15 November 2009 ~ For just £275+VAT you can spend the evening of November 17, courtesy of the League Managers Association (LMA), in the company of the 14 living managers who have totted up at least 1000 matches in England. For the majority a key characteristic is persistence. Typically, they have managed at five clubs, with Jim Smith topping out with eight and Alex Ferguson and Dario Gradi having achieved the 1000 at a single club (although Gradi has managed at two other clubs). Another sign of persistence, or perhaps self belief, is the ability to come back from the sack. Most of the records include at least one dismissal, while the majority of Brian Horton’s spells at seven clubs ended with the bullet.
What also stands out is, that despite changing jobs fairly regularly, the majority have made their name through association with a single club, either in one spell or by returning. Lennie Lawrence, for example, established himself with nine seasons and a promotion at Charlton. Alan Buckley’s greatest success came in his first of three spells at Grimsby whereas Joe Royle came to prominence in a single successful spell at Oldham. Inevitably, success, in terms of promotions, divisional titles and domestic trophies, is a factor. For every triumph in the FA Cup or Champions League, however, there are also been victories in the LDV Vans Trophy or Associate Members Cup.
Success has a context and although Dario Gradi’s record includes four promotions for many his achievement in keeping Crewe up and in 11th place in the second tier in 1998 (the club’s highest-ever finish) was their equal. For Denis Smith promotion in 2003 and an LDV Vans Trophy victory in 2005 with Wrexham, as the club lurched into and out of administration, represented huge and surprising success. Association with outstanding spells in a club’s history also helps: of Jim Smith’s 37 seasons in management he is perhaps best remembered for the three he spent with Oxford United, guiding them into the old First Division, before leaving for QPR. Graham Taylor may have had his reputation damaged by his spell with England and a disastrous TV documentary, but is forever associated with Watford’s rise through the divisions in the course of five years during his first spell with the club.
Long-serving managers also have to have a knack for both making the best of what is available and bringing on young players. Despite a reputation as a wheeler-dealer, Harry Redknapp’s spell at West Ham saw the emergence of Joe Cole and Frank Lampard among others, while Joe Royle oversaw Earl Barrett’s development from Manchester City reject to England international while at Oldham. Dave Bassett did well with limited squads at both Wimbledon and Sheffield United while Dario Gradi revived the careers of David Platt and Robbie Savage, both having been released by Man Utd. In a slightly different way, Graham Turner’s ability to manage with what he had available meant that in 14 seasons with Hereford United he paid a fee for only three players. Turner, of course, found the ultimate solution to managerial longevity by becoming both chairman and majority shareholder during his time at Hereford. So the LMA's audience will get to hear that the recipe for managerial longevity is a mixture of success, a strong measure of self-belief, a willingness to make the most of the resources available and perhaps a little luck. But I think I’ll hang on to my £275+VAT. Brian Simpson