Leave in silence

Dave Jones has been replaced for a year as Southampton manager by Glenn Hoddle. The move has been marketed as an opportunity for Jones to take time out and clear his name. Tim Springett is unconvinced

The removal of Dave Jones from the manager’s job at Southampton has been described in various quarters as a compassionate move. Jones’s trial on 17 alleged offences against chil­dren arising from his employment as a social wor­ker a decade ago has been set to begin on Nov­ember 27. A club statement on January 28 in­dicated that Jones had been given 12 months’ leave of absence to prepare his defence, during which time Glenn Hoddle would be keeping the manager’s chair warm for him.

This, therefore, is the club’s plan, apparently. Jones will be able to devote all his en­ergies towards clearing his name and by this time next year he will have done so. Hoddle will keep Southampton in the Premiership and then step aside, his reputation also fully re­stored, to enable Jones to resume as man­ager. Jones will be full of gratitude to those who so generously allowed him the time and space to establish his innocence, and the Saints will carry on as if Operation Care had never existed.

The problem is that nobody, least of all Jones, is taken in. Any remote prospect that Jones might one day return to his job disappeared once it became known that the arrangements had been made without his consent. Saints chairman Rupert Lowe may well have denied that Jones has been sacked, but this is effectively what has happened. Ironically, while Southampton’s stated intention was to enable Jones to spend more time with his law­yers, he may now be seeking their ad­vice on possible action against the club.

Jones has been retained on the Saints pay­roll, but will have no job remotely comparable to his old one. Whatever tasks are provided for him, Jones’s reaction to the club’s decision suggests he might argue that he has been constructively dismissed, which would entitle him to have his contract paid up in full.

A further question would arise if Jones were offered a job elsewhere during his “leave of absence” from The Dell. Many clubs have retained a “sacked” manager to avoid having to pay up his contract, in the hope that he will find another job. How much resistance would Southampton put up if asked to release Jones? Are they likely to stand their ground and insist that he will return in January 2001?

On the other hand, it seems implausible that Jones will actively seek to return to the club at that time. Far more likely is that he will choose to make things as awkward as possible for the club and insist that he be compensated in full for the loss of his job. So even if South­ampton avoid the dilemma of having to choose which manager to put in charge at the end of Jones’s sabbatical, the saga is surely far from dead and buried.
Exactly how the board arrived at the dec­ision is unknown. They say they believe Jones to be innocent, but they could not be in a pos­ition to know the outcome of the trial. They may also have been influenced by the team’s performance, but if that was the case why did they not say so?
Perhaps one clue is to be found in the statement from Lowe that “the allegations against David may also affect the club’s commercial relationships”. Southampton are taking out loans to cover more than 50 per cent of the finance for their new stadium and claims have been made in the local press that the banks in­volved were getting itchy feet at the prospect of involvement with a club whose manager faces criminal charges.

The apparent suddenness of the replacement of Jones by Hoddle indicates that plans had been afoot for some time: Hoddle’s agent is believed to have met Saints directors on Box­ing Day. The appointment appears to have been well received by fans who had been voic­ing dissatisfaction with Jones’s managerial methods. The Saints are once again threatened with relegation from the Premiership, at a particularly bad time, given that the foun­d­ation stone of their new stadium is on the point of being laid.

The wish to appoint a new, high-profile manager is understandable. But the manner in which the board have chosen to make the change is bound to have ramifications for many months to come.

From WSC 157 March 2000. What was happening this month