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Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Made Some Mistakes, Had My Share Of The Breaks

With Micky Adams leaving Port Vale to take over at boyhood club Sheffield United, Nobes analyses the appointment and why managers allow the heart to rule the head.

Sheffield-born Micky Adams has returned to the Steel City at United

At times over the past fortnight it seemed the vacant managerial job at Sheffield United was the subject to an altogether different game of The Weakest Link.

Anyone with a connection to South Yorkshire, Sheffield, or the Blades seemed to be in the frame - sometimes with little or no justification.

From a combination of brothers and former Blades - Brentford's Andy Scott and Boston's Rob - to Stocksbridge born Chris Wilder, currently at League Two Oxford, the net for Gary Speed's replacement was cast wide.

In the end, United's decision to plump for Sheffielder and United fan Micky Adams shouldn't come as a surprise for a number of reasons.

After his first two games in charge - a defeat at Burnley followed by yesterday's comeback draw against Doncaster - he will be under no illusions either of the extent of the job he was walked into.

Just a point above the drop zone, United are in a fight for survival, and Adams has been deemed a safe pair of hands to ensure that Bramall Lane is still playing host to second tier matches next term.

The 49-year-old is much travelled and has a solid record in the Championship, too. In 2003 he took Leicester to automatic promotion to the Premier League - where he almost kept the Foxes up.

His time at Coventry has not been bettered by any Sky Blues manager in the Championship before or since either. The Warwickshire outfit finished the 2005/6 campaign in 8th - before he was harshly dismissed less than a year later.

Promotions earlier in his career were also achieved lower down the pyramid at Brighton & Hove Albion and Fulham, and he has left Port Vale in the top three of the basement tier and on course for elevation into League One.

Critics would point to his bizarre 13-day reign as Swansea boss and struggles at Brentford as well an ill-advised second spell at Brighton.

He was also aided at Leicester by the club wiping huge amounts of their debt through their CVA - and still managing to hang onto the majority of their team relegated from the top flight.

Still, his record stands up favourably compared to some of the other names suggested for the job. Keeping United up would be another feather in his cap, too.

The Blades have been in disarray, with the departure of Kevin Blackwell early on and Speed leaving to take over as coach of the Welsh national team.

All of which means, for the first time in their history, the Yorkshire side are onto their third permanent manager during a season.

Adams takes over at the club he supported as a boy at a difficult time both on and off the pitch. While the team clearly needs strengthening, finances are tight and he will require all his firefighting skills over the coming months.

Money may well have been key in the Sheffielder being handed the job instead of Doncaster's highly-rated Sean O'Driscoll.

As well as compensation Donny would have demanded, O'Driscoll would likely have requested significant funds to ship out certain players and bring others more conducive to his passing style in.

In Adams, United have a manager whose direct tactics will be a better fit for the players at his disposal.

Chairman Kevin McCabe probably deduced, too, that a relegation battle was not the ideal time for the kind of culture change they wished to have occurred under Speed.

United are also the only one of Yorkshire's premier clubs not to have experienced life outside the top two tiers in the last decade, staying up is a matter of pride as well as being crucial to finances.

However, while such thinking may prove successful in the short term, it is a cause for further frustration for Blades fans on the terraces.

Their club appear trapped in a vicious circle which always ends up with them returning to the long ball style now synonymous with United.

I spoke after Speed's appointment of their desire to move away from the route one styles preferred by past Blades managers like Dave Bassett, Neil Warnock, and Blackwell himself.

However, just as when they attempted the same with Bryan Robson's appointment in 2007 - when Blackwell rode to the rescue - United are once again reverting to type with Adams.

Just as a long punt forward out of defence can be the safest option, the red and white half of Sheffield appear unable to put down the comfort blanket that is the percentage game.

Now was not the time to take a risk on up-and-coming managers like Keith Hill, Paul Tisdale, or Eddie Howe. The timing wasn't right to take a punt on Paul Peschisolido. Desperate times called for safe measures.

Gary Speed endured a tough time in his four months in charge at United

When will that time come though? Once survival has been achieved, how long before grumblings on the terraces about their manager's tactics become louder?

Adams will need his team to be competing in and around the top six to placate supporters desperate to find the right balance between success and entertainment.

It's the kind of challenge which may have put some managers off. However, when Adams was offered the job, the choice between a fight for promotion and a battle against the drop was only going to go one way.

The chance to return home, to resurrect the fortunes of the club he began his playing career at, to bring success to the team he used to cheer from the Bramall Lane terraces, was probably the easiest decision he had ever made.

After all, which one of us wouldn't want to play or manage our own club? It is the dream scenario - playing a part in bringing glory to our own team.

Indeed, ask another Sheffielder and ex-Blades boss Neil Warnock and, even if he might not admit as much publicly, his most pleasing moment in management would have been taking United to promotion in 2006.

Whatever he does at current Championship top dogs Queens Park Rangers won't eclipse his joy at taking the club he will be remembered most vividly with into England's top flight. It is the pull of your roots.

Blackpool's Simon Grayson had no hesitation in dropping down a division to take over at Leeds - the club he supported as a boy. Promotion last season at Elland Road must have tasted sweet.

Would Colin Lee, after departing from Championship Wolves, have gone to any other basement division side battling relegation other than home town club Torquay?

It's doubtful. Lee triumphed, keeping the Gulls in the Football League on the final day in 2001.

Of course, it can go the other way, too. In 2002, with Hartlepool riding high in League Two, Chris Turner answered the call from his boyhood club, Sheffield Wednesday, to save them from the drop.

He failed and, after struggling to get them competing for promotion from League One, was dismissed. Hartlepool, meanwhile, won promotion without him and then made the third tier play offs for successive seasons.

It was the other way around for Carlisle-born Paul Simpson. Who, after leading the Cumbrians to successive promotions, left to join rivals Preston - leaving those at Brunton Park feeling betrayed.

For one reason or another, local boys are attractive prospects for clubs looking for managers though. Maybe chairmen believe they understand the club better, will work harder for success, or just be able to connect more easily with the supporters.

As with ex-players returning as manager, there is the idea that certain clubs have 'identities' which having a prior knowledge of can prove advantageous when trying to lead them to success.

Steve Cotterill guided his home town club Cheltenham from Non League obscurity into League One during the '90s. He left for Stoke with the best wishes of everyone from the Robins.

Cotterill connected with the people of Gloucestershire, he was one of them. Contrast that, though, with the actions of Londoner Martin Allen who, during his time at Whaddon Road, ruffled feathers everywhere he turned in the Cotswolds.

'Home advantage' has probably paid a part in other appointments, too. Prior to Sheffield United, Kevin Blackwell had been in charge at his home town team, Luton.

Oxfordshire-born Mark Wright was the man chosen to lead Oxford after their relegation to League Two in 2001. Liverpudlian Ronnie Moore was an obvious choice when the Tranmere job became vacant in 2006.

Of course, not all succeed. Sometimes the added pressure of being a local can count against a manager. Sometimes the emotional attachment can prove too great.

Sometimes you don't need any local connection or affiliation with a club whatsoever to achieve success either - just ask Blackpool and their unmistakable West Countryman Ian Holloway.

Not so with Adams. A proud Steel City man who now has his dream, if demanding, job. The rewards for success will be great. Failure - and he will have nowhere to hide.

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