Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Paul Ince and the fallacy of the Young English Manager
Paul Ince, one of England's finest international players and the archetypal English #8, was sacked as manager of Blackburn Rovers this morning after less than six months in the job. Blackburn Rovers' board, in a press statement, made it clear that the former Macclesfield and MK Dons boss could not, in their opinion, revive the team to face a real relegation battle.
In a Premier League whose lower half tends to resemble a black hole as early as December, safety first was the approach. Various voices have clamoured for more time for this 'Young English Manager', simply to keep alive the fragile idea that this archetype somehow means 'good manager'. Ince did himself no favours, but he was also far out of his depth.
In buying Keith Andrews from the lower leagues, a Robbie Fowler whose best years were not even in the 21st century, and Paul Robinson (no explanation required), Ince failed to replicate his predecessor Mark Hughes' highly successful transfer policy. Letting keeper Brad Friedel go to Aston Villa has not only solidified that club's fortunes but dealt a cruel blow to Rovers. To be fair, the injuries to Steven Reid and David Dunn were cruel to an already weak squad, but the headline writers have rightfully overlooked this fact. They know, like we do, that it wouldn't have made much difference.
Mark Hughes' Blackburn was tough, inspired by a strong yet amazingly fair manager who gave the team a sense of solidity and purpose. They were hard to play against and their best players performed consistently. The captures of Roque Santa Cruz and Benni McCarthy stand out as some of the best, yet less than £7mil was spent securing their services. Ince, operating under the same financial constraints, failed to make an impact. The departure of David Bentley itself was probably the death blow, and the fact that almost half the fee went straight into Arsene Wenger's pocket thanks to some cheeky sell-on clauses only adds insult to injury.
The idea that a good player makes a good manager is patently false, let that be very clear. I know that all Premier League chairmen have this blog on Google Reader, so my words are not in vain. Ferguson, Wenger and Benitez are all smart outside of football. They live and breathe the sport but command respect from players and fans for their smarts. Not for their shouts, as one would suspect was the case for Roy Keane and Paul Ince, not coincidentally the first managers to get the sack this season. Pep Guardiola, overseeing perhaps the best Barcelona team of the last ten years, was a fantastic midfielder but his superb mangerial acumen comes from years of grassroots football in the Barcelona B and C teams.
Not many of the managers floating around the world right now can fix Blackburn's problem, if it can be fixed at all without an injection of cash. I hate to say it, but Avram Grant is one of the best yet overlooked candidates for the job. His reputation for defensive football may be welcome at a club so demoralised that solid central defenders like Ryan Nelsen and Christopher Samba are humiliated by pisspoor strikers latching onto speculative crosses.
But don't expect any sense from a Premier League chairman in his managerial appointments. Their job is to make the league interesting by picking managers from all categories, from 'Young English Manager' to 'Old-School English Journeyman Manager', rather than get the man for the job.