stock can change.

Martin Ling is back in League Two via League One and a spell in the Conference

In a rare expression of humility, new Torquay boss Martin Ling admitted that he still has things to prove to people in the game.

For a man entering a division he's already won promotion out of before, it was a refreshingly honest expression of his own disappointment with an 18 month spell at Conference side Cambridge.

Indeed, it could be argued that in some ways, the 44-year-old is fortunate to have been given the opportunity to succeed Paul Buckle.

His spell at Cambridge was hugely underwhelming, as he failed to hit the heights of play off final appearances his immediate predecessors Jimmy Quinn and Gary Brabin both delivered.

After the way his tenure at Leyton Orient came to a close, coupled with his struggles at the Abbey Stadium, it's entirely plausible that the Londoner could have been waiting much longer for another job.

Now though he has the chance to remind people why he was so highly thought of for the the way his Leyton Orient side played their way out of the basement division in 2006.

In the five years since, he has seen his stock rise to the point where he was being linked with a move to a bigger club in Swindon only to plummet to as low as successive P45s.

It is the nature of the managerial stock where bosses who find themselves the current flavour of the month can soon lose their appeal with a few results going the wrong way.

In many ways it's a sad indictment of the state of today's game, where those both on the inside and outside of football are so quick to rush to judgements - whether positive or negative.

From the striker destined for the top after a good goalscoring run, to the young homegrown manager being tipped as a candidate for the national team job after a couple of promotions.

Then again, on the flip side you have the boss in need of the sack after a sticky spell of form or the player who'll never amount to anything after failing to impress early on.

Such hastiness could have long term negative consequences for the game though. After all, fifty per cent of first time managers never get a second opportunity to prove their worth? How can that be right?

By the same token, countless number of clubs have rushed in to extend a manager's contract after a good spell - only to have to pay out thousands of pounds in compensation when they fire him later on. That's poor business.

Not that it's football's problem, but society's in general. This impulsive way of running clubs - sacking and hiring almost on a whim has helped develop a culture of impatience and a demand for instant results.

Of course, it's true to say that some managers do just prove to be flashes in the pan - over hyped frauds who soon find themselves exposed.

It's easy to forget that, when Aidy Boothroyd took Watford into the Premier League in 2006, the Yorkshireman was being touted for the England manager's job. He's now not even in club management.

Iain Dowie was once a rising star in management, but after enjoying a good spell at Crystal Palace he's flattered to deceive in numerous jobs - particularly at Charlton.

Can Eddie Howe expect to follow Harry Redknapp's path in today's impulsive climate?

Others prove to be managers who struggle to recreate their successful period at one club - where everything seemed to come together - in future posts.

Steve Tilson guided Southend to successive promotions to the Championship and saw his name being linked to the then vacant manager's role at Norwich.

Southend tumbled back down to the basement division though, and he moved on. Now, next season, he'll be managing in the Conference with Lincoln - after failing to keep the Imps in the Football League last season.

It's easy to forget that the likes of Gary Johnson and Paul Simpson were once seen as managers whose career were destined for the top. Both made it as far as the Championship, but have gone backwards ever since.

Johnson is now at fourth tier Northampton, via a short spell at Peterborough, having once been 90 minutes away from the Premier League with Bristol City.

Simpson, in charge of Carlisle when the Cumbrians recorded back-to-back promotions, had Preston in the top six of the Championship for the majority of the 2006/7 season.

His career has nosedived in the following years, and is now out of work after being sacked from jobs in League Two at Shrewsbury and Stockport.

It's an ominous warning to some of the current bright stars of management. Keith Hill has left the comfortable surroundings of Rochdale to test his ability at Championship Barnsley.

Paul Tisdale has remained loyal to Exeter, but his achievements on a budget as well as his brand of passing football has attracted the interest of clubs higher up the football ladder. He will surely move on soon.

Eddie Howe found himself a man in demand by an array of Championship clubs after a remarkable couple of years at Bournemouth. He's now at the helm of Burnley, who will expect a push for the Premier League in the coming season.

Howe may well deliver it, but it's easy to forget that he's only a 33-year-old with just over two years experience in his job. It seems unfair to pick on the genial Clarets boss, but let us use him as an example.

If he was to fail to bring promotion to Turf Moor, what would the verdict be? A young manager promoted too quickly? Or a young manager still learning in his job and whom had shown promise earlier in his career which could still bear fruit?

And here's the crucial point. For those who complain about the fact that the England national team is managed by a foreigner, the reality is that there is a dearth of talented homegrown managers for the job.

That's because too many never get the opportunity to manage in the big time, with their careers snuffed out after a bad turn. They climb so far only to fall back down again.

In all likelihood, it will be the Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp who will take on the job in the near future. It will come almost 30 years after he began, at what is now League Two level, with Bournemouth.

What are the chances that Howe will follow the same course though? Will he be afforded the chance to manage in the Premier League or even England? Or will he, like so many before him, never live up to all the promise and potential?

Or, more accurately, never be given the opportunity to live up to all the promise and potential? That's all any manager - whether they've previously succeeded or failed -
can ask for, the chance to prove themselves all over again.

Just ask Martin Ling.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Crossing Enemy Lines

With Sheffield United's appointment as manager of former Sheffield Wednesday boss Danny Wilson, Nobes looks at others who've tried to cross similar divides.

Sheffield United's appointment of Danny Wilson is a controversial choice

A manager whose teams have a reputation for playing good football and with experience of getting sides to challenge at the top end of League One.

It's a fair to suggest that it was the kind of boss Sheffield United, having been relegated from the Championship and then decided to replace Micky Adams as manager, were on the look out for.

Their eventual choice, Danny Wilson, meets the above demands, so does it matter then that formerly in his career he both played for and managed United's bitter Steel city rivals Wednesday?

