The Blog

Common Sense and Club Chairmen

Alex McLeish's departure from Nottingham Forest was not a surprise. Not just because there are question marks over the motives and mindset of the club's owners but also because something didn't seem right in a football context either.

Alex McLeish's departure from Nottingham Forest was not a surprise. Not just because there are question marks over the motives and mindset of the club's owners but also because something didn't seem right in a football context either. Though it might be harsh to judge so quickly, his short tenure wasn't exactly successful and the hallmarks of a long struggle for survival were becoming evident.

Quite apart from being qualified to run a football club, many owners these days seem devoid of basic common sense. For Fawaz Al Hasawi to replace Sean O'Driscoll with McLeish in the first place, he should surely have considered and planned for a massive transition in footballing terms because of the contrasting styles of the two managers. McLeish inherited a Sean O'Driscoll team, with the onus being on patience and ensuring every player on the pitch was comfortable to receive and distribute the ball. McLeish is a manager who plays the percentages, gets the ball forward quickly and asks little of his defenders in terms of ball retention. As such, the type of player McLeish inherited wasn't befitting of his intended style of play, and so the prospects of getting results quickly were slim. Given McLeish wasn't provided with much in the way of resources to go and make wholesale changes in the January transfer window, the chances of challenging for promotion were very slim. This is common sense stuff.

For every Steve Gibson or Huw Jenkins, there is a "new" football club owner who seems destined to make a right pig's ear of the job. We used to like to criticise the likes of Ron Noades and Doug Ellis but some of their successors have put into perspective how lucky fans of Palace and Villa were to have such people in charge.

To my mind, a Chairman should be an astute business leader, with either a deep understanding of footballing culture or people around him who provide that insight. Business leadership is about common sense. Making key decisions about the people in that business should be based on some fairly simple criteria that ultimately qualify that person to achieve the goals you set out. There was always going to be some collateral damage, and the culture and style that Mcleish wished to create was always going to take time to develop. Longer than 40 days anyway.

I say all this assuming that the goal for the football club is always to achieve success, gain promotion to the next level and or win trophies. But who knows what goes on behind closed doors, what agendas are hidden from view and who really makes the decisions? I know it's easy with the benefit of hindsight to criticise decisions but Forest really seem to be making decisions based on flawed logic. Rather like the appointments of Mark Hughes at QPR and Henning Berg at Blackburn, I just don't see how they arrived at the decision to sack O'Driscoll and appoint Mcleish.

Management is a precarious profession but also a well rewarded one. I can see why Dean Hoyle replaced Lee Clark with Simon Grayson last season at Huddersfield, and why Milan Mandaric replaced Gary Megson with Dave Jones. Though harsh decisions, they ultimately proved to be the right ones. Hoyle has shown his ruthless streak again this year by sacking Grayson, the man who got him back up into the Championship. This may prove to be another astute decision if he gets the right man in to consolidate at that level and build the foundations for further progress.

I'm generally opposed to the short termism in football these days - it stops managers and coaches doing their job properly as their true vocation should surely be to develop a team over a period of time long enough to create a playing culture that gets results which is impossible to do in my opinion in a period less than 6 months. There are however managers out there who are capable of getting results in the short term, usually classed as motivators rather than coaches. Martin O'Neill, Sam Allardyce and Harry Redknapp have all done this in recent years. Maybe Al Hasawi thought Mcleish would be this sort of manager.

It's not just at the top level I see evidence of poor leadership from club Chairmen and directors when it comes to football decisions. It may be another level all together, but I see far too many poor appointments in non-league football, certainly below Conference level, where managers get jobs because of their standing in the game and connections, but usually come in and take the same approach as their predecessors, and with similar results as a consequence. I've been to games this season where managers and coaches stand and scream at their players and the referee, using seriously excessive bad language, and usually simply to berate them rather than coach them. Many club Chairmen seem to be afraid to appoint managers and coaches with different methods purely because they won't take the risk. It's much easier to escape blame if you've gone for the tried and tested but still failed than it is to stick your neck out and try something new.

Regarding the bad language, I have been guilty of this in the past and probably will be again but I am very mindful of the need to change this about myself - the game has moved on, I don't need to swear excessively to command respect and perhaps most importantly, the game's image will never change if this continues. Parents wanting to involve their kids in sport will often choose other sports if they pop down to their local side and hear excessive bad language for the entire 90 mins. Those who saw (and listened to me!) play, may chuckle when they read this but we all need to play our part.

So rather like the business world, football continues to show that great leaders are few and far between, and common sense really isn't that common after all.

Mick McCarthy clearly knew what he was doing when he turned the Forest job down prior to O'Driscoll's appointment. Most managers are not necessarily in a position to be so picky, but he's earned the right to be able to choose when and if a job, or perhaps more importantly, a chairman is right for him.