IF this blog has a theme, I’d say it’s a celebration of the mediocre. Despite being based in Manchester, I’ve written next to nothing on here this season about the battle for the Premier League title between Manchester City and Manchester United.
I have, on the other hand, written reams and reams about Aston Villa, the epitome of Premier League mediocrity this season, purely on the basis that they’ve been last on Match of the Day more often than any other team.
Perhaps there’s something in my psyche that finds failure and underachievement more interesting than success. (It would certainly explain some of my career choices, but that’s a topic for another day.) Perhaps I find the mundane more intriguing than the spectacular. I’m not sure what that says about me, and perhaps it’s best I don’t think about it too much.
But at a time of the football season when thoughts turn to awards, I feel that this would be an appropriate moment to reveal my shortlist for the Unmanager of the Year. You see, while Roberto Mancini has guided Manchester City within reach of a first league title since 1968, Nigel Adkins has taken Southampton to a second successive promotion and Brian McDermott has made Reading Championship champions, some managers have been rubbish.
As Isaac Newton once put it during a brief and unhappy spell in charge at Tranmere: For every manager, there is an equal and opposite unmanager. For every Sir Alex Ferguson, there is a Chris Hutchings. For every Ian Holloway, there is an Alex McLeish. For every Brendan Rodgers at Swansea, there is a Brendan Rodgers at Reading.
Even the best or most promising managers can have dodgy spells, as Rodgers proved. And then there are those such as Les Reed, Sammy Lee, Brian Kidd or Steve Wigley; effective in other football roles, but just not cut out for management.
In football, there are many paths to management failure. It needn’t be a permanent stain on a CV, as Roy Hodgson has proved post-Liverpool. But this season, a number of bosses have failed to cut the mustard. Maybe, like Hodgson, they’ll bounce back. But they are my candidates for the Unmanager of 2011/12.
In no particular order, here they are:
STEVE KEAN (Blackburn)
The master of the baffling substitution, Kean might have won this award last season, had I thought of it then.
He dragged Blackburn to the brink of safety in mid-March, and convinced most outsiders that he had finally got his team playing as one, only for everything to promptly fall to bits.
In the process, he managed a public fall-out with Gael Givet over whether the defender had refused to play in an abject 3-0 defeat at Swansea.
For virtually the whole of his reign, Kean has maintained the glazed expression of a council planning officer forced to explain publicly why his superiors are demolishing the local library to make way for a Tesco Express.
BRIAN HORTON (Macclesfield)
Twenty years ago, Horton pulled off a genuine managerial miracle, keeping Oxford United in what is now the Championship as the club teetered on the brink of financial implosion following the death of owner Robert Maxwell.
His methods have proved less effective over time, though, and his reputation for helping clubs out of trouble has taken a knock.
He was assistant manager at Hull for most of 2009/10, when they went down from the Premier League. He took a similar job at Preston last season, as they dropped out of the Championship.
With nine games of the League Two season to play, he was invited to manage a Macclesfield side hovering just above the relegation zone. No victories later, the club were heading for the Blue Square Premier, and a third successive relegation was on Horton’s CV.
STEVE EYRE (Rochdale)
When Keith Hill left Rochdale last summer, chairman Chris Dunphy stated that he was looking for an experienced replacement – which led many to believe he would go for Accrington’s John Coleman.
Surprisingly, he went instead for the untested Eyre, a youth coach at Manchester City. If Dunphy was hoping that Eyre could transfer his skills to League One, he was to be disappointed.
Among other things, the new manager lacked Hill’s remarkable ability to play the loan market, and was sacked just before Christmas, with Dale 22nd. Coleman eventually came in anyway. The club finished bottom.
DEAN SAUNDERS, WILLIE McKAY AND JOHN RYAN (Doncaster)
A multiple nomination this one, with Saunders arriving at Doncaster in September just as chairman John Ryan was putting agent Willie McKay in charge of transfer policy.
The idea was that McKay would use his extensive contacts to turn Rovers into the world’s highest-profile temp agency and save their Championship status. Big-name players in need of regular football were brought in on low-wage, short-term deals and given the chance to put themselves in the shop window.
Judging by the abject Doncaster performance I saw when they were knocked out of the FA Cup by Notts County, such a high turnover of players did nothing for team spirit. Relegation inevitably followed.
KENNY DALGLISH (Liverpool)
A legend as a player and a winner of three league titles during his first spell as Liverpool manager, Dalglish has done nothing for his reputation since returning to the job in January last year.
