THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Paul Jewell has always been popular with the football media. Derby fans are not so keen on him, as Richard Barker explains

Last Christmas, Derby County manager Paul Jewell told the Sunday Times that while Harry Redknapp would be his choice as the next England manager, Jewell personally “would never take it; too many blazers, too much politics”. Following his heroic attempts to keep Derby up (played 24; won 0; drew 5; lost 19; for 15; against 56), the thought of Jewell ever being in a position to turn down England is risible. A year after announcing that the national job wasn’t for him, Jewell scuttled out of Pride Park with Derby fans contemplating another relegation battle. So much for his promise: “The pain we are suffering now, I will repay next year with promotion.” He arrived pledging: “I am not here to raise the white flag.” Yet after presiding over the most humiliating season in Premier League history, he also threw in the towel after a rotten ­performance in the Championship.

It marked the end of a tumultuous year. From the moment Jewell arrived, Derby’s season, which admittedly was never much of a tour de force, became an abject exercise in surrender, with the manager routinely blaming everything on his players and adamant to the last that it wasn’t his fault.

Mind you, he was probably clinging to that excuse when he made the front page of the News of the World in the wake of his ­colourful extracurricular activities.

Following the season-ending 4-0 loss at home to Reading, Jewell announced: “I know I’ve got the desire, the fire in my belly and the passion to have a good go at turning it around. Too many of those players haven’t, it’s as simple as that.” The fact that he had not been able to engineer victory in 24 attempts apparently wasn’t part of the relegation equation.

His failures at Derby have been consistent with his track record in management – it’s never his fault. At Bradford, chairman Geoffrey Richmond scuppered Jewell’s plans. Failure at Sheffield Wednesday was caused by the board, the players and financial woes caused by relegation from the top flight. By the time he was through at Wigan he was pointing the finger at the club’s fans. Yet through it all he has remained a journalist’s dream, always ready with a quip designed to ingratiate him with a media keen to laud Jewell as a brand of Redknapp lite.

Jewell’s record makes interesting reading. Despite his inflated reputation, his success has hardly been founded on his ability to get the most out of limited resources. Richmond was not the ideal boss at Bradford, but he gave Jewell the necessary financial backing to secure promotion in 1998-99. Jewell recruited three £1 million players in Isaiah Rankin, Lee Mills and Dean Windass. He also lured Stuart McCall back from Rangers and brought Lee Sharpe in on loan. The team that duly won promotion was hardly a bunch of free transfers and no-names.

His greatest managerial achievement was keeping Bradford up the following year. Richmond might have regarded it as the base camp from which Bradford would strike out to conquer the football world, but Jewell decided he had taken Bradford as far as he could and headed for Hillsborough.

His stint at Derby featured the same sure touch for disaster he displayed at Sheffield Wednesday. He took over the freshly relegated Owls and soon had them firmly on course for another demotion. The insurmountable combination of being forced to sell players, injuries and his personal nemesis Gilles de Bilde (efforts to offload the underachieving Belgian were hampered by the crucial issue of who would look after the striker’s dogs) led to Jewell being fired after eight months.

Backed by Dave Whelan’s millions, Jewell took Wigan from League One to the top half of the Premier League and a Carling Cup final. Yet his last season was far from a triumph. He splashed out on Emile Heskey, Chris Kirkland, Antonio Valencia and Kevin Kilbane, but still presided over an eight-game losing skid. Wigan were almost sucked down after late-season defeats against rivals Charlton and West Ham. They survived at Bramall Lane on the last day, but it marked the end of the road for Jewell.

While he could justly argue that he inherited a Derby squad destined for relegation last year, his efforts at leading them out of the Championship were shockingly inept. His attempts to engineer any sort of revival offered a damning indictment on his abilities. Squandering £1.5m on Robbie Savage set the tin lid on it. Jewell hailed his unlikely looking messiah as “a character you despise when he is playing for the opposition”, before deciding Savage was a character he despised more when he was playing for Derby and exiling him to Brighton.

Derby lost 30 of Jewell’s 50 league games in charge, each fresh setback another opportunity for him to work on the self-deprecating one-liners that made him a media darling. He may have walked away from Pride Park before the executioner’s blade could fall, but the chances are that he will resurface before the start of next season. And history suggests that when the flak starts to fly at his new club, whoever else may be responsible for the latest home defeat, it won’t be Paul Jewell.

From WSC 264 February 2009

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