For many United fans, the answer is undoubtedly yes, with an added criterion for the hunt for a new boss excluding anybody with connections to the Hillsborough club.

They and others will also point to a chequered managerial career for the Northern Irishman, from the highs of Barnsley and Hartlepool to the lows of Milton Keynes and Wednesday.

Add in his mixed fortunes at Swindon and Bristol City and it's hard to know what to think of chairman Kevin McCabe's decision to hand Wilson the task of restoring the Blades to the second tier.

In some ways, having struggled under a lifelong Blades fan in Adams, the appointment of Wilson fits the pattern of clubs choosing a polar opposite to a previously unsuccessful manager.

Even though Adams assumed control with United embroiled in a relegation dogfight though, the need for immediate results is probably even greater for his successor in August.

A poor start and those questioning his passion for, and commitment to, the Bramall Lane club will soon become even more vocal. Wilson's tenure could turn out to be a short lived and very unsuccessful experiment.

He's not the first manager to try his hand at the rivals of a former club though. Here's how some others fared when they crossed enemy lines:

Harry Redknapp - Portsmouth, Southampton

Arguably the biggest Judas act of all time came from Harry Redknapp when both of these Championship sides were still in the Premier League.

Having guided Pompey into the big time in 2003, Redknapp helped stabilise them in the top flight before resigning - unhappy at interference from club owner Milan Mandaric.

He then had the audacity to turn up at bitter Hamsphire rivals Southampton and try and engineer their escape from the drop - maybe even at his former club's expense.

Ultimately he failed to keep them up, but almost a year later returned to Fratton Park to save Portsmouth from joining Saints in the second tier.

That helped convince the doubters who hadn't wanted his return. Leading them to FA Cup glory in 2008 didn't hurt either.

Billy Davies - Derby County, Nottingham Forest

The outspoken Scot took Derby to promotion to the Premier League in 2007 in just his first year at Pride Park.

However, a slow start the next season saw the Rams rooted to the bottom, and he was relieved of his duties.

He returned to the game at County's local rivals Nottingham Forest, following in the illustrious footsteps of Brian Clough, who'd also managed both East Midlands sides.

He saved the City Ground outfit from relegation in 2009 and then took them to the play offs the following season.

They lost out to Blackpool and again were play off losers to Swansea last term before he was replaced by Steve McClaren.

Tony Pulis - Bristol Rovers, Bristol City

Pulis spent the majority of his playing career with Bristol Rovers, with two stints totalling eight years with the Gas.

His appointment as City boss in 1999 was met with hostility by many Robins fans therefore.

Results were patchy, particularly at home where City struggled to win, and fans also become unhappy with the football on display.

The Welshman lasted around six months at Ashton Gate, with fans relieved to see him leaving to take over at Portsmouth.

Peter Jackson - Bradford City, Huddersfield Town

It's hard to know exactly where the loyalties of Jackson lie in West Yorkshire.

Bradford-born, he began his career with the Bantams and captained them to the Third Division title in the '80s.

He also played for Huddersfield during his playing days though, and then took over as manager in 1997 - helping them avoid relegation before stabilising them in the top half of the second tier.

Fans were outraged at his dismissal in 1999 and he was present at the Galpharm Stadium to witness his old club relegated from the Championship in 2001.

He returned as manager with the Terriers in the basement division and took them to promotion back up to League One in 2004 before almost helping them return to the Championship via the play offs in 2006.

He was sacked again a while later and, with a spell at Lincoln in-between, is now back in management at Bradford - whom he guided to League Two safety last term.

Steve Coppell - Crystal Palace, Brighton & Hove Albion

Coppell had four spells at Crystal Palace including, in his first nine years, taking them to the final of the FA Cup in 1990 and guiding them to third in the top flight - Palace's highest ever finish.

The Selhurst Park favourite later spent a year as boss at rivals Brighton & Hove Albion between 2002 and 2003.

He was unable to help them win their fight against relegation from the Championship - including suffering a 5-0 loss at Palace along the way.

The fact Coppell received a warm welcome from Eagles fans though demonstrated how he had managed to retain their affection.

He left Brighton for Reading in 2003, with the Seagulls top of the third tier and making a strong bid to return to the Championship at the first time of asking.

Micky Adams - Leicester City, Coventry City

Adams was at Leicester when the Foxes crashed out of the top flight in 2002, but 12 months later he had overcome the club's financial issues to guide them back up at the first time of asking.

They came close to surviving the drop the next season, but ultimately a succession of late goals helped consign them to an immediate return to the second tier.

A poor start to the next campaign saw him resign from the Foxes - only to turn up a few months later at local rivals Coventry - albeit a side he'd represented as a player.

He kept the Sky Blues in the Championship and an 8th place finish the next season is still their best in a decade at that level. A sticky spell the next season saw him relieved of his duties though.

Kevin Dillon - Reading, Aldershot Town

For fans of the original Aldershot, their rivalry with Reading was a cornerstone of the club's existence.

So when former Kevin Dillon - a former assistant at the Royals during their Premier League era - was appointed as manager of phoenix club Aldershot Town they were less than impressed.

Despite leading them to the play offs in his first year, the Geordie's Berkshire connections - as well as an unhappiness over the playing style - always saw him fail to win around some Shots supporters.

It was no surprise then, when results failed to come last season, that he departed the Recreation Ground.

Gary Johnson - Peterborough United, Northampton Town

Although not one of English football's biggest rivalries, these two are old sparring partners from Non League days - as well as a grudge evolving from the fact Peterborough was formerly based in Northamptonshire.

Despite that though, and the fact that Gary Johnson spent a few months in charge at Posh, his appointment as Northampton manager earlier this year was warmly greeted.

