Sunday 4 November 2012

The Tumultuous Life of a Caretaker Manager

From Attilio Lombardo and Tomas Brolin at Crystal Palace to the man who guided Aston Villa to European Cup glory, caretaker management throws up some interesting oddities. 
Perennial caretaker manager Howard Wilkinson
As gruelling probation periods in jobs go, caretaker management in football is among the most arduous. From thankless tasks filling others’ shoes before someone more famous and erudite takes the position to being a genuine contender for a permanent position, having the pressure of hoards of fans watching your every move is a baptism of fire.
Two caretakers who have rolled up their sleeves and taken up the challenge are ex-AFC Wimbledon boss Simon Bassey and Tommy Wright, who was Chesterfield caretaker until the appointment of former Accrington Stanley boss Paul Cook this week. The pair shored up their sides after difficult starts to the season. Bassey took over from previous manager Terry Brown last month after a poor run of form from a club which had threatened back-to-back promotions the previous season. Bassey took AFC Wimbledon clear of the relegation zone before handing over the reins to Neil Ardley last month.
Wright recorded just one defeat in his 11 games but this was not enough to see him given the job permanently. For chairmen, a manager who knows the club and the players well can often prove both the simplest but the most effective option and Bassey looks likely to get the nod. Caretakers are often assistant manners, coaches and in the case of Southampton boss Nigel Adkins, the physio when he was in temporary charge of Scunthorpe (fans used to sing ‘Who needs Mourinho? We’ve got our physio!” during his tenure). However, being a caretaker can be a lonely game. Ignored by the press as names are thrown in the ring for your job and often overlooked in the annals of history despite the position being the proudest of many managers’ careers.
For example, four caretakers have stewarded the England national side through difficult days - Joe Mercer, who managed seven games in 1974, Howard Wilkinson is the only man to have managed them twice a year apart and Peter Taylor and Stuart Pearce who have a solitary appearance in the dugout against their names. In charge for a brief period and then cast away when the man with the cigar and the ego appear, it’s far from an easy gig.
The players, too, are unlikely to enjoy the situation. Former Northern Ireland manager Sammy McIlroy said recently: “Players love certainty, they hate reading speculation in the media and they thrive on continuity. There’s nothing wrong with a club showing a bit of patience when looking for a new manager but there’s also a danger of leaving it too late as well.”
But there remains plenty of glory in temporary management and, for some, there’s little pressure if they’re not in the frame for a permanent job. Among the most notable names in caretaker management is former Arsenal assistant manager Stewart Houston who guided the Gunners to the 1995 European Cup Winners Cup Final after George Graham was abruptly sacked. In recent years, Chelsea have provided an interesting caretaker narrative as Roman Ambrovich wends his way through the managerial merry-go-round. First Guus Hiddink led them to the semi-final of the UEFA Champions League in 2009 before Roberto Di Matteo brought home the jug-eared trophy this summer. Having proven himself on the biggest club stage at all, Di Matteo was deemed to have earned his stripes and got the permanent gig.
Not every stint is so brief or unique. There are several notable serial caretakers including Blackburn’s Tony Parkes and Spurs’ David Pleat. Parkes actually had six periods as caretaker manager at Ewood Park between 1986 and 2004, with the longest coming during the 1996-97 season when he was in charge for seven months after Sven-Goran Eriksson was appointed then pulled out and then Roy Hodgson worked out his contract at Inter Milan.
However, Parkes fell short of the record British caretaker spell held by Pleat. The last of his four stints as Spurs boss in the 2003-04 season lasted eight months and two weeks as the beige-suited bouncer warmed the White Hart Lane hot seat for Jacques Santini after the departure of Glenn Hoddle.
Ultimately caretakers do not get the respect that many permanent bosses are afforded despite steadying the ship in many cases. However, for a few men in football, these short stints can be their proudest achievements bringing silverware and fan adoration. Not bad for a temp job.
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