With Nigel Adkins losing his job as manager of Reading FC, it got me thinking about managers that have suddenly lost their way having made encouraging, albeit eventually misleading, starts to their management careers at their respective clubs.
Adkins was one that looked like he was going to make it, and you never know he still might. He was Scunthorpe’s physio whilst Brian Laws was making a decent start to his own managerial career and found himself in the hot seat once Laws moved on. He did a great job at Scunny which led him to Southampton, and he was the man, along with a wonderful back room structure that was being put in place, that took them from League One to the Premier League in successive seasons. To many, it seemed really harsh when he was sacked from St Mary’s and replaced with an unknown Argentinian, Pochettino. Whilst Southampton were eventually applauded for their foresight, having been mocked (sounds very similar to July-December 2014) Adkins found himself at Reading FC, another club that looks quite similar to Southampton – surely the ideal man to do what he did once already, no?
It doesn’t always work out like that, and after a few months short of two years Adkins finds himself unemployed and, realistically I feel, probably has one more job at a club of Reading’s size if not very slightly smaller to prove himself as a manager otherwise he will slip into the ever increasing pool of nearly men.
With a dearth of English managers at the top of the English game, which despite the Premier League’s best efforts to distance itself from the English FA is what the Premier League is, it is understandable that any new English boss appears is heralded. The same happens with players, the moment we find one that suggests even momentarily that they could be a world-beater we place layer upon layer of lead on their shoulders and they never go on to be quite as good as we hoped (Paul Gascoigne WC90, Wayne Rooney Euro 2004, Michael Owen WC98, Joe Cole WC2006. Steven Gerrard, take your pick, Raheem Sterling, currently.)
For many, becoming England manager is still seen as the pinnacle of any English manager’s career. Personally, I am not sure I agree with this. I think it is a far bigger challenge and achievement to be English and a successful manager of a Champions League side as the competition for those roles is far greater than the competition to be England manager, but nevertheless being England manager is still a rubber stamp that you are considered a good, English manager. Therefore to be considered a “potential England manager” or even “an England manager of the future” is considered praise indeed, even though it is quite often just thrown out on to the next English manager that has strung together a few decent results.
In my time following top level English football (since about 1987 for those of you trying to do the maths and see how qualified I am) there have been quite a few “potential England managers” that have fallen by the wayside. Here are a few from memory, and I have even gone to the extra level for once of doing some research on what happened to them.
In no particular order:
Mike Walker (Norwich, then Everton) – Walker came to attention by making Norwich Premier League contenders in the very early days, before falling hopelessly for the advances of “a big club”, Everton FC. Considered to be the man, after the man, after the man, who could take Everton back to the top of the English game Walker went from being England’s next great manager to…..
Gerry Francis (QPR) – there was a time that QPR were the leading London club and it really wasn’t that long ago. Francis, blessed with players like Ferdinand, Sinclair and Sinton led QPR to 5th place in 92/93 and was immediately hailed as a potential replacement for Graham Taylor. Funnily enough, once Ferdinand, Sinclair and Sinton were sold Francis didn’t do so well and then ended up being sacked from Spurs.
Alan Ball (Southampton, then Manchester City) – Ball, many peoples man-of-the-match on that day in 1966, led a Matt Le Tissier inspired Southampton to be one of the most eye-catching sides in the Premier League between January 1994 and July 1995. Again, the allure of a big club, albeit Manchester City, proved to big for another “potential England manager” and Ball quit City having been relegated in 95/96 and ended up back at Portsmouth for his last managerial job.
David Platt (Nottingham Forest) – it always gets exciting when a former England international, and a bloody good one at that, gets his first job as a manager. Straight away, without actually seeing what he could do in the dugout, Platt was being touted as the man that could save England. Bright, tactically aware, had played on the continent, Platt was guaranteed to take Forest back to the top and then lead England to glory, right? Actually, no. He managed Forest for two years, spent a lot of money and didn’t really take them anywhere – many Forest fans still blame him for the club getting into so much debt.
Bryan Robson (Middlesborough) – Captain Marvel was guaranteed to become a great England manager, wasn’t he? He got Boro into the Premier League, he signed the greatest collection of foreign talent ever to play on Teesside, I mean Ravanelli, Juninho, Boskic and Emerson were unlikely to go to Boro if the former England captain wasn’t in charge. He even assisted Terry Venables in Euro 96, England’s best ever performance at an International Tournament held in England since 1966. The FA even suggested there was a clear succession plan in place, before ignoring what they said completely and giving Hoddle the job after Venables left. Robson never really recovered from not sending a team to play Blackburn Rovers, Boro were relegated and the magic seemed to disappear. Jobs at Bradford, WBA and Sheffield United did little to re-ignite his career.
Paul Ince (Macclesfield & MK Dons) – what a start ‘the Guvnor’ made to his management career, keeping the Macc in the league and then getting MK Dons promoted. He looked sure-fire to be an England manager of the not-too-distant future until he went to Blackburn, his out-dated methods (how can you be so outdated when you’ve been a manager two seasons?) were found out and he now seems to ply his trade as agent for his son.
Aidy Boothroyd (Watford) – considered at the time, probably only by me, to be the English Mourinho. He seemed meticulous in his approach, got Watford into the Premier League and nearly kept them there. He seemed to be brilliant and getting the best out of players, giving them belief and making average players excel – ideal for England, surely? Sadly, he was unable to keep it up after an excellent start and ended up at Colchester, then Coventry (though I challenge anyone to have succeeded there at the time) and finally Northampton Town. For me, he’s the one that got away.
Of all the “potential England managers” that exist out there, who is my personal favourite? Step forward, Edward Howe of AFC Bournemouth. For the uneducated, watch how his team plays. It isn’t just FA blueprints of ideals, he is actually putting it into action. The Cherries actually pass a ball properly, they move properly, they press as a group properly. In fact, they play just like a side that could not possibly be managed by an Englishman, and certainly not one so young. Ok, he had a bad time at Burnley, and a cynic could suggest that he is only a good Bournemouth manager, but if he keeps doing what he is doing I would assume he would fancy another challenge at some point.
Back to Nigel Adkins; I feel for him. He comes across as a really nice guy and if he hadn’t been booted out of Southampton at that point who knows what might have happened for him. It might have been him moaning about the size of the pitch at White Hart Lane. Ah, in the words of Tim Sherwood, he was probably too English for that to happen.