Maybe it was because he spent so little time at London Road, or the fact he came with a reputation for playing good football and having succeeded in the lower divisions with Yeovil and Bristol City.

Either way, Johnson was regarded as a coup for the Cobblers and his time at Peterborough hasn't really counted against him.

Monday, June 20, 2011

It Takes An Einstein

With Keith Hill taking the reins at Championship side Barnsley, Nobes looks at the prospects for the Yorkshire club and their new boss.

Keith Hill left Rochdale to succeed Mark Robins as manager at Oakwell

The departure of Mark Robins from his post at Barnsley has been one of the more surprising managerial changes of the close season.

After all, the 41-year-old had just guided the Reds to 17th in the Championship standings - their highest position in five years since their return to the second tier.

It was a campaign bereft of the usual battle against the drop, with the Reds ending up 14 points clear of the relegation zone and also collecting their most points at that level since 2000.

They also remained undefeated in derby games against local rivals Sheffield United and Doncaster to finish as the highest placed club in South Yorkshire.

The sale to Wolves of winger Adam Hammill, a played signed by Simon Davey but from whom Robins managed to coax consistent performances as well as goals, helped bring the club half a million pounds.

However, a disagreement between the manager and owner Patrick Cryne - believed to centre around the playing budget - saw Robins put on gardening leave and given a year's notice of his contract. Eventually the manager resigned.

In Robins' defence, he can look back on pride at his 20-month spell at Oakwell and could perhaps feel aggrieved he wasn't given greater resources to further improve the team.

Critics will point to how the football on display could often lack the zest demanded from the terraces - illustrated by declining attendances - but he oversaw a definite progression from the days of battling the drop under Davey.

It's hard not to see how his career prospects wouldn't have been enhanced by his time at the club, and Robins is sure to secure another Football League position in the future.

For the club he leaves behind though, the future direction remains unclear - even with a protracted and sometimes messy search for Robins' successor having come to a close with the appointment of Keith Hill.

The 42-year-old Lancastrian has earned his chance in the Championship after orchestrating a remarkable turnaround in fortunes on the other side of the Pennines at Rochdale.

So often the butt of jokes for their prolonged stay in England's basement division, Dale were fighting the drop to the Conference when Hill took over as manager in 2006.

The transformation in results, as well as playing style, was dramatic. Along with assistant Dave Flitcroft, he presided over a surge up the League Two table brought about with a vibrant and attractive attacking style.

That progress was continued with two appearances in the play offs before, finally, Rochdale ended their long wait for promotion in 2009. Hill had written his name into the club's history books.

Not content at that, Dale defied a summer of upheaval in the transfer market and set about taking League One by surprise. They ended up finishing 9th, just three points off the play offs and equalling the club's best ever League placing.

Hill had once again marked himself out as a rising managerial star, qualities that have attracted Barnsley enough to give him his chance in the Championship - in the hope he can deliver something similar at Oakwell.

No-nonsense and straight-talking, there's something traditionally northern about Hill. During his side's chase against Notts County for the League Two title in 2009, he blasted that, if Dale couldn't catch up with their big-spending rivals, the taxman one day would.

That honesty and determination will go down well with Reds fans as he sets about proving that, while following in Steve Parkin's footsteps in swapping Dale for Barnsley, he won't endure the same fate of relegation that Parkin did in 2002.

Mark Robins made steady progress during his two seasons at Barnsley

His approach to playing the game the right way and to attack should certainly provide comfort to fans who famously serenaded Danny Wilson's promotion team of 1997 with the praise that it was "just like watching Brazil."

The board too, in their search for Robins' successor, also recognised that under the former Rotherham boss the football had become "staid" and "defensive." They're unlikely to see something similar under Hill's tutelage.

The hope is that he will deliver both the excitement and results which the Oakwell hierarchy are in search for, in their attempt to escape, what they themselves, have branded a "rut."

They have simply concluded that something different is required: a different approach, a different kind of manager, a different kind of product.

Indeed, in a refreshingly candid communication with fans via Barnsley's official website, the club even drew on the inspiration of Albert Einstein, citing his definition of insanity - doing the same thing over again and expecting a different outcome - as being part of their thinking.

While it would therefore be wrong to suggest they're insane, the appointment of Hill still represents something of a risk - as admittedly does the hiring of any new manager.

He is an unknown quantity in the Championship and will have to adjust to a new club and new playing level at the same time. Delivering attractive football and Championship results also proved the undoing of Andy Ritchie at Oakwell in 2006.

Hill has experience of adjusting to a new level with Rochdale 12 months ago, however. His subtle change in tactics to a 4-1-4-1 formation that brought the best out of captain and midfield general Gary Jones also demonstrates a shrewd mind.

His capturing of young defender Craig Dawson from Non League Radcliffe Borough is also typical of his promoting of youth and eye for a bargain. Dawson is now in the
Premier League at West Bromwich Albion.

The nurturing of talent like Will Buckley, Glenn Murray, and David Perkins during his time at Dale also helped bring in valuable money to the Spotland coffers. They are qualities that should come in use as he works with modest second tier resources in South Yorkshire.

It's hardly surprising either that two of his first signings have been to capture Chesterfield's leading scorer from League Two last year in Craig Davies along with a reunion with Perkins from Colchester.

It's the kind of financial prudence and emphasis on youth that, for a club looking to cut debt and manage its budget more effectively - particularly with a drop in TV revenue from next season - badly needs.

Naturally, such talk begins to raise doubts over the club's standing in an increasingly competitive second tier.

The example of Preston - another club who looked to cut costs with the gamble of a young manager in Darren Ferguson - should serve as a warning. North End will be lining up in League One from August thanks to Ferguson's mismanagement.

No club has spent more years at Championship level than Barnsley, but history is no guarantee of a club's future standing on the English football ladder.

