Tag Archives: football manager

For Evans Sake, Leeds Utd Have the Right Man. Now Stick With Him – by Rob Atkinson

Leeds United Manager Steve Evans

Leeds United Manager Steve Evans

The unseen benefit of the scattergun, hire ’em and fire ’em recruitment approach adopted by Leeds United since the takeover of il Duce Cellino, is that at some point, unwittingly, you’re probably going to stumble haphazardly upon the right man for the job. And one of the obvious drawbacks of such an amateurish policy is that you’re all too likely then to dismiss him, either in a fit of Latin pique, or because you’ve been replaced by new owners who want their own man.

The evidence of the first few weeks of the Steve Evans era at Elland Road would seem to suggest that United have, for once in a very long while, got a square peg for their square hole. Having been lucky enough to do that, Leeds must not now, under whatever ownership, retreat back into their accustomed suicidal self-destruct mode – and dispense with a man and manager who might just be the best fit our maverick club could possibly wish or hope for.

The Steve Evans track record speaks for itself in both the best and worst of times. His human fallibility is evident from a brush with the law earlier in his career – but lessons learned from negative episodes in life can be instructive in the making of a highly effective professional. And it is this image that emerges from the Evans record of achievement at his previous clubs. It is an enviable record of unprecedented success at those clubs, by virtue of what the man himself succinctly refers to as “winning football”. He has no need or desire to elaborate on that two-word summary. He simply promises the fans just that – winning football. He knows and we know that everything good will flow from that.

The complexity and effect of the man is emerging little by little as a picture Leeds United fans have been wanting to behold for many, many years. There are echoes of the early Sergeant Wilko in the way Evans has breezed into the club with no fear on his own account, and the clear intention of doing things his way. Though not afraid himself, he appears to rule partly through fear – and partly by employing the encouraging “arm around the shoulder” approach. We hear that he can hand out rollickings to those who need it, as well as boosting those in need of a boost. It’s not rocket science – just horses-for-courses man-management, the type of thing that has produced results for the enlightened since time immemorial. The proof of the pudding, though, will be in the eating – but early indications are that certain Leeds United players, who had been under-performing, are now walking about with a new spring in their step. Long may that continue.

The danger now apparent is of yet another change; this one unwanted, unnecessary and foolish, with talk in various sections of the media that any possible new owner – a prospect widely perceived among Leeds fans as A Good Thing – could bring with him a change of manager, with Pride of Devon flop David Moyes touted as a likely contender for a job that really should be flagged up as unavailable. It may of course be that this is largely the not exactly Leeds-loving media being their usual mischievous and unhelpful selves. We can but hope.

What we have here is not yet a recovery, nor yet even a definite upward swing in the fortunes of our beloved Leeds United. The general stability of the club is far too fragile to make extravagant claims like that. But what we do seem to have are tentative green shoots emerging from what has too long been an arid desert of hopelessness. Little buds of confidence are emerging that just might flourish and bloom into full-on optimism – given the chance. Everywhere I’ve looked in the virtual world of Leeds United lately, I’ve seen surprised, almost bemused comments along the lines of “this bloke is really growing on me!” about our new manager. And one of the most noticeable things about Steve Evans is that he openly lays claim to that title. Leeds United manager – there’s a ring to it which the half-baked “head coach” thing lacks. It’s as if Evans knows he has ventured into shark-infested waters, and that he’ll have to be brave, bold and confident if he’s to succeed. He’s certainly making all the right noises, so far.

In Steve Evans – a man who swiftly acknowledged that he wouldn’t have been the first choice among Leeds fans (adding that he doubted he’d have been in the top ten) – we may just have the ideal candidate for the next holder of the Mr. Leeds United accolade. Steve Evans genuinely could be Mr. Leeds United, in a manner akin to earlier greats like Wilko, or even the as yet incomparable Don Revie. He reflects the club as those legends did – unprepossessing to outsiders, with a tendency to inspire fear and dislike among enemies. But there’s a steely determination there also, an unshakeable belief in his own ability that is likewise redolent of Leeds at its very best. That extra spring in the step of some of the young stars, those early results as they start to pick up – they’re down to that brash, ebullient presence rocking around the corridors of Elland Road and Thorp Arch. There seems little doubt of that.

