Garry Haylock: What happens intelligent, resourceful businessmen when they become chairmen of football clubs?

Wed, Apr 05 2017

Martin Russell was let go just six games into the season, with his side in mid-table. Credit: Tom Beary

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In 1995, following a somewhat controversial move, I found myself playing for Portadown in the Irish League.

 

I played with a group of some exceptionally talented players assembled, some would say expensively, by manager Ronnie McFall.

 

It has often been said that Ronnie was a wonderful judge of a player but then struggled to manage the group effectively.

 

Well that year we were magnificent, winning our first seven games, before having a mid-season dip and then finishing the season well to win the league.

 

Recent events reminded me of one particular player and his love/hate relationship with Ronnie.

 

During the first half of a midweek game our centre-half cleared a corner to the edge of the box towards this player. Rather than clearing it as far as he could, he brought it down and very calmly rolled it back to our full-back on the edge of the six-yard box.

 

This particular full-back was not blessed with the greatest touch and he then attempted a rushed clearance that was almost sliced into the back of our goal.

 

Meanwhile, the protagonist of this anecdote had dropped off at an angle to receive the ball back – a backwards one-two in our box when under pressure.

 

I can still see Ronnie’s face turning puce following the reply the player gave to the question: “why didn’t you stick it in the stand?”

 

He said: “So when do we start to play, Ronnie?” I thought Ronnie was going to explode!

 

The player? The mercurial Martin Russell, who this week parted company with Limerick just six games into the season, following a magnificent title-winning season in the First Division last year.

 

I spent three years travelling and playing with Martin. Anyone who knows him even a little bit will know that he is a footballing purist.

 

He always wanted to play the beautiful game and he was one of the most talented players of his generation.

 

Having spent a lot of his career in England and then several years with Portadown, it wasn’t until he had turned 30 that the League of Ireland got a chance to see him play regularly, so it is difficult to explain how good he was when utilised in the right way.

 

He was never going to win too many physical battles but displayed a bravery in wanting the ball that I have rarely witnessed. My point is that I have no doubt how Martin would want his teams play and am absolutely certain that is how they played last season.

 

Knowing that he would never sacrifice his principles to play in any other way I cannot for the life understand how anyone would then say after six games, with the team sitting eighth in the league and I would presume playing attractive football, that now is the best time to change the manager.

 

Surely, if there was the correct planning in place, the club would have all outcomes catered for – whether that be top of the league and looking to challenge for a European place or bottom of the table and trying to avoid relegation.

 

Another friend of mine has just got back in to the hotseat at Derby County following his inexplicable sacking at Birmingham. Gary Rowett has consistently said that the best advert he has had for his own abilities has been the performances of Birmingham since he left.

 

He is an insightful, pragmatic manager who will get the best out of the players that he has and it really wouldn’t surprise me if Derby made a late charge to the Championship play-offs.

 

The bigger question is what happens to intelligent, resourceful businessmen when they become chairmen of football clubs? Is there a UEFA course entitled 'How to make ridiculous decisions' that they must all attend?

 

If I went to doctor who had spent 30 years practising medicine and told him that what he was doing was wrong and he should treat his patients the way I think he should, I would be quite rightly laughed at.

 

Why then does the same time spent playing, coaching, managing and attending the myriad of courses required to be a top level coach/manager get treated in such fashion?

 

Jamie Carragher recently suggested that, just as there is a transfer window for players, there should also be a transfer window for managers.

 

This would ensure that clubs would do their due diligence and would have to stand by the man they themselves appointed. It might mean that there wouldn’t be so many knee-jerk reactions.

 

I don’t see it happening anytime soon, however.

 

And when we see things like the turn around in fortunes of Leicester City following the sacking of Claudio Ranieri, I think chairmen and owners will always feel that they can change their season just by changing their manager.

 

Garry Haylock is a former professional footballer and manager. During his playing career he represented Shelbourne, Dundalk, Linfield and Glentoran, winning the Premier Division twice and the FAI Cup three times, as well as two titles in Northern Ireland and 2 IFA Cups.