Jim Rosenthal, what’s your secret?

As Andy Murray started his quest to win the US Open, the kangaroo court on Yellow Forum was well and truly in session over the surprise announcement that Jim Rosenthal had resigned from the Oxford board. About four comments down in the discussion was a link to a little exchange of tweets involving me.

‘Curious’ said the contributor.

I’d been implicated in the gossip and speculation surrounding Rosenthal’s resignation. There was perhaps even a suggestion I knew something. What I said, however, was not in any way ‘curious’. I was merely pointing out the tautological nature of Rosenthal’s announcement. He said he’d resigned because he’d felt it necessary to. Well, you’d be surprised if he’d said that he’d resigned because he felt it was not necessary to. There may be subtext in his statement, but Rosenthal doesn’t use emoticons to express emotions.

The statement said it was not in the interest of the club to give a reason, which, on the face of it, suggests that there is something sensitive going on or that he’s done something that is not in the interest of the club. If he felt strongly that something has gone wrong, then it is in the interests of the club to let people know about it – because if he can’t change it, perhaps others can. There is no evidence that this is the case.

The vacuum left by Rosenthal’s reticence and the club’s eerie silence has been filled with plenty of idle speculation. Some of it has a degree of plausibility – for example, the takeover (or at least, investor) thesis is one. The Lenagan family monopoly around the board table making Rosenthal’s role redundant is another.

The most common theme, however, is that Ian Lenagan is now some kind of evil. Demonstrating classic symptoms of an oedipus complex, Lenegan represents the father-figure we now want to kill. One sinister speculation was that “you get the feeling that he’s one of those people that gets angry if things aren’t done the way he wants them to be”. Christ, cross him and you’ll have Tony Capaldi’s severed head in your bed.

He has even been assimilated to Firoz Kassam; which is the Oxford United version of that point in an argument when you shout ‘Well, if we all thought like that, we’d be living in Nazi Germany by now’.

One example of his meanness was the hard line he supposedly took in the programme on Saturday towards the fans who threw a smoke bomb during the Swindon game. Lenagan is obliged to condemn such behaviour. Moreover, the incident will have a direct impact on future policing and stewarding costs. That’s a few thousand less to be spent on players, if you will. Although, apparently one or two seem to think that throwing smoke bombs can be defended:

“That was a obviously bit close for your comfort zone ..but like it or no Mr.IL that’s the way its bin re the Scum for quite a few years here now so don’t try to re-write history and sanitise the whole thing to the point of a fixture against Barnet (no disrespect meant Bees fans). Personally I still don’t think you get it …at all!”

We have no idea why Rosenthal has resigned. In terms of what impact it will have, we need to think about what he brought to the director’s table. His core skill set has to be his media experience. In recent years the club have managed their public image well with the Chapman incident, the 12th Man, the pink ox and the James Constable saga all being handled impeccably. If Rosenthal had a hand in that, then he’s provided good input there, although you could argue that your media profile is a relatively small part of a lower league football club which needs to focus on funds and results.

He has also been the club’s conscience, our man on the inside. That’s certainly how some fans see him. However, the yellow shirt aside, is there much from Oxford’s recent past that is beyond replacement, improvement or amendment? Can we genuinely say that there is something about the ‘Oxford way’ which is so valuable that it is worth defending? It strikes me that a successful sports club is a successful sports club, and someone protecting the old ways of doing things could easily become a drain on progress.

Something has definitely changed within the club in recent months. If I were to speculate, I would say the strategy has shifted to a greater focus on building a sustainable infrastructure rather than continuing to make short term front line investments like the signing of people like Michael Duberry. Duberry is a hell of a signing, but how much longer can he keep it up?

This change  might be driven by changes in the situation regarding the purchase of the stadium. That is, there’s little prospect of releasing the revenue potential that will come from owning the stadium, so investment is better focussed on the long term sustainability of the club. Perhaps Rosenthal and Lenagan don’t agree on that strategy going forward. If he is looking for longer term success, which has not seen a bad outcome at Lenagan’s other club, Wigan Warriors, then perhaps Rosenthal’s resignation is not quite the end of the world.

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Oxblogger is a blog about Oxford United.

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