I don’t want to pop anyone’s bubble but despite the brouhaha surrounding the appointment of our new head coach, the fate of a football club is not really in that particular decision. At least not wholly. It is decided via a very simple formula; budget plus or minus the tactical nous of your manager.
It is Budget that is overwhelmingly the deciding factor; if you rank clubs in any division by the money they have at the start of the season, that’s pretty much where they’ll finish at the end. Perhaps there should be similar levels of excitement when budget for the forthcoming season is announced.
The impact of the manager is surprisingly small when you think about it. There’s lots of accepted practice in football; most play with a goalkeeper, for example and four or five (rarely six) defenders, 3, 4 or 5 midfielders and 1, 2 or occasionally 3 strikers. These permutations are limited by broader decisions to attack or defend, which are determined by things like whether you’re home or away or playing a team above or below you.
Most managerial decisions serve to neutralise those of the opposition. Decisions that make a difference to a game or a season are comparatively small. In the end, a club will rarely improve more than a few places above their natural ‘fiscal’ level.
Those more informed than me suggest that Oxford have about the 7th biggest budget in the division. With a competent manager we should expect to finish in the play-offs. The challenge for the manager is to ease us into the automatic positions. Even before the season started, the title, almost certainly, was beyond us.
There are a whole range of reasons why people don’t get jobs; salary, terms and conditions, location. So it is difficult to say for sure why Waddock and not others got the job, but that notwithstanding, let’s look at some of the candidates.
Paul Tisdale is one of the game’s theoreticians in the mould of Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho or Nigel Adkins. Managers with no playing career to speak of who have progressed into management. Tisdale’s came from the Team Bath experiment – a semi professional university team in the mould of the American colleges. There’s a lot of attraction of someone like him at Oxford. Ian Lenagan is trying to buck our financial position by implementing an innovative project based around youth development. That’s not dissimilar to what Tisdale tried to pioneer at Bath; he understands the principles of player development.
Tisdale enjoys a reputation following his successes at Exeter. However, is that down to his innovation and capabilities? On the face of it, yes, because Exeter are a small team who have recently been towards to top of League 1. However, in 2005 they had two FA Cup games against Manchester United. Those two games generated a significant amount of money; enough to make Exeter one of the richer, or at least more stable Conference sides. As we painfully know, in 2007 they negotiated the play-offs and followed that up with a further promotion. However, more recently, the Grecians have struggled and rumours are the money is, again, running out. Is Exeter’s success down to Tisdale, or that brief pot of cash they generated?
James Beattie was another in the frame. Now, romanticists live in hope of finding a Brian Clough or Sir Alex Ferguson. Managers with a streak of genius who take you to the top. They start in incongruous places – Clough at Hartlepools, Ferguson at St Mirren (Graham Taylor at Lincoln, Jim Smith at Boston). Young managers are an attractive proposition because they may just be The One. Beattie has shown promise; he’s comfortable managing in the lower leagues despite his profile and he’s certainly bucked Accrington Stanley’s budget this season. However, the evidence pool for Beattie is just too small. Perhaps Beattie is the new Clough, do we want to risk promotion to find out?
Gary Waddock’s name that hadn’t even been mentioned before Friday. The news was broken by Nobby D, who heard it indirectly from the horse’s wife’s mouth, as it were. Although the name came from left field, as soon as I read his text, it suddenly made sense.
Firstly, Waddock managed a hugely impressive Aldershot team that absolutely took us to the cleaners in 2007. It’s not often that you enjoy an away team; and Aldershot were a team I had a particular dislike of due to, pathetically, their over-pricing of FA Cup tickets in their tie against us in 1986. By 2007 they returned from liquidation a formidable force both on the pitch and off it. One of the significant points here is that Waddock, aside from being successful, was working in a broader system. With Aldershot being a fan-owned ‘phoenix’ club he was going to have to be in step with that philosophy.
After a spell, and promotion (and relegation) with Wycombe, he disappeared from view before taking on the role of ‘Head of Coaching’ at MK Dons.
Aside from the emotional and political difficulties with the Dons, and the fact that Pete Winkleman looks like a lost Munster, they are a very well run football club. I’d have a lot of confidence that Waddock is good at what he does. Also, ‘head of coaching’ is a technical role fitting in well with the Lenagan vision.
Ian Lenagan said on Friday that he was delighted with the selection process he’d followed. In fact he seemed rather more pleased with that than with his man, who he described as possibly not everyone’s preference. But that’s the Lenagan vision; systems not individuals. It’s how most businesses work.
It is telling that Waddock has been named ‘head coach’ as the club moves away from the traditional sheepskin coat wearing, ego-centric, autocratic British football manager. It is also telling that Mickey Lewis and Andy Melville both seem safe in their roles; again suggesting that Waddock will not be allowed to sweep away the existing set up for his own preference. Waddock also talks of being part of a system, which given his experience at Aldershot and MK Dons; both brand new clubs in many ways, it seems he can work within.
So, Waddock understands the rigours of the lower leagues, he has form in getting teams to perform beyond their budgetary means, he has the endorsement of a very well run club. More importantly, he can work within a wider plan. All of which points to a very solid, logical appointment; which is pretty much all you can hope for at this stage.