Having considered Andre Villas-Boas’ short reign at Chelsea, I couldn’t help but see many similarities between that and the short spell of Jim Gannon as Motherwell manager. Admittedly, the job in hand differed massively in terms of prestige and ambition, but both arrived as young managers full of ideas ready to revamp their club.
From their faith in youth, to their lack of fear in dealing with long-serving players and their dealings with the media, there are many aspects that point to Gannon being a smaller scale Villas-Boas.
The phrase “Rome wasn’t built in a day” is one which is often used in football, but given Chelsea’s track record with managers I was surprised they chose a man with a long term strategy in Villas-Boas. However, it was clear to see why Motherwell opted for Gannon, as Mark McGhee had a successful spell in charge but his departure saw a depleted squad and Motherwell back to square one – so a long-term strategy was a good choice.
Both managers showed no fear of reputations upon arrival at their respective clubs. After his first game in charge, Gannon publicly criticised club captain Stephen Craigan and continued to show no sentiment for established first team players. Keith Lasley, Marc Fitzpatrick and Steven McGarry had also previously been regulars but had to watch much of Gannon’s reign from the sidelines. Similarly at Chelsea, in the season before Villas-Boas took over, Frank Lampard, Florent Malouda and Nicolas Anelka had been the club’s top three scorers but that seemed to be immaterial to the Portuguese manager, as he preferred other options.
Decisions to leave fans’ favourites out of a team is definitely a bold move, as however much good it may do it increases pressure to succeed. If a manager wins games with club icons on the bench or in the stand it is rarely noted the players were absent. But if a game ends in defeat then blame can often be attributed to what the favoured players who were missing could have added, which brings me to my next comparison: their faith in youth.
Whilst in charge of Motherwell, Mark McGhee rarely used young players, favouring the old heads currently at the club and in the transfer market opting for those already with first team experience. In total, there were only seven appearances by home-grown debutants in his two year reign, with four of them from the bench. By contrast, when Gannon took over he instantly integrated Shaun Hutchinson, Steven Saunders, Ross Forbes, Jamie Murphy and Paul Slane into his first team plans, with Jonathan Page and Bob McHugh also featuring. In the transfer market, he mainly opted for promise rather than proven ability, with the likes of Tom Hateley and Chris Humphrey.
Although Chelsea’s new found belief in youth didn’t come from within, as only Daniel Sturridge emerged from those already at the club, Villas-Boas’ transfer dealings seemed to look to the future. Only two of his six summer signings were over 21, and one of those Juan Mata, 24, who it’s safe to say had his best years ahead of him. This was a far cry from the type of transfers Chelsea were used to, as although their signings were relatively high profile, individually they came far cheaper than, for example, the £25 million for Michael Essien and £50 million for Fernando Torres.
Both Motherwell and Chelsea had come from regimes where they were used to signing players at the very top of the range available to them. But they were now seeing their sides sign players with raw potential, whose raw potential needed nurturing to create the finished article.
In the case of the omission of fans’ favourites, sometimes fans can be too fickle to see how the club are progressing from it. Take Lampard, 33, and Stephen Craigan, now 35, although he was the same age as Lampard during Gannon’s reign. No-one can doubt the contribution either man has made for his club. Lampard has been a fantastic goalscoring midfielder for years, whilst Craigan had made himself a mainstay of Motherwell’s defence. What I think caused unrest in both being ousted was the fact that their replacements were unable to instantly maintain the same level of performance. Men in their mid-30s are not going to play at the top level for much longer and the sooner steps are made to replace them the sooner the club can progress long-term. In Lampard’s case, it would be almost impossible for a novice to match his impact, but with the right development the novice may one day reach his level. Football fans don’t tend to be fond of inbetween stages.
Neither manager seemed fazed by much, especially the media. Villas-Boas’ brash press conferences were well noted and although Gannon was less in the public eye, the fact he refused Sky an interview on the grounds his satellite dish wasn’t working speaks for itself. The downfall seemed to start with draws in abundance for both managers, although defeats soon saw both dismissed.
Draws against opposition like Wigan, Swansea and Norwich were condoned unacceptable by the Chelsea faithful, as well as blowing a three goal lead to only draw with Manchester United. For Gannon, draws against ten men Hamilton Accies, Dundee United and Aberdeen, especially when the latter two were from winning positions, led to his downfall.
Arguably, a draw against Wigan or failing to beat Hamilton Accies with a man advantage can help the making of a future managerial star. The foundations laid by both Gannon and Villas-Boas hinted at a bright future, but in the impatient sport of football, the future will be worried about tomorrow.