As bedlam prevails at Blackburn Rovers, there was a hint of sanity in Sunday morning speculation linking the club with Karl Robinson, MK Dons’ vibrant young manager, as a contender to fill the vacant manager’s chair at Ewood Park. Indeed, in their previously and ultimately flawed appointment of Henning Berg, Rovers had at least shown a willingness to look beyond the tried – and not always to be trusted – circle of familiar faces who slope from job to job.
Robinson, at 32 years-old, is already two-and-a-half years into his reign at the Dons, and has led his side to consecutive fifth place finishes in League One, only to fall in the play-offs on both occasions. Despite a poor Christmas, the Dons remain likely to feature in the top six again come the April denouement.
What is beyond doubt is that Stadium mk is home to some of the most fluent and watchable football outside the Premier League. Critics may point to a lack of tangible success in Robinson’s career to date, but any club which employs the Scouser is enhancing their future prospects. Essentially for Rovers, whose combination of awful form and even worse stewardship has seen attendances fall dramatically, an attractive and organised playing style will surely see the turnstiles ticking again.
Robinson is far from alone in being a viable candidate to thrive at a higher level if afforded the opportunity. That is why it was thoroughly disheartening to see Nottingham Forest compound the remarkable sacking of Sean O’Driscoll with the announcement of Alex McLeish as his replacement.
Any personal sympathy for O’Driscoll should be tempered by the fact that he accepted the Forest position only two months after being installed into the hotseat at Crawley Town. The chance to work at a club such as Forest was clearly too great to refuse, and understandably so. It should be remembered however, when lamenting owner expediency in changing their bosses, that the men in the dugout are similarly pragmatic when it comes to their own situation.
Nevertheless, the decision to remove a man who had lost only 6 of his first 24 matches in an ultra-competitive Championship was particularly staggering, even more so in view of the fact that in his previous two major assignments at Bournemouth and Doncaster Rovers, O’Driscoll had led those clubs to promotion.
McLeish has been hailed by Forest’s Kuwaiti owners, the Al Hasawi family, as a man with proven credentials for taking a team in to the top flight. That feat, achieved by the Scot at Birmingham City is surely counter-balanced by his double relegation suffered at the same club, not to mention an abysmal term in charge at Aston Villa in which he trod dangerously close to taking the 1982 European Cup winners down to the second tier.
Below the select elite band of clubs, whose stranglehold over the domestic game will only increase if UEFA’s Financial Fair Play plans are implemented as planned, a precedent is slowly being set which Forest would have been wise to follow. Increasing faith is being placed in young and invigorating managers. Kenny Jackett , Tony Mowbray, and Malky Mackay are men grasping their breaks in differing circumstances.
Mackay is admirably coping with high expectations at Cardiff City, Mowbray is progressively revitalising his hometown club, Middlesbrough, and Jackett – who it shouldn’t be forgotten was integral to the early stages of Swansea City’s ascent through the football league – is performing superbly in maintaining Millwall’s push for a play-off berth in the Championship.
The trajectory of the managerial fortunes of that triumvirate hasn’t been unerringly upwards. Mowbray, primarily, has come through uncomfortable periods, firstly in the latter stages of his West Bromwich Albion career and then during an unhappy time at Celtic. It is clear then, that chairmen seeking a new face to lead their team shouldn’t restrict themselves to only those candidates with unblemished records. Nevertheless, they should be looking for men with hunger, and a definitive manner and style in which they expect their side to perform.
Football is constantly changing and evolving. Any manager hoping to sustain a lengthy career, and so be attractive to prospective suitors, can’t stand still. Sam Allardyce perhaps best characterises an individual who has embraced every possible initiative which he perceives as potentially advantageous to his teams. We currently hear a great deal about the ‘marginal gains’ sought by British cycling’s performance director, Sir Dave Brailsford. The West Ham manager has, in the same fashion as the newly knighted cycling chief, and going back to his time at Bolton Wanderers, striven for continual improvement through his use of sports science and extensive analysis.
Allardyce’s sides are not renowned for their spell-binding football, but the 58 year-old has largely spent his career at the helm of clubs seeking to punch beyond their weight. A man who has signed players such as; Jay-Jay Okocha, Youri Djorkaeff, Geremi, Jose Enrique, Franco Di Santo, and at Upton Park, Yossi Benayoun, Matt Jarvis and Matt Taylor is not setting any team up to exclusively hit a target man at the expense of all intricacy.