There will be fans too, who rightly point to the success of Burnley and Blackpool - two sides of comparative stature to the Reds - in reaching the Premier League in recent years and ask "if them, why not us?"

In the case of those two Lancashire sides, both defied the financial odds to secure elevation via the play offs - largely thanks to exceptional management from Owen Coyle and Ian Holloway respectively.

Barnsley will be hoping their bold decision to break free of their malaise under Hill has similarly positive consequences. Not that you'd need Einstein to realise that.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Beautiful New Day

After Alex McLeish leaves relegated Birmingham and crosses the second city to Aston Villa, Nobes suggests that his old club could be better off without him.

Alex McLeish brought success but no style during his time at St. Andrew's

Life is never dull supporting Birmingham City. True, the Blues have been shorn of silverware in their 136 year history and are seemingly destined to play second fiddle in the second city to rivals Aston Villa.

However, over the past decade the St. Andrew's faithful have seen their side promoted to the Premier League on three occasions and relegated from it the same number of times.

Add in last season's League Cup triumph over Arsenal at Wembley - the club's first major trophy since 1963 - and City fans have had plenty to keep them occupied.

While supporting them over the past ten years has been exciting though, could the same be said for watching them? It's an important distinction, as well as a major one.

I have no shame in admitting I was pleased to see the Blues drop down from the Premier League on a frantic final day's play. That wasn't because I have anything personal against them as a football club, I don't.

Rather, it was because I didn't enjoy watching them - or their brand of football being showcased on England's highest stage. The Premier League, as far as I'm concerned, is a more attractive place without Alex McLeish's Birmingham.

Only they're not Alex McLeish's Birmingham anymore, with the Scot's controversial decision to quit the Blues and move to bitter neighbours Aston Villa causing consternation in the boardroom at St. Andrew's.

Should it though? McLeish had overseen two relegations from the top flight during his spell at St. Andrew's - usually one is enough to see a manager given the boot.

While there may have been mitigating circumstances in both cases - taking over midway through their 2007/8 relegation year and injuries blighting his squad last term - he must still accept his share of the blame.

The board had made it patently clear, too, that the Scot was expected to lead them back up to the Premier League at the first time of asking - a feat to be achieved while possibly losing some of his top players.

Fans of the former Rangers manager would point to how he did just that in 2009, as Birmingham returned to the Premier League after just a season away.

That promotion two years ago though was achieved largely via a gruesome grinding out of results. McLeish's men managed just 54 goals in their 46 matches, despite possessing an arsenal of attacking options the envy of the division.

Instead, they relied on defensive solidity and a doggedness to ensure their exodus from the big time was a short one. Ultimately, the end justified the means, but success had been achieved with no style.

Their approach to life in the top flight was a similar story. Strength at the back helping them to a comfortable 9th placed finish on their return before last season's slump to the drop.

It was no surprise that, when the defence began to wobble, Birmingham's reliance on eking out narrow victories fell apart. It was the strategy designed by the manager.

While members of the press - who the affable McLeish enjoys a healthy relationship with - continued to laud him, it disguised the reality that Birmingham were a desperate side to watch.

Too often their approach to games was negative and spoiling. They relied far too heavily on goals from set pieces and were badly lacking in any kind of creativity and flair.

Birmingham were shock victors over Arsenal in February's League Cup final

Senior journalists gushing over McLeish's engineering of a turnaround in their League Cup semi final win over West Ham was embarrassing in the extreme.

The Scot was hailed as some kind of tactical genius for his decision to bring on giant Serbian striker Nikola Zigic so his side could pump the ball long to him. It was football from the dark ages.

Their victory at Wembley over a lackadaisical Arsenal was, for all of their endeavour, highly fortuitous. A win for the neutral, perhaps, but not for football. McLeish, as so often in his tenure north of the border at Rangers, got lucky.

There could be no guarantee, therefore, that he would have taken Birmingham straight back up again in the coming season.

Indeed, it may well transpire that the Blues board, currently chasing the £5.4 million in compensation they feel they're due, could be receiving money they would have had to hand out for firing the Scot at some point in the future.

It is no longer acceptable either for those critics who would argue that the 52-year-old's approach was dictated by the resources he had available to him.

Note the contrast to the refreshing and positive way Blackpool succumbed to the drop last May to the tale of Birmingham's grim slide toward their own day of reckoning.

The choice to play dull, to be negative, was just that - a choice. The manager's choice. Pundits bemoaned Blackpool's demise. Nobody shed a tear for the Blues.

While they will never match City for their history or fan base, it is only positive for English football that Roberto Martinez's Wigan survived to keep entertaining fans with their stylish approach to the beautiful game.

However, McLeish's defection to Villa Park now provides City with an opportunity to try something different and embrace the direction football in this country is now going in.

The success of last season's promoted trio from the Championship, three sides in QPR, Norwich, and Swansea who played good football - should serve to inspire them.

The appointment of the next manager at St. Andrew's must signal the start of a culture change from the stale football played under both McLeish and his predecessor, Steve Bruce.

It's the reason names like Portsmouth's Steve Cotterill would be a terrible retaining of the status quo in the second city. Now is the time for a courageous and bold decision made for the long term.

After all, a side can grind and bore their way to the top flight - just as McLeish's crop of 2009 did - but where's the fun in that? Is it really a price worth paying just to be part of the Premier League elite?

In the coming season, Blues will come face-to-face with clubs who have taken such an approach and given progressive, young talent an opportunity to shine.

From Keith Hill at Barnsley, being given the chance to impress at a higher level after rejuvenating Rochdale, to Gus Poyet's upwardly mobile and easy-on-the-eye Brighton.

