Monthly Archives: February 2012

Appointing a football manager? Forget the interview

by Adam Bate

There are lots of reasons why an interview is important when deciding which candidate should get the job.

A smart appearance is indicative of a fastidious approach. A personable style can suggest a warm and engaging individual capable of motivating others.

It is also a chance to find out more about a person’s career beyond the bland statistics of a written CV.

Anybody can find a couple of references. It is far trickier, when put on the spot, for a person to explain how their ideas were received and how they interacted with colleagues.

But none of these factors should be quite so significant in the world of football management.

A football manager’s record is there for all to see.

While the sales figures at Wernham Hogg’s paper company in Slough might not be common knowledge, it takes about 10 seconds to google the win-percentage record of a football manager.

Their tactics will have been endlessly evaluated in minute detail by a plethora of pundits and bloggers.

The world will have watched on as they battled through hundreds of press conferences and media interviews. Daily assessments will have been made of their ability to handle pressure.

In short, a football manager’s CV does not require a reference.

There are literally hundreds of thousands only too willing to provide that reference – even if, for many, it may involve just two words with one of them being of the four-letter variety.

And yet, despite all this, the indications are that this week a Premier League manager will be selected on the basis of a seven day job search and a 45 minute interview.

Some employers recruit temporary admin staff more thoroughly.

So while Wolverhampton Wanderers insist they had nobody lined up when sacking Mick McCarthy on Monday, chief executive Jez Moxey will place his faith in the interview process.

“There has to be chemistry and you never really know until you get it,” said Moxey.

As a result, the manager – arguably the most important figure at a football club, capable of shaping fortunes for decades to come – will not be decided on the basis of their CV, but over a quick chat and a coffee.

The irony, of course, is that you can learn how to perform well in an interview. These skills can be picked up. And one of the reasons for having lots of successful interviews is due to jumping ship a lot. Or, heaven forbid, sacked.

The very qualities a football club does not want in a manager.

So while Steve Bruce flounced from Sheffield United to Huddersfield, and from Wigan via Crystal Palace and Birmingham then back again, Alan Curbishley stayed put at Charlton. For 15 years.

Curbishley was learning how to guide his club to the dizzy heights of seventh in the Premier League.

But Steve Bruce was learning how to give a damn good interview.

Perhaps it should come as little surprise then, that Curbishley’s son Michael took to Twitter to confirm that that his father “wants it but didn’t feel very confident after the meeting!”

In football, as in any other walk of life, a good interview can be the difference between success and failure.

But when a football manager’s career can be pored over in greater detail than could ever be explained away in an interview, doesn’t that just feel wrong?

Mick in context – a look at McCarthy’s Wolves reign

by Adam Bate

To put Mick McCarthy’s Wolverhampton Wanderers reign into perspective you need to go much further back than its beginning in 2006. You need to go back to 1989 – the year that Wolves won the old Division Three title.

Until McCarthy’s arrival at the club that was not only the last team to win a league title but it was also the last team that had a meaningful connection with the club’s supporters. It was the team of Steve Bull and a collection of other hard-working souls determined to give their all for the club despite being forced to train on the stadium car park because there was no training ground.

The facilities changed for the better when Sir Jack Hayward took the reins at Molineux in 1990 but somewhere along the way something more vital was lost. Wolves became a byword for big spending and bigger failures as the club became a victim of its own hubris.

Graham Taylor was indulged with the seven-figure signings of players such as Dean Richards, Steve Froggatt, Tony Daley, Don Goodman and Mark Atkins as Molineux heaved with expectation once more. In the 1994-95 season, Wolves’ average attendances were over 10,000 more than those at Sunderland, Derby, West Brom, Stoke or Bolton – but promotion did not come.

Mark McGhee followed and blew millions more before the spending reached an inglorious crescendo when Dave Jones splashed more than £13million in 2001 alone – only to see the disconnect between players and fans reach its nadir as the team collapsed in the run-in to allow rivals West Brom to claim promotion instead. The infamous ‘You’ve let us down again’ banner said it all.

By the time promotion finally came twelve months on, Hayward was spent-out and relegation was inevitable. Suddenly Wolves were saddled with an owner who’d lost interest and so it seemed strangely appropriate to go the whole hog and appoint a manager with little interest in the shape of Glenn Hoddle.

When the diffident Hoddle left the club in the lurch by quitting in the summer of 2006, Wolves were left with just nine fit players to report for pre-season training. Things appeared to have hit rock bottom.

Enter Mick

This was the environment into which McCarthy walked and immediately set about scaling back ambitions by declaring he was no magician. Fans feared the worst but with a young and hungry agenda and a fierce work ethic, McCarthy went to work.

Karl Henry was his first signing – a £100k capture from Stoke’s reserves. Stephen Ward arrived from Bohemians for £150k and Michael Kightly was snapped up for just £25k from non-league Grays Athletic.

Of course, some of the freebies weren’t up to scratch but it was refreshing to see a Wolves team battling against the odds for the first time in a generation. An extraordinary 6-0 home defeat to Southampton summed up the mood at Molineux as the fans supported the players – not because of some lame gallows humour – but out of a genuine belief that the players were giving it everything.

Two years later, McCarthy took Wolves to the title in brilliant fashion. His young team – only two of the first XI were older than 24 – played with enthusiasm and gusto as Wolves’ wingers Kightly and Matt Jarvis tore defences apart on a regular basis. It was a team to bring pride back to a city.

