Our first guest post for some time comes from Stockport County fan and activist Simon Holt (aka ‘Scarf’), who casts his opinion on Peterborough’s new manager, Jim Gannon, who enjoyed a successful spell at Edgeley Park between 2005 and 2009.
So, the footballing parody of The Apprentice that is currently masquerading itself as Peterborough United got a new young pretender at the helm last night. Former Stockport and Motherwell boss Jim Gannon comes to London Road with something of a colourful reputation. Renowned for employing a stylish brand of expansive, attacking football, Gannon has become equally well-known for his outbursts off the field, with Sky TV, the FA, referees, club directors and senior players all on the receiving end of Gannon’s wrath at various points over the past few years. Adored by Stockport fans and somewhat mistrusted at Motherwell, his managerial career thus far has been somewhat eventful, to say the least.
A qualified accountant, it’s fair to say that Gannon is sharper than your average tool, and stories of him reading psychology or even philosophy to his players as part of a team talk are not uncommon. At Stockport he was at one point the only manager outside the top two divisions to hold the FIFA Pro License whilst Dave Jones, his manager during his playing days at Stockport, has spoken of Gannon spending his time on the team coach to away matches studying or reading instead of engaging in the card schools or tomfoolery traditionally associated with such occasions. As if to underline his financial abilities further, he put together a rescue plan for Stockport when the prospect of administration first loomed in January 2009. In sum, we are not talking about a regular football manager here.
Gannon’s undoubted intelligence can sometimes work against him, though. A deep thinker and a meticulous worker who would often spend 5 or 6 hours preparing an analysis video to show his team in training, Gannon has exceptionally high personal and professional standards, and will not tolerate those who fail to live up to his expectations. He commands, and demands, total respect and complete adherence to his rules, and anybody who he feels might be threatening his authority is quickly dealt with. At Stockport, captain Gareth Owen threw his shirt down in frustration at being substituted against Cheltenham in October 2008, just five months after leading the team to victory in the play-off final. He never played for County again and was quickly loaned out before being sold on.
Up at Motherwell, Gannon wasted little time in showing who was boss, slamming team captain and club legend Stephen Craigan as “an experienced centre half [who] didn’t compete for the ball and they got a free header”, before adding “Players have responsibilities on the pitch — everybody’s spoken about the players we need to bring in but there are players who need to be replaced as well.” Craigan was swiftly replaced by a teenage centre-half and played no more than a bit-part role during Gannon’s spell in charge. Gannon also famously refused to speak to Sky TV during the 2008 play-offs after they had failed to fix his Sky box at home, whilst the perceived failure of referees to protect his young teams both north and south of the border have become a regular feature of his post-match interviews. Meanwhile, whilst his disagreements with the Board of Directors at Stockport led to his adoring fans comparing him favourably with Brian Clough, similar differences of opinion at Motherwell quickly led to his departure, with the Board of Directors feeling he was “not fully committed to the club”. Charismatic, intelligent and talented, yet also egotistical stubborn and outspoken, Gannon is certainly not an easily forgettable character.
This all makes his appointment at Peterborough a truly fascinating move for anyone even mildly acquainted with the personalities involved. Certainly his appointment makes sense from a footballing point of view. Together with his trusted backroom staff, Peter Ward (Assistant Manager) and Alan Lord (Youth Development Coach), Gannon has brought an attractive brand of football to both Stockport and Motherwell, very much in keeping with the way Peterborough played as they steamrollered the bottom two divisions under Darren Ferguson in recent seasons. Gannon’s emphasis on youth also fits in well with Peterborough’s policy of recruiting young players from the lower leagues and developing them into established stars. At Stockport, Gannon gave league debuts to several unknowns who have gone on to rise the leagues: Wayne Hennessey, Stephen Gleeson, Liam Dickinson, Anthony Pilkington and Tommy Rowe were all handed league debuts under Gannon. Ashley Williams was transformed from a spindly-legged, error-prone centre half into a full international whilst under Gannon’s tutelage, and he also managed to get the best out of mercurial underperformers Adam Proudlock and Dom Blizzard. At Motherwell, Gannon inherited a side which had a lot of its prize assets sold off prior to his appointment and still managed to lead them to a comfortable mid-table position at the time of his departure, with a similar dynamic of youthful prospects like Mark Reynolds, Stevie Saunders and Jamie Murphy combining with loanees from higher clubs like John Ruddy and Lukas Jutkiewicz along with and players like Giles Coke who had never quite fulfilled their potential elsewhere. Inheriting a similar mix at Peterborough, Gannon’s track record will certainly appeal to the Posh directors and supporters alike, whilst his achievement in keeping Stockport in the Football League in 2005/06, despite inheriting a team 7 points adrift of safety and who had not won for 3 months, will also not have gone unnoticed. He may be untried at Championship level, but his qualifications, track record and intelligence all indicate he is ready for the step up.
On the field, then, Gannon looks a good appointment. If anyone can get the best out of young stars like Boyd, Mackail-Smith and Whelpdale it is Gannon, as he has shown elsewhere. A quality coach, he can only improve the games of players such as Gabriel Zakuani who have struggled so far this term. If I were a Posh fan I’d be very excited he was coming to my club.
Off the field might turn out to be a different matter, however. Darragh MacAnthony and Barry Fry are both fairly outspoken characters, and have adopted a ‘hands-on’ approach to team matters since MacAnthony assumed control in 2005. Whilst rumours that MacAnthony and Fry pick the team remain just that, there is no doubt that Gannon will not tolerate any form of interference in any part of the football club that he considers his domain. As one former Stockport director put it. “There is only room for one legend at Jim Gannon’s clubs — and that’s himself.” At both his previous clubs, senior players who threatened to challenge his authority — Anthony Elding, Gareth Owen and Leon McSweeney at Stockport; Stephen Craigan at Motherwell — were quickly shipped out. Gannon’s attempts to treat club directors in the same way worked at Stockport, where he was and is a club legend, but spectacularly failed at Motherwell, where he was less well known and the board were stronger. Time will tell whether he can adapt his approach — or, indeed, staring relegation in the face, MacAnthony and Fry can change theirs.
This columnist has no doubt whatsoever that Jim Gannon will continue to prove he is an outstanding football manager — probably one of the country’s best young managers, even — in his new job. His success at Peterborough will ultimately depend, though, on whether he is able to manage his relationship with his superiors in the boardroom more successfully than in the past. If so, he will stay at Peterborough for as long as he chooses, because his managerial ability is in no doubt whatsoever. If not, I wouldn’t put money on him lasting the season. Interesting times for Posh fans and neutrals alike — I look forward to the firework display to begin, both on and off the field.
Visit Countyunite, a website set up by Stockport supporters to help buy equipment for the team. It’ll put your team’s troubles into perspective (unless you’re a Palace fan).