THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Sunday 7 December ~

Until recently Charlton Athletic were the epitome of a well run medium-sized club in the Premier League era. Current caretaker Phil Parkinson is now their fourth manager in the two years since Alan Curbishley left after 15 years in charge. Following yesterday’s defeat at Blackpool, Charlton slipped to the bottom of the Championship, their lowest position since 1980. The turmoil at The Valley serves as a warning of what can happen when club boards get drawn into a spiral of appointments and sackings. This season six Premier League managers have left their jobs (only one of whom, Harry Redknapp, left to take up a vacancy elsewhere). Paul Ince is now expected to be the seventh casualty, at another club that had been a model of stability.

Ince filled the vacancy created at Blackburn Rovers last summer when Mark Hughes was lured away to Man City. Sam Allardyce, now one of the leading candidates to replace Ince, had also been favourite to succeed Hughes but his association with Bolton generated opposition from a significant number of Blackburn fans. That resistance might be shelved in view of the club’s current position, but Allardyce appears to have another more attractive option, at Sunderland, where there will be money to spend in January. Blackburn, by contrast, seem resigned to losing Roque Santa Cruz to Hughes’s Man City. Ince was also unable to prevent another of his best players, David Bentley, from leaving in the summer and has had to shop around for bargain buys.

With their team having gone ten games without a win, Ince has been getting barracked by a section of Blackburn supporters and has spoken publicly about what he sees as a “hate mob” trying to drive him out of the club. Given that Ince is black, in an area of the country where the extreme right has gained support in recent times, it’s not unreasonable to think that race prejudice lies behind some of the more vehement verbal assaults on the Blackburn manager. Ince himself seems to think that he is targeted because some people still dislike him from his days as a famously combative player.

It is rare for a manager to move up three divisions, as Ince did in going from MK Dons to Blackburn, and this is only his third season as a club boss so he is still learning about the job. But while Blackburn are a couple of points adrift in the relegation area, they are also only six points from mid-table which is a much better position than the 19th-placed club would usually find itself at this stage of the season. Clearly Ince is troubled by the criticism he is receiving and he might have coped better with some of it, but that too is something that comes with experience. If a manager is going to be constrained by having his best players sold he has to be given a fair chance – but it doesn’t look as if that is on offer to Ince. The last time that Blackburn changed their manager when they were in the bottom three was in November 1998 when Roy Hodgson was sacked; a team that had finished sixth the previous season went on to be relegated by six points.

Comments (3)
Comment by ian.64 2008-12-07 13:39:35

Strange that another manager who's in as much (and probably worse) a quandry as Ince is or as Keane was, one Tony Mowbray, hasn't had as much as a sniff or consideration of concern as to his plight, but then when you're rock bottom of the Premier with little hope of extricating oneself from that precarious situation, and if that club is about as fashionable as a week-old brick of Weetabix left out in the rain (at least from a media point of view), or, indeed, if you're not a celebrated ex-Manchester United player-turned-boss, then it's a given the headlines won't be coming your way.

It's probably a sign of the 'regional hotbed' mentality of the London scribes. Down south it's all Harry-based chumminess, rich clubs and capital nightclub hoohah, up north, it's a strained soap opera with 'passionate' support, Toon 'ethos' and salt-of-the-earth histrionics.

The Midlands? Aston Villa apart, and the urges of some hacks for Wolves to get promoted so that the 'massive, historic club' phrases can be polished up and used on a weekly basis, there's nothing much that can be made of a deadwood area that gave the country Benny from Crossroads, Tiswas and the Golden Shot. Buggered, I think, is the phrase.

Mowbray pretty much engineered West Brom's voyage to the bottom of the table by missing out on those essential aspects needed for survival - striking and defending - to concentrate, with a stunning lack of naivety, on a highly commendable passing game that gets steamrollered every week. The principles of a game that urges the players to use their minds and imaginations, keep the ball on the deck and pass it like there's no tomorrow cannot be dismissed and is an admirable tenet to hold. But Mowbray has approached the Premiership's pitfalls and savage ability to punish even the most faintest bollock with all the integrity of a village idiot.

What's worse, with Ince and Keane the continuing focal points, his headaches and troubles (all nearly self-inflicted) are largely uncommented upon and forgotten by a dismissive media.

Comment by delicatemoth 2008-12-07 18:05:15

Do you stick or twist? Leicester have consistently got it wrong in recent years and the reward has been our first ever trip to the third division. Common sense says stability is the watchword, but if you appoint the wrong manager you need to get rid - for us, Peter Taylor and Ian Holloway could have been sacked earlier, while others might have turned things round given more time. Then again, they might not - the catch-22 is that you won't know if you've got a dud until it's too late.

It's not even as simple as whether they're a good or bad manager - Hodgson was a disaster at Blackburn, so far a big success at Fulham; Plymouth fans loved Holloway; Allardyce was superb for Bolton, dismal for Newcastle; Pardew, Dowie, the list goes on. So what is a beleaguered board to do?

As far as Ince goes, my opinion is that he jumped at the Prem too soon, and to a tough job at that - a club that had been punching above its weight. Career-wise it would have made more sense to carry on building his reputation at Franchise while looking out for a juicy Championship post. But these people have ludicrous self-confidence - just as a player moving to a bigger club won't be thinking he's going there to warm the bench, Ince wouldn't have considered that he might find it tough. He still has a far more substantial record than, say, Southgate or Tony Adams, but his outburst won't impress fans, board or players.

Comment by ian.64 2008-12-08 08:24:06

"Do you stick or twist? Leicester have consistently got it wrong in recent years and the reward has been our first ever trip to the third division. Common sense says stability is the watchword, but if you appoint the wrong manager you need to get rid - for us, Peter Taylor and Ian Holloway could have been sacked earlier, while others might have turned things round given more time. Then again, they might not - the catch-22 is that you won't know if you've got a dud until it's too late."

That's pretty much nailed the problem, and it speaks also of a silly kind of cod clairvoyancy on the part of some footballing media types to think that any boss, no matter how bad or lame his managerial CV is, will turn into a model of accomplishment given time - taking the Alex Ferguson model and thinking that it applies to almost everyone who can wave his arms about in the technical area. That's laziness incarnate. Any old hack would enjoy the benefits of a cushy job if given the sympathy and time that some pundits would readily confer upon them. Bryan Robson would still be employed, dragging down any club to a lower level while protecting himself with the mantra 'I need time'.

On the subject of Ince, I have to disagree that on the point that he wouldn't have found the Blackburn job tough. I think he would've done, accepting certain realities about it. But I think he would've expected the pains and teething problems of getting to grips with the top flight to subside and be a tolerable, sweatless job with little reason to lie awake with concern each night from then on.

So far the problems continue.


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