NO, I didn’t expect Brian Laws to get the Burnley manager’s job either. But then this January transfer window is proving far more interesting for managerial changes than for player moves.
Owen Coyle’s decision to quit the Clarets for Bolton was surprising enough. When he went, I speculated with a few work colleagues as to who might take over at Turf Moor. All of the names put forward were managers who have done well in the Championship or League One at some point over the last 12 months: Paul Lambert, Lee Clark, Paulo Sousa, Darren Ferguson.
The general feeling was that Burnley – like Wigan did with Roberto Martinez – were going to appoint a manager light on Premier League experience but brimming with potential. Few people saw Laws coming until he was almost through the door.
Much has been made of the fact that Laws has never managed in the top flight before, but then neither had any of the other names linked with the job. And neither had Owen Coyle until he got Burnley there.
But Laws certainly has the personality to cope with Premier League management. He can roll with the punches at press conferences, and land one or two metaphorical blows if he feels a reporter needs to be put in their place. Put it this way, you can tell that he once played for Brian Clough.
I’ll never forget Laws coming up to the tiny Moss Rose press box after his Scunthorpe side had been denied victory by a controversial late Macclesfield equaliser in November 2003. Laws had been sent to the stand after racing from his dugout to dispute the goal. As he waited to conduct a post-match interview with BBC Radio Humberside, a local newspaper journalist was phoning through his Sunday newspaper report to a copytaker.
“Scunthorpe boss Brian Laws was sent to the stands for foul and abusive language,” the reporter dictated down the phone – at which point he got a tap on the shoulder from Laws.
“Excuse me,” he said. “I was not sent off for foul and abusive language. I was sent off for leaving my technical area.”
“Oh,” said the reporter, still on the phone to the copytaker. “Sorry, can I just rejig that last sentence?”
Being able to deal with the media is not the be-all-and-end-all of a manager’s job. But he’s unlikely to do himself any favours as a Premier League boss if he can’t come out with the odd memorable quote every now and then. Being a good manager in itself is no longer enough.
And that’s why I wonder if Sean O’Driscoll’s rather less gregarious personality might have counted against him in the race for the job at Turf Moor.
I like O’Driscoll. I’ve seen his Doncaster side half-a-dozen times this season, and they’re very attractive to watch. O’Driscoll speaks intelligently about the game, and doesn’t go in for hype or lame excuses. If he thinks his team have played poorly, he’ll say so – and often when you least expect it.
Back in September, I saw Doncaster draw 3-3 with Ipswich, a match which I thought was great entertainment. O’Driscoll didn’t, describing the first half as being “like watching paint dry”. Afterwards, I overheard a couple of people in the press room grumbling about the fact that he hadn’t talked up the game more. Other bosses would have done.
Twelve months ago, O’Driscoll got a bit of a pasting in the News of the World for being so downbeat after his team had held Aston Villa to a draw in the FA Cup, and earned a lucrative replay at Villa Park. The reporter who wrote the piece clearly wasn’t used to O’Driscoll’s understated style. Would that style have worked amid the glitz and bright lights of the Premier League?
Of course, the other factor worth taking into account is that Burnley would have had to come up with a compensation payment of around £1million to take O’Driscoll to Turf Moor. Laws, who had been out of work for a month after being sacked by Sheffield Wednesday, came with no such strings attached.
Laws gave an interview to Burnley’s official website on taking the job, in which he said: “I’m sure there are a lot of Burnley fans asking: ‘Why Brian Laws?’”
He answered that question by pointing to his affinity with the Clarets, his first professional club. He knows, though, that the best way for him to answer that question is to finish the job that Coyle started, and keep Burnley in the Premier League.