Joining the Enemy

HERE ARE a couple of exclusives. Sir Alex Ferguson will take over from Roberto Mancini at the noisy neighbours and Kenny Dalglish will be appointed manager of Everton.

No, I haven’t been at the wine gums again. But the news that the [soon to be] former Birmingham manager Alex McLeish is in line for the Aston Villa job raised eyebrows to a new height. English football, particularly at the top level, is not littered with managers joining the enemy.

While a chairman should back his own convictions, at the same time it would be foolish not to listen to the people who clubs say are their biggest sponsors – the supporters. Gerard Houllier is not a bad manager but was hampered by the timing of his appointment a few weeks into the season when the summer transfer window had closed, pre-season training was a distant memory and Villa were playing catch-up after a poor start. The Frenchman, whose health problems which began on April 20 saw him relinquish his post, was not popular with many Villa fans but McLeish has almost united both sets of supporters critical of the Scot. Villa supremo Randy Lerner has, as Del Boy would say, cocked a deaf ‘un though.

Ron Saunders made the reverse journey from Villa to Birmingham in 1982. Saunders led Villa to the old first division title for the first time in 71 years in 1981 (Villa using just 14 players in what was a 42-game season, rotation had not entered English football’s dictionary at the time) but a row with the board over his contract saw Saunders quit in Jan 1982. Four months later his assistant Tony Barton guided Villa to European Cup glory. Meanwhile, Saunders had moved straight to St Andrews but while he is fondly remembered at Villa Park, Blues supporters do not hold the Merseysider in such high esteem.

Once fans have decided they do not like/want a manager it is almost impossible to win them over. George Graham was doomed from day one when the manager who led Arsenal to two titles was appointed as the successor to Christian Gross at Tottenham in Oct 1998. Graham was not a failure at White Hart lane, he led Spurs to success in the League Cup in 1999, but was never accepted by the Spurs faithful and was sacked in March 2001 by ENIC, the club’s new owners.

Terry Neill did not suffer the bitterness Graham did after leaving Spurs to join Arsenal in July 1976 when, at 34, he became the youngest Gunners manager to date. His two years at Spurs saw him save the club from relegation before moving across North London. Under Neill Arsenal reached three FA Cup finals, winning one, and losing the 1980 Cup-winners’ Cup final to Valencia on penalties. Three weeks after a League Cup defeat by Walsall, Neill was sacked in Dec 1983.

Harry Redknapp shocked Portsmouth when, in Nov 2004, he quit Fratton Park and a few weeks later joined, of all people, Southampton. However, Portsmouth fans forgave Redknapp, probably because Saints were relegated while he was there, and welcomed him back in Dec 2005.

Ex-Southampton midfielder Alan Ball was initially a hero as Portsmouth manager, guiding the club to the top flight in 1987. But relegation after one season put the pressure on the World Cup winner and he was shown the Fratton Park door in Jan 1989. Ball returned to Southampton as manager in Jan 1994, keeping Saints in the top division during his season in charge before he was tempted away by Manchester City.

Former England left-back Terry Cooper achieved what many would have thought impossible – he played for and managed both Bristol Rovers and Bristol City and remained popular on both sides of a football divided city.

Sheffield United fans were protesting about Danny Wilson before he’d even got his feet under the Sheffield United manager’s desk last month. His crime? He was manager of Sheffield Wednesday between 1998 and 2000 while also played for the Owls. In Blades country that is a tattoo for life.

Between 1967 and 1973 Brian Clough took Derby County from Second Division obscurity to the First Division title before he and Peter Taylor resigned after a disagreement with chairman Sam Longson. After a brief spell at Brighton and 44 days in charge of Leeds, Clough was appointed manager of Derby rivals Nottingham Forest in Jan 1975 with the club 13th in the Second Division. Under Clough Forest won the English title once and European Cup twice, a unique statistic.

McLeish has the strength of personality to overcome any hostility from Villa fans if he makes the switch but the Second City is in a class of its own manager-wise at the moment.

Christopher Davies

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