Dundee United hold out for Fenlon
Scottish club feel they have the right man provided he can secure release, writes Seán Ryan
DUNDEE UNITED are prepared to wait for Pat Fenlon, according to sources close to the Scottish club yesterday. Despite the breakdown in their negotiations with Bohemians on Friday over a compensation fee, the feeling is that they have the right man provided he can reach agreement with his present employers.
Fenlon was reported to be taking legal advice yesterday. While he doesn't want to end his association with the Dublin club on an acrimonious note, he is determined to take up the United appointment, for which he has agreed a three-year contract.
In terms of legal issues with managers, Bohs don't have a good track record, having lost legal battles in the past to previous managers Sean Connor, Stephen Kenny and Joe McGrath, and it is hard to see the present committee having any stomach for another such confrontation.
The tug of war, which developed between Bohemians and Dundee United for the services of manager Pat Fenlon, was unique in that Irish clubs are generally loath to stand in the way of anyone -- player or manager -- improving their earning power. The difference, in this case, is the perceived cost to Bohemians of losing someone they deem irreplaceable.
It was the firm belief of the Bohemians committee that United, who beat Partick Thistle 2-0 in the Scottish Cup yesterday, couldn't give them enough money to compensate for the loss of their manager. "Given the choice between half a million and Pat Fenlon, I'd say Pat Fenlon," was the chorus.
Considering Fenlon has been at Dalymount for just two years, the love affair that developed between him and the club's fans and officials is amazing. Bohs have had good managers before -- Sean Thomas, Billy Young, Turlough O'Connor and Stephen Kenny -- each of whom left their mark, but none captured the affection of the club's aficionados to the same degree as Fenlon.
Bohemians' record of two league titles in two seasons, an FAI Cup and a League Cup, only goes some of the way towards explaining the grief the fans were expressing at the thought of his departure to Scotland.
Where can we get another manager even half as good, was the common concern. Without him, there wouldn't be the same degree of confidence for the season ahead.
At Dalymount, Fenlon has been the ultimate manager. After training, he is always there -- on the phone, clearing the terraces, making a cup of tea for a club official or visitor. With such an attitude, it's easy to see why everyone at the club likes him, but there is also the way he goes about his business. There is no bullshit, he is just an ordinary guy who does everything right.
"You won't find anyone in Bohs to say a bad word about him," a committee man told me. "Or maybe one -- out of 500. And Pat would know who that one is! There are very few you could say that about in any walk of life."
Just before Christmas, there were a number of members in the bar in Dalymount when Fenlon looked in and asked for the official in charge of the club's shop. Told he had just popped out, Fenlon then explained that there was a lady looking to buy some gear and asked for the keys to the shop. He then opened up the shop and sold the lady the sweatshirt and top she requested. Any other manager would have handed the task over to somebody else, but not Fenlon. He is interested in every area of operation within the club and is as conscious of its commercial needs as he is of its playing needs.
After Bohemians beat Waterford United in the final of the League Cup on Saturday, September 26, Fenlon was already focused on the trip to play Derry City the following Tuesday. Central to his thoughts was the need for his players to prepare properly for a game against one of their principal rivals. Money was tight, so there was talk that Bohs would travel up and back on the Tuesday. "Not if I can help it," said Fenlon in response to a media query.
On the Monday, he went around knocking on doors in Phibsboro and raised the sponsorship necessary to ensure his players stayed overnight and were well rested for what was a vital game. Bohs won the game 1-0, effectively ending Derry's hopes of mounting a title challenge.
It wasn't the first time Fenlon had doorstepped potential sponsors. When he was manager of Shelbourne he had done so also -- and with similar results.
As a youngster, Fenlon's loyalties as a fan were to Celtic and Shamrock Rovers, yet the success he enjoyed as player and manager, were with Rovers' great rivals, St Patrick's Athletic, Linfield, Shelbourne and Bohemians.
He is still revered at Pat's and Linfield for what he achieved with them as a player, while as player and manager he left a great legacy at Shelbourne and is as fondly thought of there as he is at Bohemians.
Fenlon's networking skills are legendary. He seems to know everybody in the game, which is not surprising for someone who keeps tabs on everything that happens in football. If he has a regret from his two years at Bohemians, it probably centres on the loss to Salzburg in the Champions League. With four minutes to go, and Bohs set to trump their much wealthier rivals, an innocuous long ball was misjudged by a weary defender, and Salzburg took advantage.
The Austrians finished Group G in the Europa League with a 100 per cent record and face Standard Liege in the last-32 next month. Fenlon could be excused if he occasionally thinks, "that could have been us."
With the greater resources available at Tannadice Park, Fenlon could have evoked comparison with the great European adventures the club enjoyed under Jim McLean back in the '70s and '80s. In terms of inspiration, Fenlon is very conscious of the debt he owes to his father, Paddy (who died a day short of his 50th birthday in 1993). Paddy Fenlon was undoubtedly the catalyst for the great career which Pat has enjoyed.
Unlike other fathers who try to live their dreams through their talented children, Fenlon Snr never put any pressure on his son and, even though he could have been his manager, he made a point of handing that task to others.
"He encouraged me, but didn't ram it down my throat," the Bohs boss recalled. "He realised that I wasn't blessed with huge pace and I was a skinny little fecker so he encouraged me to develop a more aggressive attitude on the pitch. He knew that I needed to show a little bit of devilment, but at the same time he gave out to me for giving backchat to referees.
"He helped me in two other ways -- by encouraging me to play 24 hours if I wanted to, and to play in different positions: wide on the left, up front, and wide on the right. In fact, I didn't play central midfield until I signed for Bohs and I was 21. A lot of parents put so much pressure on their kids nowadays that they give up at 16, but my dad wasn't like that."
Most of all, though, his father imbued him with a love of the game. It is this which is the common thread behind all the success he has enjoyed so far -- and will enjoy in the future, wherever his career takes him.