Saturday 20 January 2018

O'Leary fate shows Hughes must take new job quickly

WHAT was the name of that fella who used to manage Manchester City? Remember, everyone was outraged when he was sacked. They said he deserved more support from his owners and muttered all the usual stuff about needing time to blend all of his new signings into the team. It wasn't that long ago either.

They wheeled out the old yarn about Mark Robins scoring the goal that apparently saved Alex Ferguson's career against Nottingham Forest 20 years ago. Imagine what might have happened if the ex-City manager had been given that kind of leeway. Mark something was the guy's name.

It's difficult to remember now because Roberto Mancini's in charge, he's won three games, scored six, conceded none, could go fourth in the table tonight, signed Patrick Vieira and told a few jokes to get the media onside -- everything is now perfect at Eastlands.

Hughes, that was it. Mark Hughes.

He only lost two league games this season, but even with an impressive spell at Blackburn, Hughes' overall managerial record isn't as good as that bloke who used to manage Leeds United. Remember him? A bit like Hughes: a hero for his country, career seemed on an upward curve that sort of thing. David something.

At Leeds, his teams finished fourth, third, fourth and fifth and then he was sacked. O'Leary, yeah that's it, David O'Leary. His book wasn't great and he bought like a shopaholic on Christmas Eve, but, as most managers will agree, it's not their job to balance the books. They spend whatever money they are given by those who control the purse strings -- people who should keep an eye on outgoings.


That O'Leary guy then went to Aston Villa when they were struggling and bumped them up to sixth in the league; he signed Martin Laursen the next season and finished tenth and, in his final season, finished 16th.

"We're not fickle, we just don't like you," was the memorable banner unfurled by Villa fans in the months before he left, but popularity with supporters is rarely a trait associated with departing managers, even if they haven't done a particularly bad job. Just ask Gary Megson.

Add a Champions League and UEFA Cup semi-final to O'Leary's run of league placings, and, in theory, there should be plenty of clubs knocking, yet it's approaching four years since O'Leary had the chance to pick a team. In football, more so than in most industries, out of sight equals out of mind and previous performance isn't always as important to prospective employers as rumours and profile.

That's the reason why so many out-of-work managers are seen on television. The few quid extra is handy, but, mostly, it's just to have their face on screen and remind chairmen that they are still around.

There seems to be two ways of dealing with the sack. One involves 'taking a break from the game,' which is understandable until your name is either forgotten or overtaken by a new batch of managers suddenly on the market. At that point, the tactic is to announce you are 'ready to return to the dugout' and wait.

Sometimes, as with Martin O'Neill and Sam Allardyce, managers are lucky that another job suited to their skills becomes available quickly.

Others, like Alan Curbishley or Paul Jewell, find themselves in every betting market for every job yet, despite decent Premier League records, the phone doesn't ring.

There were some Charlton supporters who were happy to see Curbishley leave after 15 years. They felt he had 'taken them as far as he could' when he left them in 2006 in 13th place in the Premier League. They were right: Charlton are now third in League One.

In the 16 months since he left West Ham, Curbishley has won a constructive dismissal case against the club, yet, in the 'what have you done lately?' category of a managerial interview, he continues to miss out.

That criterion, however, isn't a problem for either Darren Ferguson or Alan Irvine, who took the second option available to a sacked manager: get back on the nearest horse, preferably before hitting the ground.

Ferguson performed the remarkable feat of being sacked by a club at the bottom of the division (Peterborough) and, weeks later, being appointed of a team eight places higher. The man he replaced at Preston, Irvine, is now in charge of Sheffield Wednesday two weeks after leaving Deepdale.

It's not quite the glamour of the Premier League but, at any level, the same rules apply: get back in the game before the game moves on.

With Owen Coyle having jumped ship to Bolton, Burnley now find themselves looking for a manager, with the usual suspects in the frame: Curbishley, Jewell, Steve Coppell, Gareth Southgate. Throw in Gabriel Byrne and there could be a film made out of it.

Hughes' name is nowhere to be seen except in the optimistic text messages of Burnley fans, but, with only a handful of Premier League clubs likely to be seeking managers in the next few months, he should think carefully about waiting on 'the right job'.

There are enough people filling television studios as experts who could tell him how long that wait could be.

Irish Independent

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