Manager had short-term impact
10 January ~ As swiftly as it began, Dean Saunders' time at Doncaster Rovers has come to an end. No slow build-up, no fading out over the credits, just a quick scene change from standing by a dugout pointing to holding a new scarf above his head. Both the start and end of his Rovers reign wrapped up inside 24 hours; linked to Wolves, talked to, appointed. The rapid nature of Saunders' departure has meant no time for supporters to forge drawn-out analysis of his time at the Keepmoat stadium, instead we can only go with gut reaction.
Many are disappointed, a small few delighted and several, myself included, remain relatively indifferent. The disappointment being felt by fellow fans stems not from the concern of losing a master tactician, or a significant asset, but fear of disruption to a promising season.
To his credit, after the horror show that was 2011-12 at Doncaster, Saunders has done a very effective job. Despite a huge turnover of personnel in the summer, which saw around 20 players leave, he has established a solid League One team that plays with character and a resolution that has enabled them to grind out results. David Cotterill, Rob Jones, Paul Quinn, Jamie McCombe and Billy Paynter are all strong, tried and tested additions to the squad but the shrewd capture of David Syers shows that there is genuine ability to pick out a prospect within Saunders' "one-of-the-lads" persona.
The problems for Saunders at Rovers came from the inevitable comparison to the free-flowing football played under his predecessor, Sean O'Driscoll. Saunders' style of play this season was set up to be opportunistic; defending resolutely and attacking with pace. It is an approach which works well away from home when the opposition are less inclined to park the proverbial bus – as reflected by the fact Rovers have dropped only nine points on the road – but can make watching home matches something of an endurance test. Saunders' last game with Rovers offered his time on the Keepmoat turf in a microcosm, a dour 90 minutes of frustration punctuated with a moment of brilliance from Cotterill which proved enough to win the game.
Wolves fans, much like Rovers fans 16 months ago, are being told Saunders will lift the dressing room – that he brings character rather than, say, knowledge or tactical awareness. Having guided both Wrexham and Rovers to second place in their respective leagues before departing you would think he would be able to trade more on footballing know-how than that time he lobbed a throw-in off the goalie's back. Football, however, seems determined to pigeon-hole Saunders as a personality. While that remains a trait that owners look for in a new manager then it is unsurprising that Saunders himself doesn't object.
It is no surprise Saunders has left Rovers, like he did Wrexham, to move upwards. In response to this season's comparative success many Rovers fans have been quick to disassociate him from last season's experiment with the agent Willie McKay but he was very much a part of the deal and would have known what he was getting into from the start.
Dean Saunders is a man for short-term gain rather than long-term project, a manager for a quick fix and a decent soundbite. He will, therefore, be an effective manager in modern football. But it also means that when he does seek pastures new, few will mourn his departure. There'll be another like him lurking in the wings. Glen Wilson