I had my doubts too, at the start, though I was mainly preoccupied with being dismayed at yet another abrupt change of management. I heard of Steve Evans discussing his appointment to take over with no great enthusiasm. But first impressions are rarely all that reliable,  and I’ve never been so thrilled to have it demonstrated to me that, like thousands of others with the colours of this club running through their veins, I have good cause to believe team affairs are at last in safe hands. And, having accepted that – by hook or by crook and more by luck than good judgement – a bona fide appointment has at long last been made, I’m now in the same position as so many other fans, of being desperately concerned that – this time – we should stick with our man and see it through. See what kind of Leeds United Steve Evans can build. Hope that he will be given the time and the tools to finish the job, as he’s so successfully done elsewhere.

If, in a few weeks or months time, I’m writing another blog in bitter frustration and helpless anger, bemoaning yet more self-harming short-termism on the part of this crazy club – if, in short, Leeds United have lost their nerve yet again, and prematurely sacked yet another manager – then it’ll be with a sense of baffled despair about our club’s chances of ever making it back to the level of the game where they assuredly belong. It’s for Leeds now to stick with their man, back him through whatever high-level changes may be in the offing and try to ensure that, on the playing side of things at least, there is some stability and confidence. Those two advantages will come only with the security of a man in charge being given ample opportunity to do his job and earn success. For all our sakes, let this come to pass.

And if not – why then, the fans of this club will know for sure that they are the only stable and worthwhile thing about the place. They’ll know that the club can’t be trusted or relied upon to do anything but periodically make of itself a laughing stock before lesser clubs and lesser fans. It would be the only conclusion we could possibly draw – who could really blame us? The powers that be at Leeds United (whoever they might be on any given day) had better take warning; our faith in the direction of the club can only take so many hits before it crumbles into pieces. So don’t screw this up, guys.

Steve Evans has made it clear that he regards himself as privileged to be the Leeds United manager. He’s made it clear that he regards the fans as an asset unmatched elsewhere (If we played a five-a-side in Asia at three in the morning, they’d be there). Evans “gets” Leeds. He can see what the club – and the fans – are all about. You have the impression that he can sense a kinship – that he feels at home and wants beyond anything else to restore Leeds United to greater days. This blogger could listen to him talk about Leeds all day long – it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

You just can’t put a price on that feeling, and – for the first time in such a long time – I and many others believe we might just have a real Leeds United manager on our hands. Someone who appeared as a match summariser on Sky Sports Saturday earlier today, and made a point of giving the Leeds salute when on camera. I could barely believe my eyes. Now, that’s a real candidate for the next Mr. Leeds United.

So, for Evans’ sake – and for the sake of all of us and our turbulent love affair with football’s craziest club – let’s please see it through this time and go marching on together, back towards the top, behind a man who – given an even chance – just might make it all happen for us once again.

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There’s Only Two Brian McDermotts

In 1996, Arsenal confirmed the appointment as their new manager of one Monsieur Arsène Wenger. I took a distant but distinct interest as I did with any news story concerning Arsenal, a club I have always thoroughly admired. And I must confess; at first I thought it was a wind-up, some weak attempt at a joke. An Arsenal manager called Arsène? Were our major clubs recruiting managers on the basis of weirdly appropriate names now? How ridiculous. You couldn’t make it up.

History shows of course that Arsenal FC was being deadly serious and decidedly astute. They were appointing a man who would become their longest-serving and most successful manager, a man widely credited with revolutionising the whole of English football, a cerebral man with a scientific approach to the art of beautiful football. But others reacted initially as I had. Former Arsenal captain Tony Adams has said

“At first, I thought: What does this Frenchman know about football? He wears glasses and looks more like a schoolteacher. He’s not going to be as good as George [Graham]. Does he even speak English properly?”

