Michael Farrow's sports blog

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…on the sack race

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Bryan Gunn

Bryan Gunn - Good bloke, club legend, hopelessly out of his depth as a manager

Eleven Football League managers have been sacked so far this season, six in October alone, with three more leaving their clubs to fill these vacancies. The first of the season was Bryan Gunn’s sacking after a 7-1 home loss at home to Colchester. When the BBC’s “Videprinter” resorts to writing the number as a word after, in this case “1-7 (SEVEN)”, you know you’re on borrowed time. The slap in the face would have been that his replacement was the Colchester manager, former Scotland midfielder Paul Lambert. Gareth Southgate was the last, sacked after his team stumbled to victory over Derby County, leaving his team one point off the top of the table.

Firstly, let’s dispel the double-speak, chairman Steve Gibson isn’t averse to moving a manager on, this is just the first time the manager hasn’t gone willingly. When he bought the club in 1994, he moved Lennie Lawrence on to make way for Bryan Robson, making Lawrence part of the process to woo Manchester United’s captain into joining as player-manager. After Bryan Robson’s position became untenable in 2001, his contract was terminated by mutual consent, management double-speak for when you move somebody on and they agree to not kick up a fuss.

Gareth Southgate is a club hero; the loved club captain that led the team to a League Cup victory and a subsequent UEFA Cup final. The latter got Steve McLaren the England manager’s job and Steve Gibson looked to Gareth Southgate to be his new Bryan Robson, not learning from previous mistakes. Kevin Garside states the bleeding obvious, you need to learn how to be a football manager. “Why do club chairman assume that management in football is any different to running any other business? Managing isn’t playing. Being good at the latter is not a qualification for the former.” Indeed. Worse still, why would you play on your club captain’s loyalties to make him do a job he knows he’s not qualified for? Steve Gibson is the best and worst chairman in English football. On one hand, he’s incredibly supportive but on the other hand, he gives that support to woefully-underqualified managers that he appoints. Gordon Strachan is the first manager he has appointed who has managed before. Reading Gareth Southgate’s interview with the Daily Homophobe, he suggests he was appointed after then-Celtic manager Martin O’Neill and Terry Venables, who managed the team as “first team coach” in Bryan Robson’s last season, turned the job down, hardly a rigorous recruitment process.

If we’re honest, this had to be done. Middlesbrough have had a ridiculously easy start to the season and have struggled through. As the table stood when Southgate left, they had beaten only one team in the top half, Bristol City, and still have over half their difficult home games and all their difficult away games to come. Under Southgate, being one point off the top was looking to be as good as it could get this season. However, I don’t see him as doing much worse than most at the top of the table.

In Newcastle, a similar easy start to the season created the opposite effect for Chris Hughton, fully endorsed by the players. I guess it is a question of history and expectations; Southgate managed Middlesbrough to relegation and was expected to turn it around and contend, whilst Hughton was expected to keep things ticking over in mid-table until a takeover was completed and Alan Shearer could be appointed. Now the takeover is off and Hughton is the new manager.

Personally, I can’t help but feel that this could also be as good as it gets for Hughton. A lot of luck, a none-too-taxing start to the season and some superb performances from key players has kept them there. Maybe I’m wrong and he leads them to promotion but I can’t shake the feeling that the permanent appointment and the 18-month contract may prove another foolish Mike Ashley decision sooner rather than later.


Written by Michael Farrow

November 3, 2009 at 11:45 am

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