The precocious Eddie Howe is settling into life at Burnley and Southampton are once again on the rise with Nigel Adkins at the helm. The talent is out there. The chance to change their ways has presented itself.

McLeish's departure could actually be a blessing in disguise. It's up to Birmingham to make it so.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Everything Must Go

Nobes on West Ham United's attempts to gain an instant return to the Premier League under the controversial guidance of Sam Allardyce.

Sam Allardyce advocates an "Up and at 'em" approach to the game

The theory goes that a side relegated from the Premier League is likely to lose many of its top players. Some leave of their own accord - wishing to remain in the top flight and unwilling to slum it in the Championship.

Others are let go, high wage earners who present a luxury no longer affordable when you've lost your seat on English's football gravy train.

For relegated West Ham it's not a new scenario. Back in 2003, the last time they found themselves back in the Championship, they lost the services of many of the young players that had promised a bright future in London's East End.

The likes of Joe Cole, Jermain Defoe, and Glen Johnson all upped sticks from Upton Park. Michael Carrick hung around for another year, but wasn't willing to spend two seasons outside the elite.

This time, it's names such as Scott Parker, Robert Green, and Matthew Upson - all England internationals - who could well flee United's sinking ship. The great sale is on. Everything must go.

By appointing Sam Allardyce as the club's new manager though, the question has to be asked whether West Ham have sold something even more valuable than their star players - their principles.

The club of Billy Bonds, John Lyall, and Ron Greenwood have opted for a man whose approach to playing football has been described most kindly as "ugly."

This is the Academy of Football, the team for whom the likes of Bobby Moore, Trevor Brooking, Martin Peters, and Geoff Hurst donned the famous claret and blue shirt.

A club with a proud history, fanatical support, and a philosophy of playing the game the right way - win, lose, or draw.

A club which, upon relegation in 2003, turned to Alan Pardew, a young manager with the same belief in playing good football, to restore their top flight status. He did so at the second time of asking as play off winners in 2005.

Why then have they seemingly thrown away years of commitment to the beautiful game, of an approach admired and respected among English fans, and teamed with up Allardyce?

On the face of it, owners David Gold and David Sullivan have turned to a man with vast experience and Premier League pedigree.

At Bolton he cemented the Lancashire side in the top flight, turning them into a top half team who regularly upset richer and more illustrious opponents.

He went into Blackburn with the club struggling against relegation and saved them from the drop before stabilising them in mid table. His sacking in December last year by Rovers's new Indian owners appeared harsh.

The 56-year-old can also point to promotion experience out of the Championship with Bolton in 2001. However, that was the last time he managed outside the Premier League.

England's second tier is a much-changed division since then and, while Allardyce's more agricultural methods may have been the norm a decade ago, successful sides in the Championship of late have tended to be more cultured.

Even an old warhorse in Neil Warnock, who lead QPR to the Championship title last season, recognised that changing his ways to build a side not only high in steel but also in style was the way forward.

It's been the trend in recent years for footballing sides to be able to thrive in the Championship, which makes West Ham's decision to appoint a manager with a reputation for the long ball game all the more perplexing.

Alan Pardew took West Ham back into the Premier League in 2005

Their experience under Pardew alone should have taught them that they could play their way out of the division. Swansea's success last season, too, was evidence enough of how you can play the game the right way and still thrive.

Allardyce insists he's aware of West Ham's traditions and has promised to play a "passing game" at home while being "tough and utterly resilient" on the road.

It's the kind of positive spin Alastair Campbell - a fan of the other half of Championship's claret and blue contingent in Burnley - would be proud of.

Fans of Allardyce - once considered a contender for the England manager's job - point to his use of sports science and the latest technology as reasons against his "dinosaur" tag.

The truth remains though that his football at heart is direct, physical, and relies heavily on brute force and an expertise from dead ball situations.

It is the road that the club's owners have chosen to go down - as they proudly seek to maintain their record of recovering immediately from relegation to the Championship, as they twice managed while owners at Birmingham.

The fact that in both instances they decided to retain the services of the manager who'd failed to keep them in the Premier League somewhat makes a mockery of their suggestion that they know what it takes to bounce back instantly.

In hiring Allardyce though, Messrs Gold and Sullivan have made a pact of almost Faustian quality. Just as Allardyce's football targets the quickest route to goal, the swiftest return to the riches of the Premier League is West Ham's sole intention.

It begs the question that if Premier League status at all costs was their philosophy, why Allardyce wasn't appointed in January when rumours abounded about the future of then United boss Avram Grant?

The beleaguered Israeli was supposed to have been replaced by Martin O'Neill, only for the former Celtic boss to decide against returning to the game at Upton Park. Grant remained in post until his inevitable firing after relegation was confirmed.

Had they hired Allardyce though, his brand of football so effective in a relegation scrap may have been enough to prevent Championship football for 2011/12.

Now West Ham must hope it will be the catalyst for promotion. Whether the kind of tactics employed to rough-up the Premier League big boys will prove as effective in the Championship is another matter though.

The East Londoners will find themselves one of the most attractive scalps for second tier opponents relishing taking them on. It will pose Allardyce with an unfamiliar challenge when sides come to Upton Park to park the proverbial bus.

As Chris Coleman discovered, there's a distinct difference between survival football and promotion football. While he was able to sustain top flight at Fulham he struggled to mount any kind of promotion charge at Coventry.

Keeping a side in the Premier League is an altogether different task to getting a side into it in the first place. Stating he'll try to play the 'West Ham way' has also seen Allardyce put himself in a corner all of his own making.

Repeating his unsuccessful short reign at Newcastle - another club with passionate and demanding followers - where he never managed to win round a sceptical Geordie audience will undoubtedly be a fear.

He must hope that the club that will soon call the Olympic Stadium their home will remember the season is a marathon and not a sprint.

