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Friday, January 14, 2011

Gimme A Break

As Peterborough part company with boss Gary Johnson, Nobes suggests that sometimes taking time out of the game is the best thing for a manager's career.

Gary Johnson's Peterborough had the worst defensive record in League One

Once upon a time, Gary Johnson stood just 90 minutes from completing a meteoric rise from Conference boss to Premier League manager in just five years.

Ultimately, Johnson's Bristol City side ended up losing their 2008 Championship play off final against Hull. After being sacked by League One Peterborough this week, he will be wondering whether he will ever get as close to the top flight again.

Some time to wonder may be exactly what the 55-year-old requires though.

The end of his nine month spell at London Road follows his sacking by City last season after a poor run of results saw the West Country side dip into lower mid table. Now he has two P45s in the space of less than 12 months on his CV.

It was a CV, too, which appeared faultless not so long ago. Having made his name taking Non League Yeovil from the Conference to League One in the space of three seasons, he then moved onto the task of rejuvenating City.

He did just that, leading them to promotion in his first full season before finishing 4th on their return to the Championship and earning that trip to Wembley.

They were achievements built on his philosophy of attractive, attacking, passing football. His teams went out to entertain and, if needs be, to simply outscore their opponents in order to win matches.

When Yeovil were crowned League Two winners in 2005, they actually conceded more goals than Cambridge United, who ended the season bottom of the entire Football League and were relegated.

It comes as little surprise then that his Peterborough side seemed to have the same cavalier attitude in matches this term. Tuesday's evening's 2-1 win over Brentford saw their tally increase to 45, the best in the division.

However, only relegation threatened Walsall have a worse defensive record than the 43 goals United have conceded in 22 games. Fans of the Cambridgeshire side certainly can't complain of not having been entertained this term.

Their side has dished out some hammerings over the past few months, notably beating Oldham 5-2 and Huddersfield 4-2. They also edged a nine goal thriller against Swindon 5-4.

However, they've also been on the wrong end of a few heavy beatings, going down 5-1 to Bournemouth and Charlton, and 4-1 at the hands of Southampton.

Johnson can point quite rightly to the fact that, although his side have been leaking goals, he was actively looking to strengthen his defensive options.

The league table also showed them 7th, just a point outside the play offs with games in hand when he left United - their win over Brentford moving them up to 5th.

Hardly a disaster, particularly for a seasoned campaigner who knows all about constructing a promotion campaign in the lower leagues.

Critics will argue though that, having been relegated last term, this represented Peterborough's best opportunity to bounce back to the Championship and they should be higher.

Darren Ferguson is back at Peterborough - but could he do with a break?

That need for promotion is heightened with other clubs sniffing around their prized attacking assets. One, Aaron McLean, has already departed for more than £1 million to Hull, but with George Boyd and Craig Mackail-Smith still in his arsenal, the side has the firepower for promotion.

Colourful owner, Darragh MacAnthony, who got through four managers last season alone, cited differences on 'policy' for Johnson leaving - believed to centre around the manager's plans for recruitment in the January transfer window.

However, while the Irishman deserves some criticism for the rapid turnover in the London Road dugout, Johnson may well reflect that this sacking was probably avoidable.

That's because, while it's true that staying out of the game too long can be dangerous, so too can throwing yourself back into employment so quickly.

Football may well be a drug that some cannot live without, but less than three weeks separated his departure from Bristol in March and his arrival in the Fens at the beginning of April.

The question is, was getting back into the game so quickly the best thing for someone who had just ended a four-and-a-half-year tenure at Ashton Gate?

Towards the end of his time with the Robins, there were the usual stories circulating that he had lost the support of the dressing room.

Two of Johnson's final home matches had also ended in a humiliating 6-0 loss to Severnside rivals Cardiff and a 5-2 defeat against Doncaster.

It's the kind of defensive fragility which has been the hallmark of his reign at London Road. New club, same problems.

Now, Johnson has not become a bad manager overnight. Far from it. Indeed, neutrals can't help but hope managers with a positive attitude who seek to entertain do well. It's for the good of the game.

However, for the good of Johnson, taking some time away to reflect on his time with Bristol City may have been a wiser choice.

Time away would have allowed him to consider what mistakes he may have made, where things went wrong, looking at ways he could have done things differently and better.

It was striking that Paul Jewell, in his press conference when being unveiled as Ipswich's new manager, spoke about his two years out of the game, saying he had been "re-evaluating mistakes" he had made in the past.

Sometimes jumping right back up on the horse, as Johnson did, is not always the best thing. Sure, it may mean you end up unemployed for a while, but it's not like Championship managers are poorly paid.

Plus, what would be better - taking some time out of the game before getting back in and making a success of your next job? Or immediately taking another job, it not go well, and finding yourself with two sackings in a short space of time?

There is no better example of the benefits of a break than the success of Ian Holloway at Blackpool last term. The 47-year-old spent a year out of management after leaving Leicester in 2008.

Ian Holloway came back a better manager after time out of the game

He returned to the game at Bloomfield Road a changed man - with a new attitude and approach to the game. He had considered why and where he had gone wrong at the Walkers and sought how to avoid it happening again.

He spent time at other clubs watching how they did things - taking particular inspiration from the work of Roberto Martinez when the Spaniard was at Swansea.

He had time to combine media work with watching matches and scouting for players for when he did return. He also had time away to spend with his family, and out of the pressure cooker that is football management.

Holloway came back refreshed, rejuvenated, and re-born. The Seasiders reaped the dividends with promotion to the top flight. Ask their Bristolian boss, and he will speak with positivity about his 12 months in football exile.

Contrast his break with the fortunes of others, including Johnson, though.

Brian Laws was sacked from Championship Sheffield Wednesday last term. However, less than a month later they had, rather fortuitously, found re-employment with Premier League Burnley.

He couldn't keep the Clarets up and then saw his reign brought to an end in December after a below-par beginning to this season.

What did he expect though? Did he really think he had been unfortunate in receiving the sack with Wednesday fighting relegation? Did he also think that his methods were not to blame at all - and sticking to them would work out at Turf Moor?

It's beyond ironic, too, that Posh have opted to replace Johnson with former boss Darren Ferguson. After being sacked by a struggling Peterborough last season, he showed breathtaking naivety in repeating his mistakes when landing the Preston North End job.

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, dooming one team to relegation by throwing together a group of youngsters playing a kamikaze brand of attacking football can be considered unfortunate. To do it twice is just carelessness.

Is it any surprise to see Preston now looking destined for relegation after Ferguson was given an opportunity to wreak havoc at Deepdale.

Unbelievably, with his managerial career in tatters, he has been given the chance to rebuild it at the place it all began

Had he actually taken some time away, and looked at where he went wrong at Posh first time around though, the same mistakes may not have been made again at North End.

Ditto with Laws, whose career, after working his way up after so many years in the lower divisions, has now suffered a significant blow.

There comes a time to resist the temptation of launching yourself straight back onto the market and instead take time out for self examination and improvement.

So, when the opportunity arises and the time is right to return, Johnson and co. can ensure both them and their new club can life happily ever after.

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