This seemed to reflect most people’s level of incredulity at what appeared an odd decision. Who, indeed, was Wenger? What had he done? He was certainly no Johan Cruyff, a global “name” who had been touted by many for the Highbury hot-seat. Rarely though can such a seemingly strange appointment have turned out so well. Despite the more recent lack of actual silverware, look at Arsenal now. Look at the football they play. It’s enough to make a Leeds fan drool – I know I do.

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Dioufy meets McDermotty

Fast forward to 2013 and there has been another “you couldn’t make it up” appointment – the strangeness being of a somewhat different nature, but nonetheless bizarre for that. Leeds United have recruited one Brian McDermott, recently sacked by Reading FC. This appointment has come with just five games to go of a season that was always supposed to be about promotion to the top league, but has latterly taken a nightmare downturn towards a struggle to avoid relegation back to the third tier. United of course share the city of Leeds with Rugby League superstars Leeds Rhinos – Coach: another Brian McDermott. Furthermore, the Rhinos have an outstanding winger called Ryan Hall, a world-class exponent of the game and prolific try-scorer; a major contributor to his club’s dominance of the Super League. And – lo and behold – we find that Leeds United also have a winger called Ryan Hall, a man of more modest accomplishments but much promise; one who produced a game-changing, match-winning performance at Huddersfield which gave Leeds United fans a lot of hope for his future.

Two clubs in two different sports sharing one city; both managed by a Brian McDermott, both with wingers named Ryan Hall. That’s stretching credibility quite a long way; has anything like it happened before? Could weirdness of that degree have a happy ending comparable to the way the weird Wenger story turned out?

Well, maybe it could. Once you get past the long-odds coincidence which certainly rivals the strangeness of Arsenal’s Arsène, you begin to look at the merits of the appointment. It’s an move being welcomed quite whole-heartedly by long-suffering Leeds fans, who had been certain for a while that former manager Neil Warnock’s approach was going to produce nothing but dire football, inexplicable substitution decisions and a heavy reliance on his old favourites from previous incarnations of his managerial career. He was going to build on his excellent record of promotions gained; he was going to top off that record by returning his biggest-ever club to the Premier League. But it all went horribly wrong, and Neil has clearly been yearning for his Cornwall home, hearth and tractor for months now. He’s seemed tired and dispirited, forced to defend the inadequate efforts of a palpably rudderless team, reduced to cliché after cliché as he attempted to deflect criticism of the performances of a squad he’d recently described as “Leeds’ best in years.”

McDermott though appears to be a horse of a different colour. A younger, hungry man, a still slightly angry man who you’d guess feels wronged by his dismissal from Premier League Reading, a club he’d served undeniably well and against whom he now seems destined to compete in the Championship next season. That’s if Leeds stay in that league – which is by no means certain as yet. With five games to go, McDermott quite possibly needs at least four more points to secure Championship football for next season and give him the chance to plan in the longer term. He has said already that he’s been given “assurances of support”, and we can but hope that these don’t turn out to be yet more of the same forked-tongue promises we’ve heard for a good many seasons now. McDermott though has the air of a man who is happy and confident as he picks up what many in the game see as a poisoned chalice. Leeds United has the reputation of a managers’ graveyard going back many years now and – surely – nobody entering via the revolving doors that have seen so many unceremonious exits can be at all optimistic they won’t share the same fate. Nevertheless, Brian McDermott has made all the right confident and determined noises, he has his right-hand man with him and he says he can’t wait to get stuck in. This is what we want to hear.