Not that frequent chopping and changing managers is something the Hammers have participated in over the years. Allardyce must rely on that being one thing which will remain the 'West Ham way.'

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Come In Out Of The Rain

Nobes looks at the rehabilitation process of former England coach Steve McClaren after he replaces Billy Davies at Nottingham Forest.

Steve McClaren endured a difficult spell as coach of the England national team

It's a night that is forever etched into the memory of English football fans: the sight of Steve McClaren shielding himself under an umbrella on the Wembley touchline.

"The Wally with the Brolly," was the barb aimed in his direction, after a 3-2 defeat to Croatia saw him fail in his attempts to steer England to Euro 2008.

While the umbrella may have protected the 50-year-old from the elements on a miserable
- in every sense of the word - night at Wembley in November 2007, it couldn't stop the barrage of abuse that came McClaren's way.

Nor could it halt the inevitable sequence of events. The former Manchester United assistant was swiftly dismissed by the Football Association for failing to take the national team to a tournament for the first time in fourteen years.

Now, he is in danger of joining the likes of Burgess Meredith and Patrick MacNee on a short list of people most readily identified for carrying around an umbrella with them.

However, his appointment as Billy Davies's successor at Nottingham Forest provides him with the chance to continue rebuilding a reputation which took a severe knocking and get a once promising managerial career back on track.

His arrival in the East Midlands comes via a spell on the continent enjoying mixed fortunes as he embraced the European game.

First in Holland, he took unfashionable FC Twente to the first Eredivisie crown in their history. In doing so, he followed in the footstep of Sir Bobby Robson, who left England to enjoy similar success at PSV Eindhoven in 1992.

Last season he spent a few months at German side Wolfsburg, but found himself unable to replicate success in the Low Countries in Lower Saxony.

Now, with parts of the country officially declared as being in drought last week, it's tempting to suggest that he couldn't have chosen a better time to return to the English game. He's unlikely to need any shelter in the current climate.

In many ways, the move to Forest, when a return to Twente was also a possibility, is a reflection of a man with a point to prove - and who's confident he can do just that. Returning to Holland would have been the easy choice.

He should also be applauded for choosing to return to the English game outside the Premier League. Albeit, the expectation on him will be to swiftly take Forest back into the top flight.

This from a man roundly chastised by the press during his time as England manager. From unconvincing displays and bizarre tactical choices to his habit, at times, of acting more like the players' friend than their boss.

His almost ubiquitous smile - when most of the country were feeling like doing anything but smiling - also provided further ammunition for media hounds just waiting for the Yorkshireman to fail.

However, he didn't become a bad manager overnight. History forgets that the England side that took to the field against Croatia were missing many of its key men.

Had they managed even a draw then the national side would have gone to Austria and Switzerland the next summer.

McClaren would probably have remained in his post and his reputation would be no worse than any other England manager who has failed to win a tournament.

As it was though, there was something almost poetic about the way the curtain came down on his reign during an evening of mishaps in the rain at Wembley. Not so much God's tears, as England's.

The nation held its breath - as attention turned to how rivals Russia were doing and the grim reality dawned that England were now relying on a favour from minnows Andorra. Unsurprisingly, none was forthcoming.

McClaren began rebuilding his reputation by taking FC Twente to the Dutch title

He will receive no favours at the City Ground either. While managing Forest will attract nowhere near the same media scrutiny he received as England coach, he is under great pressure to deliver promotion.

Not since 1999 have Forest played in the top flight. It's been a spell which has seen the two-times European Cup winners even spend three years in League One.

His predecessor Billy Davies, a volatile figure at the best of times, seemed to be navigating the club back on a course towards the Premier League, with back-to-back play off finishes.

However, defeat in successive years to Blackpool and Swansea at the semi final stage - allied to a fractious relationship with chairman Nigel Doughty and the board at the City Ground - saw Davies relieved of his duties.

The Scot - who has never failed during a full season to guide a side into the Championship's top six - is a formidable act for McClaren to follow. At the very least, Forest will be expected to finish in the top six again.

Not that they're assured to. He is entering arguably one of the most competitive divisions in European football - without any prior experience of managing at that level.

A sound time in charge at Middlesbrough in the top flight - including taking them to League Cup glory in 2005 followed by the UEFA Cup final in 2006 - should offer Forest fans cause for optimism.

None of it will be any guarantee of success on his return to the English domestic game though. True, Kevin Keegan returned from his time with England to lead Manchester City to the second tier title in 2002.

However, Graham Taylor - the last manager before McClaren to not take the national side to a major tournament - failed to guide Woverhampton Wanderers to top fight promotion on his return to management in 1994.

As Taylor found on his arrival at Molineux, McClaren's first mission may well be to simply win around some Forest fans who will hold his failings as England manager against him.

If rumours are to be believed both Blackburn and, most recently, Aston Villa decided against appointing McClaren fearing a backlash from supporters.

Emotions run deep when it comes to the national team - and arguably even deeper for club sides. It's the nightmare at Wembley, not Middlesbrough's success at the Millennium Stadium, which will be freshest in some Forest's fans minds.

Hitting the ground running will be essential in convincing supporters that he is a better manager for his time abroad, and than his time with England showed.

In doing so, he will seek to restore Forest to the level they feel they belong at, as well as his reputation. His task now is to do what Davies couldn't - and take Forest the extra step.

To do so he'll have to hold off the challenge of the likes of former club Boro, as well as resurgent forces in the guise of fellow former top flight sides Leeds, Ipswich, and Southampton.

The relegated trio of Blackpool, Birmingham, and West Ham United will all hope to be in contention for an instant Premier League return too.

There's sure to be added spice as well as he competes against local rivals Leicester, under the management of his former England mentor Sven-Goran Eriksson, one of the favourites for promotion.

