Terrace Heroes in Vogue
All this comes after Eddie Howe jumped ship to take over at Burnley, of course. So, bearing in mind the recent appointments of Dougie Freedman, Chris Powell and Dean Smith, is the act of hiring ex-players now a growing trend in the Football League? It’s certainly been evident for some time: Alan Knill, a player at Bury for four years, has now been in charge of their team for three, and Keith Hill, with half a decade’s playing experience for Rochdale, has in the same space of time taken his beloved team from League Two strugglers to League One play-off hopefuls. So whilst this may not be a totally new concept, it is one that is becoming an ever more attractive proposition for Chairmen and boards alike.
But why exactly is it that chairmen seem increasingly willing to hand the reigns to ex-pros whose attachment to the club overrides hands-on experience?
The Recession seems an appropriate place to begin. With many clubs strapped for cash, it’s clear that a number of sides can only make ends meet by sacrificing short term success in order to invest in long term survival. For Watford, hiring Malky Mackay would have cost considerably less than it did for Leicester to appoint Sven, but with the ‘Orns pretty much matching their moneyed counterparts point for point at the time of writing, it’s clear that gambles such as this one may often be worth making. Which begs the question: is it more cost-effective to speculate on a rookie manager making his first foray than it is to hire an established, and possibly pricier, alternative?
Secondly, it’s apparent that passion has something to do with these recent appointments; hiring a manager that has a history with the club is likely to give not only the fans a huge boost, but the players as well. ‘Clubman’ is a term that holds a number of definitions these days. It used to be the case that someone was only introduced to the pantheon of ‘clubmen’ if they played for one club their entire career, or at least for ten years plus; nowadays a club is lucky if they keep the services of a player for more than five.
Players like Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes (and to name an only slightly less glamorous example, Andy Hessenthaler) are a dying breed, it seems that the once essential virtue of loyalty has now become relatively obsolete in our modern game. The lure of the sweet smell of cash, amongst other things, seems to have sent the concept of commitment into relative obscurity. So what can we do about it?
Let’s take Dougie Freedman as an example – he’s a man who flirted with relegation from the Football League and then accompanied Palace back up to the Premiership; and then back down again. A man who during his career has played over 300 games in a Palace shirt – I defy anyone to say that he doesn’t know how things work around Selhurst Park – so it makes eminent sense to hire him. Backroom staff will be available to give him a helping hand when he needs it, and it’s clear that Freedman is committed to the cause, because he has shown this in his career many times over.
I’m sure people at this point will be saying that passion is all very well, but you need to have tactical nous, an eye for a substitution, a grip on formations, how to construct them, and how to counteract them. These are all sentiments that I would agree with, but I would also argue that just because a player/manager doesn’t have a coaching badge, they shouldn’t be discredited, or held in lower regard than a manager who has. Any footballer that has played professionally for a prolonged period of time will have more than a slight grip on the idea of football theory and what better way to hone and nurture one’s talent than to play under the tutelage of a fellow professional?
Palace Co-Chairman Steve Parrish, remarked on the arrival of Freedman: “I was determined to have someone with fresh ideas, committed to working in a modern innovative way. We also need someone with a great knowledge of our current squad, its strengths, weaknesses, where we need to make additions, with a firm idea of who they should be. Finally, we need someone who has as deep a passion for this club as we do. Dougie ticks all those boxes and more.” A quote that seems to indicate a healthy interest not only in the club’s short term success, but in its ability to build for the future. It is evident that whilst some boards are looking to go back to the old school, others are simply happy to act as a learning curve for a new manager, showing him the ropes, and in return reaping the rewards for their loyalty.
Too many players and managers turn up under the presumption that they have the right to be involved with a team before they have even stepped foot inside the stadium. People like Freedman, Powell, Mackay and Bradbury have shown loyalty to their club, a commitment to improvement both on and off the pitch, and have shown this commitment consistently for an extended duration. If you ask me, their appointments are justified by the years of blood, sweat and tears they have invested. They should be allowed to continue their legacy to the club, through the medium of management.