At some point, for heaven’s sake, Leeds United’s owners have to get it right. We’ve had a decade or more of stumbling, shambling descent into the pits of despair, followed by an almost equally stumbling and shambling partial recovery. As yet another era starts – and at Leeds we seem to have two or three new eras per season – the patience of the always potentially truculent masses cannot be relied upon for much longer. Leeds could so easily go the wrong way in just the next few weeks, and that would make for a terrifyingly long journey back at a time when – as in wider society – the rich are getting ever rich while the rest scrap for crumbs. Those who seek happy omens might look at how Arsenal’s strange appointment of Arsène turned out, or they may look across the city and look at the Brian McDermott who is in charge of the current Super League Champions. The omens are there, and in hard times they’re the straws we might reasonably clutch at.

We could go the wrong way – but we simply can’t afford to. It has to be safety first, followed as soon as possible by definite progress on and off the field. New investment is clearly sought, and appears to be a must-have without which the club will, at very best, continue to tread water.

This is not an option if the club is to have any real success in the foreseeable future, so the owners must deliver support to their new man. And Brian McDermott just has to be the right man; he has to get it very right very soon, establishing a pattern of success comparable with his fine work at Reading and leading us back to the top before the club is cut irretrievably adrift of the powers in the game.

That’s the scale of his task. That’s the urgency of the situation we now face. Good luck, Brian.

The Worst Man U Manager Ever?

I’m not inviting nominations here.  I have but one candidate for this title, a man whose personal qualities and actions during his period of tenure put him, I would argue, clear ahead of the field as the worst Old Trafford boss of all time.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: Sir Alex Ferguson.

Now, let’s not be simplistic about this.  The worth of a football manager – who, let’s not forget, carries the responsibility for how his club is perceived by friends and foes alike across the globe – cannot be measured by a mere count-up of baubles won.  What is the standing of the Football Club when he arrives?  How will he leave that Club when he finally clears his office?

In Ferguson’s case, the answer is glaringly obvious.  He has presided over the most horrendous degradation of a football club’s standing and image that I can bring to mind.  Manchester United, thanks almost entirely to the stewardship of Sir Matt Busby, was once upon a time the Football Club most closely associated with honour, dignity and The Way Things Should Be Done.  Only Arsenal, and later Liverpool would come anywhere close to matching the standards set by Sir Matt.

Busby did not have it easy.  He arrived at a bombed-out Old Trafford in 1945, with a history as a Manchester City and Liverpool star behind him.  This was hardly calculated to endear him to the devotees on the Stretford End.  He also had to contend with the slightly shady influence of the ruling Edwards family over the club, and of course he suffered hideous personal injuries in the Munich air disaster, as well as losing the core of his second great team.  Against this backdrop, he created a club that was known as “everyone’s second favourite team”, and beloved of their own massive following.

Looking back, it is sad to see how the legacy of Sir Matt Busby has been squandered.  Manchester United these days are perhaps the most hated brand – I use the word advisedly – in the sporting world.  Given the amount of trophies won under Ferguson’s ruthless management, it would be easy to ascribe this to envy.  But there have been successful, dominant clubs before, and none have attracted quite the same level of opprobrium.

The Ferguson Factor is the difference here.  Busby and Ferguson were both at the helm long enough to be completely identifiable with the club they represented.  Busby stood for dignity and respect, Ferguson stands for arrogance and intimidation.  His most recent rant is symptomatic of this.  A playground taunt whereby he is manager of the most famous club in the world, and his opposite number is at “a wee club in the north-east”.

The small-mindedness of such language is mind-boggling in such a major sporting figure, and Ferguson has plenty of form in this regard.  His club suffers more with every such outburst, and for all their fans claim they don’t care as long as the trophies roll in, I beg leave to doubt this.  We all need to be loved, respected, admired.  Manchester United has little of this now, outside of its own rabid support, but there was a time when the club was a byword for affection and respect among football lovers everywhere.  This is the scale of the downfall; this is the measure of the negative effect of Ferguson’s reign.

Sir Alex Ferguson – the original Knight you wouldn’t send a dog out on.  J’accuse.