Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Blaming it on the boss

First published in Sons View, 02 January 2008, Dumbarton -v- Albion Rovers. Scottish Football League Division Three.

By the time you read this both Dumbarton and the Scottish national team may have appointed new managers. Or not. Anyone attempting a firm timetable for these things is juggling jelly in the air. [DFC appointed on 31 Dec 07, a week after this was written]

Then again, the January transfer window in the big leagues opens the floodgate for manoeuvres at all levels of the game. Depending on how you experience them, these Winter sales are either a rummage through the bargain bins, a game of musical chairs, a chance to flash a bit of cash, or an opportunity to dust down someone else’s nice, fat chequebook.

Not much guesswork as to which end of the spectrum we’re looking at for the Sons, of course, but wisdom on slender resources is an even more precious commodity – which is why there’s been such concern about who’s going to be chief honcho.

What makes for a good manager? Everyone has a view. That’s the trouble. At some Clubs the emphasis is more on motivation and (blessed phrase) ‘man management’. In others, especially those with a larger backroom team, it’s about the larger tactical picture.

At the grassroots, football management is invariably a little bit of everything, mixed in with the capacity to expect the unexpected and not develop too fine a sensitivity towards the opinions around you. Except the ones that matter – those that keep the Club funded and fortified.

You are also likely to be recruited as much on the basis of what the board and others consider to be your predecessor’s weaknesses, as you are on your own strengths.

Then there’s that unfathomable part of the mix known as ‘chemistry’. Football is about individual skills, but it’s a team game at every single level, not just on the pitch. A manager with a less shiny record and fewer headline skills may turn out to be just the man for the job if he can get people working and believing together via the gel of personality. Then again, that will be a vain hope if the team is failing for lack of nous rather than nerve.

If any of us knew the winning formula, we’d be laughing. We can’t of course. But it’s fun trying – unless you’re the poor so-and-so who’s going to be held responsible for the big decision. There’s always one, whatever the theory about collective responsibility.

In the television era, the ‘manager as superhero’ (with feet of clay hiding in the shadow of that huge ‘S’) is an established brand. Everyone yearns for a Strachan, a Ferguson, a Mourinho, a McLeish. Equally, each of us may have incredibly strong feelings against any or all of the aforementioned, besides any number of ‘ideal candidates’.

In truth, managing a football team is mostly an unglamorous affair. Ninety per cent perspiration and ten percent inspiration. Those who succeed tend to be those who can balance assets according to changing fortunes, and who are able to count on (or build) a solid base of support for the long haul. Without that, blinding flashes of genius will be lost.

So, whoever takes over the mantle at SHS needs our support every bit as much as our criticism, with the proviso that the latter is always in much readier supply. Well, in my household, anyway!

Managing Dumbarton is a difficult proposition for a host of reasons. Lack of money and a league place languishing well below expectations for a Club with a longing for an even prouder history: those are just two of them.

The Scotland role is going to be monumental task, too. World Cup Qualification is no longer a pipe dream, and everyone wants to believe that the ‘Scottish renaissance’ can continue.

So, tough jobs in different ways. But it could be worse for both teams. England have been moaning for months that they need a manager of indisputable international reputation. (They had one in Eriksson, and look what they did to him, and what he’s achieving now).

Fabio Capello is that man. No one expects sweet FA of him, except in the positive sense. But the truth is that if the English still don’t succeed with their expensive Italian import there will not be many places to hide.

Few north of the border would wish Capello anything but the worst of luck – in the nicest possible way. Instead, we’re rooting for the Sons’ new supremo, and whoever picks up those vital Hampden reins.

The author is hoping no one puts him in charge of anything. So is his wife.

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