In desperate times, call out the old guard.
The appointment of Neil Warnock as manager at Crystal Palace is merely confirmation of the desperate tactic employed by chairmen/owners who then lack the courage of the convictions that drove them to the decision.
It seems that the Premier League is currently beholden to the appointment of young managers from a generation of supposedly progressive coaches. Preferably these individuals will have been seen to serve under the one or more titans from the pantheon of currently working management icons. If this is not possible then one with a similar view of the world and a previous connection to the club is a good bet.
Yet come the witching hour, when these best laid plans for progressive football and a vaguely continental attitude result in the club or players struggling to adapt, and clubs find themselves lurching into the relegation zone, then the panic button is pushed and time and time again the call goes out to the old guard. Often but not always older in years, but generally it is their view of the managers role that is old school.
After another failed experiment with the Director of football & head coach combination, Daniel Levy hit the panic button and went against every fibre of his being and recruited, at considerable cost, the very blueprint of the old school manager Harry Redknapp. Four successful years later Levy tired of having the football side of his club run for him and sacked him. He is now on his third head coach since 2012. Milan Manderic can at least be credited with realising his folly and returning to Redknapp’s well before it was too late. West Ham tried a number of differing coaches following the Gold/Sullivan takeover. Finding themselves in The Championship, and hemorrhaging money fast, what did they do? appoint Sam Alladice. Despite his superb effort in getting the Hammers out of that division, at the first attempt and gaining respectable Premier League finishes, in his first two seasons, the vultures have been out for Sam for a while. Only the financial precariousness of their situation and the move to the Olympic Stadium have stayed the co-owners hand so far.
When Ian Holloway owned up, to having created a mess he could not get out of, Crystal Palace hunted high and low for a way out. After protracted negotiation Tony Pulis was appointed, less than twelve months later and having proven himself beyond his board’s wildest expectations, TP was on his way. Again a chairman/owner could not cope with managers who want to manage. Arsene Wenger recently stated that he would not have a Director of football, his simple reasoning was that managers are responsible for the performance of players and teams thus they must be in charge of them and their recruitment.
Warnock is another cut from this cloth, though not naive enough to believe he can still do it alone, and with an existing relationship with the club that will serve him well. His selection over Steve Clarke however illustrates that again in the panic hour old guard manager is prefered to a perceived head coach. A look at the fortunes, mainly in the middle to lower reaches of the Premier League following the departures of these supposedly archaic figures offers a harsh warning to those with delusions. Bolton Wanderers and Blackburn now struggle in the Championship. Spurs have both sold their best player and spent over £100 million whilst failing to improve on Redknapp’s reign in either style or results. Aston Villa have spent 3 years battling relegation after dispensing with the services of Martin O Neil, interestingly they have now added an assistant manager very much cut from the old guard cloth.
Stoke City may play the role of the exception that proves the rule, managing the departure of one old-fashioned manager, Then employing a new one, to use the structures and benefits built by the previous incumbent, and chairman Peter Coates, together with a huge contact book and wide experience in an attempt to progress the club. Everton too appear to have pulled off a master stroke in their appointment of a combination of manager and progressive coach in Roberto Martinez.
The view of Wenger combined with the implosion of Manchester United following the departure of the very definition of old guard point to the syndrome not being restricted to smaller clubs. Barcelona are struggling to find another who can run an entire club and represent a philosophy in the manner of Guardiola.
In the next few months, as the panic hour approaches, the same decision will be taken by several clubs. Will Utd panic and re install Ferguson, with Giggs, and how many others in the lower reaches of the Premier League will send out the clarion call for an old-fashioned manager able to cope with both the task and its pressures. As the supply of these supposed dinosaurs gets less and less the demand may increase. The success of a handful of new potential managers, in the true sense of the word, may yet save these totems of the English game from extinction.