New manager seems strange choice
3 February ~ Since going into administration in 2009 and losing their League status two years ago, Stockport County have been beset by strife. At the last count the figure stood at seven managers, including the recently dismissed Jim Gannon, two owners and another pair of prospective owners who failed in their bids but influenced the appointments of two managers, the late Gary Ablett and Dietmar Hamann. The club's position just above the Conference relegation zone and the unrest caused by Gannon's dismissal add to their desperate situation.
All of this has culminated in some considering whether folding and re-emerging as a phoenix club would have been the better option. Recent protests against chairman Lord Snape have led to angry outbursts from both camps about where the club is heading.
Yet for all the apathy, there seems to be a concerted effort to turn things around. Gannon's sacking coincided with the appointment of new chief executive Ryan McKnight who, at 30, is the youngest person to hold that position in English football. He made his name as editor of the industry magazine fcbusiness and chief executive for the UK-arm of World Football Academy (WFA), a consultancy service part-owned by former Wales assistant coach Raymond Verheijen and Guus Hiddink. It is McKnight's relationship with WFA that led to the club appointing its eighth manager since administration, the Swiss-born Bosnian Darije Kalezic.
Kalezic had an impressive period in Dutch football with De Graafschap, taking them into the Eredivisie in 2010 and keeping them up the following season. He then moved to Belgian Pro League club Zulte Waregem in 2011 but only lasted six months. This is his first job in the best part of two years, he has no experience in English football and yet he is entrusted with saving the club from devastation: coming back from the Conference North would be an extremely difficult task.
Yet it is not Kalezic's inexperience but the way he was appointed that has raised the most questions. Kalezic was initially contacted by WFA's Verheijen, before setting up a deal-making meeting with McKnight and vice-chairman Spencer Fearn. Kalezic was also linked with joining Hiddink during his time at Chelsea. In essence, it smells of nepotism – something lampooned in a recent YouTube clip featuring McKnight's first interview as chief executive.
At Kalezic's unveiling, which also included his new assistant Stuart Watkiss, McKnight was, unsurprisingly, full of pleasantries. "[Kalezic's] CV explains everything you need to know," he said. "He's highly talented and highly successful." McKnight added that he was determined the club went up the divisions but in a proper manner, presumably by playing attractive football.
Kalezic has said "Stockport is a sleeping giant" and will go back to where it belongs in the Football League. He also praised fans for being faithful and supportive during such a difficult period. "Darije Kalezic's Blue and White Army" hardly rolls off the tongue but he and McKnight are saying the right things in an attempt to placate sceptical supporters. Nevertheless, with what supporters have endured over the last four years, there is little wonder that many are wondering whether Stockport County are once again being taken for a ride. Let's hope that isn't the case – the club simply cannot afford it. David Meller