As things stand, Liverpool are set for their lowest league finish since returning to the top flight in 1962. And that’s despite having spent something like £113million on players. Dalglish’s handling of the Luis Suarez racism affair was utterly wrong-headed too.
TERRY CONNOR (Wolves)
Connor’s first, and possibly last, faltering steps into management with Wolves have been heartbreaking to watch.
A series of soul-destroying defeats, punctuated by the occasional goalless draw, transformed a team with reasonable Premier League survival hopes in mid-February into one mathematically relegated with three games still to play.
After each defeat, Connor appeared to be one question away from bursting into tears. Sky, perhaps picking up on this, subjected him to a ludicrously long post-match interview when relegation was confirmed against Manchester City. It was like watching Kilroy interview a pensioner who had been conned out of her life savings.
Last on MOTD: Wolves 0 Everton 0
Commentator: Alistair Mann
It’s easy to be jealous of Premier League footballers and managers, with their huge salaries and comfortable lifestyles.
I know several people who, faced with a tale of a player or manager moaning about a fixture schedule or an injury crisis, will shoot back by saying: “What’s he moaning about? He’s on 80 grand a week!”
With Terry Connor, though, it’s difficult to feel too jealous. Yes, he’s been handsomely paid in a steady coaching job at Wolves for the last 13 years, and he probably doesn’t lose much sleep over paying his electricity bill.
But on the flip side, he has suffered complete humiliation over the last two-and-a-half months. And maybe it’s just my imagination, but Connor has often looked during that time like a man who would be a thousand times happier working behind the bar of his local pub for £3.50 an hour than facing yet another press conference after yet another Wolves defeat.
Connor is on course to have one of the least successful records in football management history – worse, even, than the outstandingly terrible Alan Shearer, who at least managed one win when he took Newcastle down in 2009. In 12 games, Connor has managed no wins.
He is, though, on something of a roll following yesterday’s game against Everton, achieving back-to-back draws for the first time. I still don’t reckon he’ll get the Wolves job for next season, though.
A 0-0 draw wasn’t terribly significant in the grand scheme of the Premier League season – except in one sense. As the final game on Match of the Day, it mathematically decided the destination of this blog’s Gubbometer title for 2011/12.
Let me explain. With Wolves against Everton being on last, it meant that Fulham’s win over Sunderland wasn’t. And that means that the team at the top of the Gubbometer standings cannot now be caught.
The identity of that team? Well, they are led by the man I’m crowning as Unmanager of the Year.
ALEX McLEISH (Aston Villa)
Tony Blair once famously told a Labour party conference: “I’ve not got a reverse gear.” At Aston Villa, as in his previous job at Birmingham, McLeish has often looked a man with no forward gears.
In four-and-a-half seasons in England, he has been relegated twice (albeit with a promotion in between), playing football that is no one’s idea of fun.
Yes, he has had to deal with financial cut-backs and the loss of key players at Villa. Even so, his side should have achieved more this season. Instead, they have been the Premier League’s most boring side. That’s the reason they have been last on MOTD more often than any other team this season.
Villa can at least console themselves with that honour. In fact, you might say that they’re just my kind of team.
1. Aston Villa: 9 (2L: 4, 3L: 5) – Champions
2. Fulham: 8 (2L: 4, 3L: 4)
3. Sunderland: 7 (2L: 8, 3L: 0)
4. West Brom: 6 (2L: 6, 3L: 4)
5. Stoke: 6 (2L: 3, 3L: 8)
6. Norwich: 6 (2L: 3, 3L: 5)
7. Wigan: 5 (2L: 8, 3L: 6)
8: Wolves: 5 (2L: 3, 3L: 7)
9. Swansea: 4 (2L: 7, 3L: 6)
10. QPR: 4 (2L: 4, 3L: 3)
11. Blackburn: 4 (2L: 2, 3L: 6)
12: Liverpool: 4 (2L: 2, 3L: 5)
13. Tottenham: 4 (2L: 2, 3L: 2)
14. Chelsea: 3 (2L: 1, 3L: 6)
15. Everton: 2 (2L: 10, 3L: 4)
16. Newcastle: 2 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
17. Bolton: 1 (2L: 4, 3L: 6)
18. Arsenal: 0 (2L: 6, 3L: 1)
19. Manchester United: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
20. Manchester City: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
2L = On second last (Fulham 2 Sunderland 1)
3L = On third last (Aston Villa 1 Tottenham 1)
(Teams receive one point every time they are last on Match of the Day. Teams level are separated by the number of times they are on second last, then by the number of times they are on third last. MOTD2 not included.)