Keith Hill is taking a risk returning to Rochdale
Going back rarely seems to work
25 January ~ As baseball legend Yogi Berra said: "It's déjà vu all over again". Ten years ago Steve Parkin returned to manage a Rochdale team he'd left two years earlier for an unsuccessful spell at Barnsley. Parkin waited a year before he got his old job back, while Keith Hill is back at Dale less than a month after Barnsley sacked him. Hill's achievements in his first spell at Spotland were far superior: two successive appearances in the League Two play-offs, followed by automatic promotion (the first for 36 years) and a ninth-place finish in League One.
Those acheivements make Hill arguably the most successful manager the club has ever had but, like Parkin before him, he returns to a struggling club. Eight defeats in the last ten games made John Coleman's sacking inevitable and the team is almost completely unrecognisable from the one Hill left in 2011. Coleman's "radical squad overhaul", which involved bringing in as many players as possible that he'd previously worked with in his 13 years at Accrington Stanley, leaves only four from Hill's previous tenure, including the reserve goalkeeper and a young striker who has made only eight league appearances.
There are about as many of Hill's former players in the Bradford City side heading to Wembley for the League Cup final – including Gary Jones, holder of Rochdale's appearance record, whose falling-out with Coleman at the end of last season was the first sign that all was not well behind the scenes. By a neat coincidence, under Jones's captaincy – and with Parkin as assistant manager – Bradford become the first fourth-tier club to reach the final since Rochdale, in 1962.
It remains to be seen if Rochdale and Hill are doing the right thing. Going back didn't really work for Parkin, who had three moderate years before his dismissal gave Hill a first opportunity in management. There are a few examples of managers who have made successful returns – Walter Smith (Rangers), Graham Taylor (Watford) and Ronnie Moore (Tranmere) spring to mind – but they are the exception rather than the rule.
Hill's ability to work his magic with the loan system could be critical, especially if he can strengthen the defence, and it will be interesting to see how he copes without his assistant David Flitcroft, who stayed behind to succeed him as manager of Barnsley. The crowd will certainly welcome him back and, with the play-off places somehow still within reach despite the recent poor run of form, it's unlikely to be a dull end to the season. David Emanuel