If he succeeds in his recovery mission, then this corner of the East Midlands, if not the rest of the country, will be ready to forgive him for his England sins.

Who knows, if the sun shines for him at the City Ground, he may even be tempted to bring out the parasol.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Editorial 16

Hello Soccer AM/MW followers.

You may have noticed things have gone slightly quiet here at Soccer AM/MW over the past few weeks.

That can partly be attributed to the fact that the season is over, as well as a technological meltdown affecting yours truly. A lesson, if ever there needed to be one, in not keeping an open bottle of Irn Bru next to a computer.

We also made the unconventional step of refusing to cover the play offs - simply because all three of our clubs have suffered so much pain and misery in them that we don't want to anymore.

We're also far too petty minded to want to have congratulate Deadly Darren on his promotion.

Well, things will unsurprisingly be quieter over the summer as we take some well earned weeks of vacation. We might rear our head every so often, so stay tuned to that place where all the super injunctions are revealed for any updates.

And of course, we'll be back for the new season as well. Albeit looking slightly different.

It can't have escaped your notice that the coalition government is in the process of making some rather deep cuts in public services, and we too have felt their axe.

I myself made the trip down to London to discuss cutbacks at Soccer AM/MW towers. Initially I thought I was off to pay a visit to Dave at Number 10 for cucumber sandwiches and tea.

Instead they directed me to the Secretary for Culture, Media, Olympics, and Sport - a man called Jeremy Hunt. Apparently he's referred to by another name by BBC employees.

Still, it was a relief because I don't like cucumber sandwiches or tea, and Jezza's more of a coffee and digestive biscuit guy. Cheryl Cole would have been proud.

After some coffee and chewing the fat - sounds like a disgusting combination, I know - I managed to spare Lakes the chop. Unfortunately though, the likes of the Big Match have not been spared, so we'll be looking slightly more svelte in the future.

We haven't ruled out the possibility of hiring some lackey for nowt and making him work on the site though under the disguise of The Big Society. Everyone else is doing it, so why not us I thought?

Have a good summer.


Friday, June 10, 2011

Managerial Sackings Review

In total, 38 managers left clubs during the past season - 25 of them were sackings.

How many of those managerial changes actually worked though? Or were they just a case of trigger happy chairmen pushing the panic button to no effect?

Nobes analyses every managerial sacking in the Football League this season.

Sheffield United - August 14

OUT: Kevin Blackwell
IN: Gary Speed

United underperformed in missing out on the top six last season and an opening day draw followed by a 3-0 home loss to QPR saw the axe fall on Blackwell.

He was replaced by coach Gary Speed who hardly improved matters before leaving to manage Wales. Micky Adams came in but by then the Blades were struggling badly and ended up relegated to League One.

Verdict: Nonsensical. Giving Blackwell the summer and then sacking him after two games was a farce. He should have gone during the close season or been given more time.

Southampton - August 30

OUT: Alan Pardew
IN: Nigel Adkins

Verdict: A harsh sacking, as Pardew had done a good job during his time at St. Mary's.

They redeemed themselves by appointing a proven boss in Adkins though and he duly delivered the expected promotion back to the Championship. Ruthlessly effective.

Leicester City - October 1

OUT: Paulo Sousa
IN: Sven-Goran Eriksson

Verdict: Sousa had been poached from Swansea but a poor start where his brand of football took time to have an impact, coupled with new owners at the club, saw him dismissed.

The experienced Eriksson oversaw an improvement and Leicester have the big name boss to match their lofty ambitions of establishing themselves back in the top flight.

Hereford United - October 4

OUT: Simon Davey
IN: Jamie Pitman

Verdict: Davey paid the price for walking out on Darlington and making the move back up to League Two at Edgar Street.

The Bulls struggled badly for goals and points and he was jettisoned with them propping up the rest. Physio Jamie Pitman proved his healing powers to gradually steer United away from the bottom two.

Notts County - October 24

OUT: Craig Short
IN: Paul Ince

Verdict: Another season of ridiculous managerial turnover at County began with the sacking of summer appointment Craig Short after a steady start to their third tier campaign.

Notts expected more and former Blackburn boss Paul Ince was given the task of delivering it. A good FA Cup run apart, he didn't.

Bristol Rovers - December 15

OUT: Paul Trollope
IN: Dave Penney

Verdict: Paul Trollope failed to arrest the slide in form at the Memorial Stadium which had begun the previous campaign.

He was given the boot and Dave Penney was charged with hauling the sinking Gas out of the bottom four in League One.

Preston North End - December 29

OUT: Darren Ferguson
IN: Phil Brown

Verdict: A risky appointment the previous season cost Preston, as Darren Ferguson's lightweights found their porous backline rooting them to the foot of the Championship.

He was replaced by Phil Brown who took time to rally his troops before a late surge gave North End hope. They fell short in the end, and were left cursing making their change too late.

Burnley - December 29

OUT: Brian Laws
IN: Eddie Howe

Verdict: Laws had been a shock selection as Burnley boss and, after failing to keep them in the Premier League, he never convinced as he tried to get them back up.

In came highly rated Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe who helped engineer an immediate upturn followed by a sticky spell. In the end, they fell short of their goal of a top six spot. Hopes are high for Howe next year though.

Crystal Palace - January 1

OUT: George Burley
IN: Dougie Freedman

Verdict: Palace only escaped the drop on the final day of the previous season, and once again found themselves embroiled in a relegation fight under the experienced George Burley.

Eagles legend Dougie Freedman was drafted in and, aided by excellent home form, managed to navigate Palace to Championship safety for another year.

Barnet - January 1

Mark Stimson
IN: Paul Fairclough

Verdict: Mark Stimson always appeared a gamble to take charge at Underhill and a poor away record and ineffective team saw the Bees struggling in the relegation zone.