Going backwards

That McCarthy should find himself sacked three years on, having twice kept the club in the Premier League, may seem strange to some. But for all the accusations that can be thrown at Wolves owner Steve Morgan, the claim of the Daily Mail’s Des Kelly that the club has shown “no loyalty” to McCarthy must be particularly galling.

Premier League table as it stood in November 2010 (taken from the BBC website)

There were difficult days in McCarthy’s second season at the club, after which the manager himself admitted that if the fans had been given the choice between keeping him or keeping misfit striker Freddy Eastwood – a divisive figure at the club, who had become a champion for disenchanted fans – it would have been the manager to go.

But Morgan backed his man. He did so again when McCarthy was labelled a disgrace to the Premier League for making 10 changes for a trip to Manchester United. And the owner still remained calm throughout Wolves’ second season in the top flight, despite Wolves picking up just nine points from the opening 14 games and eventually being just three minutes away from relegation on a traumatic final day.

Morgan and the fans have watched on as arch-rivals West Brom have prospered. Albion were supposed to be the neighbours with the tight budget; the epitome of the yo-yo club. And yet, while McCarthy trudged on against the backdrop of ludicrously ambitious stadium expansion plans, it was the Baggies who acted so ruthlessly in ditching Roberto di Matteo in favour of Roy Hodgson just months after the former had taken the club to promotion.

For McCarthy it has been a death by a thousand cuts. There have been the bizarre selection decisions, the limited tactics and the nonsensical formation changes. The nagging belief that while the club made big plans off-the-field, on it things were beginning to slide – as evidenced by the fact that despite spending well over £40million since promotion, eight of the Championship team still regularly featured in McCarthy’s starting XI this season.

All that remained was for a knockout blow to be delivered. And a 5-1 derby defeat to your rivals is just about as emphatic as it can get. It was an insipid effort that crystallised feeling as it showcased many of McCarthy’s failings and none of his strengths. The tactical flaws were there for all to see – starting with all three strikers for the first time ever in a game he could not afford to lose. But gone was the fight and commitment so clear to see in all of his finest Molineux moments.

It was a result that changed the debate. No longer could the issue remain about who could do better. It now had to be framed in terms of who could do worse.

That’s a sad way for things to end for Wolves’ most successful manager in a generation. But as Morgan himself put it: “We had little or no choice.”

What is success for Liverpool?

by Adam Bate

What a return it has been for Kenny Dalglish. Only Cardiff City now stand in the way of Liverpool lifting the Carling Cup at Wembley later this month and thus securing the club’s first trophy in six years. King Kenny has brought the buzz back to the city. And thankfully, whatever the dramas off the field, everyone at Anfield appears to be pulling in the same direction once again.

It’s a far cry from January of last year when Liverpool were languishing in twelfth place in the Premier League under beleaguered boss Roy Hodgson. The subsequent return of the Messiah saw the team swept forward on a wave of optimism and invention that brought 10 wins in 14 games – a run that took Liverpool to the brink of a fifth place finish.

One might think it would be regarded as something of a disappointment then, that the club currently finds itself seventh in the Premier League. Has progress already reached a plateau? That’s an alarming thought given Liverpool’s 2011 spending spree of £110million. As ESPN’s Michael Cox puts it: “Failing to match last season’s performance after considerable spending on players in the summer would prompt serious questions from outside Liverpool about Kenny Dalglish’s future.”

Of course, those questions are unlikely to come from within. Liverpool fans will point to the money recouped from the sales of Fernando Torres and Raul Meireles. Others maintain this level of spending should not bring with it unattainable expectations of glory. Tony Evans, chief football writer for the Times and Liverpool fan, explains: “Spending £100 million should bring instant top-four success, goes the logic, as if it were that simple. Some cannot see that … Tottenham Hotspur have leapfrogged the five-times European champions.”

Evans is quite correct to say that some could not see this. It has certainly proved news to the notoriously unsentimental bookmakers who considered Liverpool 10/1 shots for the title, while making Tottenham the 66/1 sixth favourites. Meanwhile, the assessment of the experts at the BBC could scarcely have been more emphatic in backing Liverpool’s chances of cracking the top four.

In the BBC’s summer predictions for the season, 23 of 31 pundits tipped Liverpool for a top four finish. Mark Bright, seemingly convinced by the Merseyside club’s oft-cited advantage of not facing European distractions, even went so far as to predict Liverpool would be champions come May. “The Reds have four players who could grace any team in the Premier League: Pepe Reina, Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll,” claimed Bright.

Oh Carroll. Some supporters sought solace in the ‘Torres less £15million’mind-trick. That remains a theory from the same school of thought that if someone pays £5 for your bag of Maltesers then you’ll happily cough up £3.50 for a Curly Wurly. In truth, he is a one-man conundrum – the catalyst for countless theories searching for some kind of Moneyball method behind Liverpool’s spending madness. After all, there had to be something we were missing when more than £50million was thrown at Andy Carroll and Jordan Henderson, right?

Time will tell. And there is plenty to be said for a happy fan base. But, from the outside at least, Evans’ claim that Dalglish’s potential Carling Cup success may “come to be seen as his greatest achievement,” appears rooted as much in wish fulfilment as anything approaching the reality of Liverpool’s season so far.