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Football Crazy

Ah, the football management merry-go-round. The season is only a few weeks old, and already three Premiership clubs are changing managers.

I have some sympathy for football club chairmen because I'm sure that it is a very challenging role, but you have to wonder whether it makes their job any easy to leave the manager in charge all through the close season and then dismiss him after a few games (when it's already too late to sign any new players). Two clubs have done this, and in both cases it appears that they had been thinking about it for some time. Stories appeared in respectable newspapers after the opening game of the season saying that Paul Sturrock only had a few games left to prove himself (at Southampton), and prior to that Newcastle announced that Bobby Robson's contract would not be renewed at the end of the season. Then Kieron Dyer had a very public falling-out with his manager and it seemed that Robson had lost his authority with the players.

Nevertheless, when Robson was sacked, the reaction in the media and from other managers was predictably hostile towards chairman Freddy Shepherd, but interestingly there were no complaints from the fans. Something similar happened when Peter Reid was sacked by Sunderland, having long ago lost the support of the fans even if the journalists and “experts” still rated him highly.

Sturrock's case was somewhat stranger, given that he had only joined Southampton a few months earlier, but Rupert Lowe seems to have very little patience with managers, and he was apparently unhappy that Sturrock had so little involvement in coaching.

The real mystery, though, was why these two decisions could not have been made at the end of last season. That way a new manager would have had time to get familiar with his squad and buy or sell players before the transfer deadline.

Of course the real fun starts when the media start speculating as to who will take over from the two sacked managers. There seem to be a list of managers who are always 'in the frame' when a job becomes available, and the gentlemen of the press can fill countless column inches with speculation about this imaginary short list.

Terry Venables was put forward as one of the 'big names' who was wanted by Newcastle. It's hard to see why - was Freddy Shepherd really so stupid that he hadn't noticed that Venables had failed at Portsmouth, Palace and Leeds in recent years? Or perhaps he had a desperate urge to have another ex-England manager on his books. Then we read that after being reluctant to take other jobs in the past because of his TV commitments, Venables was apparently going to have to choose between a job at St James's and going into hospital to have his hip replaced. The latter would probably be less painful.

Then, of course, there's Steve Bruce, the man who can be relied upon to agonize long and hard over whether to jump ship at the merest hint of any connection with any club that is looking for a manager. He was born in the North East, and he must be feeling restless after staying with Birmingham for more than a full season, so he was obviously on the short list.

Or Steve McLaren - well, he wouldn't even need to move house. Or David O'Leary. Or anyone else you can think of.

All of this speculation was accompanied by ‘news’ of who had met with Newcastle or what had been discussed over the phone, as if anyone really knew. For example, it was widely reported that Venables had met Shepherd last week, then it was denied, and then it was reported that they had met at the weekend. Whether they met or not, Venables didn’t get the job, and with so much feverish speculation it was inevitable that Newcastle actually chose someone barely mentioned by the supposedly well-informed journalists.

Yes, in the end they turned to Graeme Souness, presumably in the hope that he will instill some discipline into those spoilt young players. My first thought was that he must already have managed Newcastle at some point in his long and glittering career, but it seems not. Hardly an exciting appointment and it really makes you wonder whether they had given any thought to what they were going to do after sacking Robson. Meanwhile, The Sun speculates that Souness was about to be sacked by Blackburn.

Now, of course, the newspapers can speculate about who will take over at Blackburn. Out comes the old reliable shortlist, Appparently Gerard Houllier is in the frame, presumably along with Terry Venables and Gordon Strachan and everyone else. Journalists are even now working on the Steve Bruce connection...

By way of contrast, Southampton were linked with Clive Woodward rather than the usual suspects. Yes, the manager of the English rugby team. This rather improbable story sounded a lot like a publicity stunt for his new book, though it was supported by claims that he has always been more interested in football than rugby, and he did resign from the England job. However, if he is going into football, it won’t be for another year or so.

We have learnt a few things along the way. Apparently Sam Allardyce has a 10 year contract with Bolton (he’s half way through it), and Steve Bruce has a release clause in his contract (something about him being able to leave for any club with which he has a ‘strong connection’, and it’s only valid for 5 days either side of the first full moon after the end of the season).


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great stuff. am a spurs fan/anti-fan. of course everyone at white hart lane is worshipping sanitini right now - pood sod it'll only make the bump harder when they sack him for not winning the treble next year. then we'll probably re visit the same old idiots.. pleat, graham, venables, hoddle, francis, ardiles before having a look at everyone else's... atkinson, o'leary, houllier, strachan, widow twanky, etc etc

Great article, footabll is indeed panto.

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