Fairclough assumed control, followed by Martin Allen and finally Guiliano Grazioli as Barnet saved their Football League status on the very last day of the campaign.

Walsall - January 4

OUT: Chris Hutchings
IN: Dean Smith

Verdict: The Saddlers appeared dead and buried and destined for League One when Hutchings departed. It all seemed too little too late.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man though. Smith orchestrated an incredible turnaround in results. The Saddlers, on the bottom for so long, ended up a point above the relegation zone after a great escape.

Stockport County - January 4

OUT: Paul Simpson
IN: Peter Ward

Verdict: Financially troubled County were always expected to struggle in League Two, so the decision to sack Paul Simpson with the club outside the drop zone appeared harsh.

Ward took over as caretaker, a role he held for four months before Ray Mathias replaced him. By then, the Hatters were rock bottom and relegation to the Conference just waiting to be confirmed. It was.

Charlton Athletic - January 4

OUT: Phil Parkinson
IN: Chris Powell

Verdict: Athletic were play off losers the previous season, and were in contention for the top six again when Parkinson found himself dismissed by the club's new owners.

Charlton hero Powell was his replacement but, after a bright start, he oversaw a second half of the season slump which saw end up in the bottom half.

The appointment may have appeased fans, but Powell has struggled to prove that taking the gamble on him is going to pay off.

Ipswich Town - January 7

OUT: Roy Keane
IN: Paul Jewell

Verdict: Eighteen months of underachievement under Roy Keane eventually saw the fiery Irishman given his P45 from Portman Road.

Seasoned Championship campaigner Jewell succeeded him and fortunes improved on the pitch. Expectations for a promotion challenge next season under him seem well grounded.

Aldershot Town - January 10

OUT: Kevin Dillon
IN: Dean Holdsworth

Verdict: Despite leading the Hampshire outfit into the League Two play offs the previous term, Dillon never won around fans at the Recreation Ground.

With the Shots sliding down the table he was issued with his marching orders and Newport's Holdsworth brought in to replace him. He helped stabilise things and lead the club to a comfortable mid table finish.

Peterborough United - January 11

OUT: Gary Johnson
IN: Darren Ferguson

Verdict: Posh were League One's entertainers, with goals flowing at both ends under Johnson. However, with hopes high of an immediate return to the Championship, he parted company with the club after a poor run.

Ferguson returned to London Road - where he'd made his name - gaining more wins and clean sheets and taking them to promotion in the play off final.

Sheffield Wednesday - February 3

OUT: Alan Irvine
IN: Gary Megson

Verdict: A bright start gave way to a struggle and, after the takeover at Hillsborough by Milan Mandaric, Alan Irvine was soon on his way with a top six challenge fading.

However, his replacement, Owls legend Megson, failed to bring fresh impetus and Wednesday ended up in the bottom half. The pressure's on for much better next season.

Brentford - February 3

OUT: Andy Scott
IN: Nicky Forster

Verdict: An up and down season saw Scott's successful spell in charge at Griffin Park brought to an end amid fan disenchantment with the football on display.

Forster took over as caretaker, leading the Bees to a top half finish and an appearance at Wembley where they lost to Carlisle in the JPT Final.

Northampton Town - March 2

OUT: Ian Sampson
IN: Gary Johnson

Verdict: Sampson oversaw a famous night for the Cobblers with a win over Liverpool at Anfield in the League Cup.

They struggled badly for results in League Two though and, with Town slipping down the standings, Sampson was relieved of his duties to avoid them dropping down.

In came Johnson, who failed to improve matters. Wins in their final two matches eventually saw them safe though.

Bristol Rovers - March 7

OUT: Dave Penney
IN: Stuart Campbell

Verdict: Penney was in charge for just 13 games at Rovers, a run which saw them sink even deeper into the relegation mire after Paul Trollope's departure.

He was swiftly removed, and Campbell took on a player-manager role - he was unable to prevent relegation to League Two though.

Coventry City - March 14

OUT: Aidy Boothroyd
IN: Andy Thorn

Verdict: One of English football's most trigger happy teams lived up to their reputation with one win in 16 leading to Boothroyd departing after less than a year in charge.

Thorn took over as caretaker and City, who had been top six challengers before Christmas, eventually saw themselves safe in lower mid table - enough to earn him the full time gig.

Scunthorpe United - March 16

OUT: Ian Baraclough
IN: Alan Knill

Verdict: The Iron had put faith in coach Baraclough to replace Nigel Adkins, but the rookie's ugly brand of football combined with a relegation struggle led to his sacking.

Knill joined his former club from Bury, but came in much too late to help keep Scunny in the Championship.

Port Vale - March 21

OUT: Jim Gannon
IN: Mark Grew

Verdict: Gannon had been appointed following Micky Adams' decision to leave Vale for Sheffield United. However, he never won around directors, staff, players, or fans.

As their top seven challenge flagged, he was given the boot and Grew promoted to caretaker. The Valiants failed to make the play offs though, and Adams has now returned.

Rotherham United - March 22

OUT: Ronnie Moore
IN: Andy Scott

Verdict: Millers legend Moore had been expected to deliver promotion to the South Yorkshire outfit. A sticky spell of form saw him surprisingly dismissed though.

Scott eventually suceeded him, but by then United were already looking unlikely to claim a play off spot. He will be under pressure to deliver the goods in 2011/12.

Notts County - April 3

OUT: Paul Ince
IN: Martin Allen

Verdict: County's FA Cup run had seen them slide down the table due to inactivity.

When they looked unlikely to make their games in hand on others count though, Ince was fired.

Allen was poached from Barnet and inspired Notts to survival with a late run of results.