Fenlon vital to Bohs cause
Gypsies aim to scare suitors with price tag, writes Daniel McDonnell
Bohemians didn't see it coming. They expected Pat Fenlon to be in Spain on a family holiday yesterday. Not in Dalymount Park, locked in a dilemma surrounding his future as manager of the League of Ireland champions.
The decision could be taken out of his hands if the Gypsies' compensation demands scare off Dundee United completely. Sources close to both clubs have confirmed that officials at Tannadice were taken aback by the figure requested by the League of Ireland for Fenlon's services if he, indeed, is the chosen one.
Sometimes, though, football operates its own kind of employment law. If Dundee United really want Fenlon, and he really wants them, then there's an inevitability about the process. It can be amicable or it can get nasty. That scenario remains an 'if' for now, though, even if it's highly unusual in the real world for a club to seek official permission to speak to a manager they really don't want.
The 10am fax was the last thing the powers that be in Phibsborough needed. For them, the prospect of life without their 40-year-old manager is unthinkable. Four trophies in two seasons tells its own story, particularly in the shadow of the deep, financial uncertainty created by the stuttering sale of Dalymount Park.
Those problems linger to the extent that if the club had known in November that Fenlon might leave, club sources indicate they wouldn't have sanctioned the full-time budget and subsequent acquisitions for 2010. Although they are officially in cold storage until a transfer embargo, recruits like Chris O'Connor, Raffaele Cretaro, Stephen Gray, Ruaidhri Higgins and Gareth McGlynn have agreed deals to work under Fenlon and are on a fitness programme building up to the beginning of pre-season training on January 15.
The captures were ratified with a view to retaining the Premier Division crown in 2010, challenging for every other domestic competition and making a stride in Europe; a target which Fenlon reckons is possible with the squad at his disposal.
Are Bohs confident they could do the same in the absence of the man known by all around the league as 'Nutsy'? The short answer is no. There is a dearth of obvious replacements, and they have history with Paul Doolin and Stephen Kenny, the two names that would most likely be put forward if a vacancy arose.
So that's why they are determined to fight off advances. It's a matter of survival, no matter what way it's dressed up. Yet the feeling in Irish football circles as the story gathered legs yesterday was that if Dundee United had identified Fenlon as the one they wanted, then it would be impossible to stop it happening.
"To be fair to Pat, he would be going to a bigger club," said Derry boss Kenny, who knows all about the situation his old foe finds himself in. "They've got good facilities, good stadium and they're fourth in the SPL. It's a good sized club. Pat's very calculated and certainly he would see that it would be a good decision.
"It's a great opportunity. When I went to Scotland, with Dunfermline, they were struggling and there was a lot of senior pros there on long contracts. But Dundee United are in a good position and it's a very attractive proposition."
His current employers are aware of that, but keen to stress that the grass isn't always greener on the other side. While Fenlon kept his counsel yesterday, Secretary Gerry Conway hinted the sentiment had been an aspect of their discussions.
"Sometimes an opportunity comes when you feel you have to give it a go," he asked, "I don't think he knows if this is the opportunity. It's only if everything was right, with family and the contract and the budget and so on."
Conway says that Fenlon requested a new four-year contract last January when paycuts were imposed on management and staff as worries at the North Dublin club intensified. Therefore, with three years remaining on the deal, Bohs feel justified in seeking large compensation from the Arabs.
What's more, they feel they are entitled to factor in potential earnings this season into the figure they are seeking. That would effectively be saying they wouldn't possess high hopes for success without him.
Add in the prize money elements and you've got a total that's understood to be in the same ballpark as the £250,000 received by Dundee United when they lost previous incumbent Craig Levein to the SFA to become national team manager.
Sources in Scotland say that Dundee United stepped away from initial first choice Derek McInnes due to compensation issues with his current employers St Johnstone although another complication is that it has been decided that Levein's assistant Peter Houston will work alongside the new man. McInnes wanted to bring his number two Tony Docherty as part of the package.
Nevertheless, the feeling is that the Tannadice club are unwilling to shell out much cash given they have monetary problems of their own.
"If they want to get the best manager, and in this case, it's Pat Fenlon, then they have to be prepared to pay for it," said Conway, "We can't let him go on the cheap and I think Pat knows that.
"We have no problem with Dundee United and how they've conducted themselves. They sent a fax requesting to speak with the manager and we've allowed them to do that, but it's subject to significant compensation if agreement (with Fenlon) was reached.
"But if they're looking for a cheap manager then they've knocked on the wrong door."