Mayflies know they have a window – their lives vary from half an hour to the comparatively yawning time span of a full year and in that time, they have to make their mark. Similarly, the period of grace in which football managers are allowed to build their reputations gets shorter and shorter. Hang around at a waning club for too long, or step up too soon (the self-styled Guvnor) and you’ll be condemned to that fearsome fate – to be discredited. As recently as last Summer, Paul Tisdale and Andy Scott were the flavour of the month, out ranked only by the brightest young gaffer of them all, Mr. Darren Ferguson. Now, with scarcely a leaf having fallen in another mild autumn, the latter is out on his ear. Rumours of a link to the vacant Pompey hot seat are persisting, but there’s little doubt that Dazza’s star is now a little tarnished. So which managers in the Cocaleague are at their peak? – which of those among our phalanx of bosses are looking poachable, candidates to follow the Roberto Martinez route to the grim world of 9-1 defeats?
Not many. The upper reaches are populated by men with enough defeats on their CV for their gamekeepers to rest easy. Chris Hughton is still unproven and for all his quiet dignity, would find it hard to attract a higher salary elsewhere, and Ian Holloway has the reputation of an impact manager prone to some high profile catastrophes. On that subject, Olly’s former charges Leicester have the pragmatist Nigel Pearson at the helm, but for all their bright start, he still behaves and acts like a backroom boy Number Two. Down Glamorganshire way, Paulo Sousa has gripped the nettle well at Swansea after the false start at QPR and Dave Jones has probably had his shot at EPL fame (although it would be hard to identify a cannier chief steward than he). Lastly, Roberto Di Matteo could be prone to do a Gianfranco Zola in reverse if a struggling Serie A giant (Lazio perchance?) wanted to chance their arm, but my money would be on his remaining loyal for the moment.
So bosses likely to have their heads turned by truly bigger things are rare this November, but I would single out two exceptions. First, there is the excellent Gary Johnson. Saturday’s debaggie-ing will have underlined again Bristol City’s cementation in the middle reaches but a glance at Johnson’s record shows how warm any assessment of him should be. In laying the groundwork for Latvia’s unlikely appearance at Euro 2004, this man of the capital discovered Marian Pahars, before he returned to Blighty and performed a string of magician’s tricks at Yeovil and the big divided city to its north west. Johnson would be a clever choice for a bigger club should they want to build on strong foundations.
Secondly, there is Mark Robins. Barnsley looked simply not good enough back in September, but now, despite a couple of defeats, their form has exploded, with five proud wins chalked up. Robins hasn’t been at Oakwell more than five minutes, but his friends in high places (someone owes him one rather) might see him ascend to the firmament. Robins’ “conducts himself well on and off the pitch” to employ a cliché and the Tykes are now situated in midtable. It might be a little early for him to move on, but fans of Cardiff, Posh, Donny, Ipswich and West Brom will need no reminding of this emerging talent.