The Many Managers of Phil Gartside

wakeywhite runs the rule over the Gartsidian Era.

With us propping up the division it’s no surprise that the knives are out, and Uncle Phil’s been getting his fair share of stick. The general consensus is that he’s ballsed everything up with a string of woeful managerial appointments. Yet quite often the people holding this view are the same one’s who still think Dooogie is our saviour, or thought Coyle was the second coming.

It’s easy to lose a bit of objectivity when things are going wrong, so – because I’ve got some time to kill and I’m in the mood for rambling on – here’s my take on the five permanent appointments Gartside’s made. And since we can all criticise with twenty twenty hindsight, I’ve rated them on two fronts: how ‘good’ the appointment was at the time and how well it worked out.

1. Big Sam

Our most successful manager of modern times and the man most responsible for our decade-plus in the top flight, the arrival of a string of ageing superstars, and a golden era when we scared the shit out of the big boys, beat Barcelona every other week, and all worked 25 hours a day down the pit and loved it.

You put your left foot in...

You put your left foot in…

At the time:
It was an ‘interesting’ appointment. Sam was slowly building a reputation at Notts County, albeit even then there were murmurings about style of play.

As it turned out: well, pretty obviously it turned out to be a great appointment. We had four top 8 finishes on the bounce, the only club outside the sky4 to do so. But there’s a couple of key things worth noting here to Gartside’s credit.

Firstly, before Sam had really proven himself, Gartside gave him an unprecedented ten year contract. This may have just been Uncle Phil being bonkers and getting lucky, but it was a stroke of genius. In one fell swoop it gave Sam ultimate authority over the football side of things – we could never afford to sack him – and from that point on he never looked back.

Secondly, whilst Sam is credited with bringing in our ageing foreign superstars, his role in this initially was fairly small. “Would you like Youri Djorkaeff is we can work out a package Sam?” …. “errr … yes please”. What is conveniently ignored is that the ones that got the whole thing off the ground, the signings of Djorkaeff and Bobic, were 99% financial. Of course we wanted them, but the challenge was could we put together a package that we could finance that would be attractive enough to tempt them. For this, Gartside has never received the credit he deserved. And it was these moves that not only kept us up (just, thank you for the hat-trick against Ipswich Fredi) but created the template that proved so successful in the years to come.

The biggest criticism of Gartside regarding the Sam era is that he didn’t back him. This is largely based on Sam’s claim that he wanted a few more million in January to ‘guarantee’ a champions league spot. Again, I’d defend Gartside on this for a couple of reasons. I like Sam, but he’s not the most honest bloke you’ll ever meet. And since he’s lied (repeatedly) before, I tend to take most of what he says with a pinch of salt. Add to that the fact that his claims on this issue have been inconsistent, and have only clarified as time has gone on. This is the classic example of someone developing the lie until they’re comfortable with it, and only at that point does it become fixed. Also throw in the fact that we’d smashed the club transfer record just a few months earlier to bring in Anelka, and I’d say it’s harsh, and a bit petty, to attach blame to Gartside based on intitially vague and totally unsubstantiated claims by Billy Liar.

Had Gartside been hit by a bus just before Sam left, he’d be remembered as one of our most successful ever chairmen. He wasn’t, and here’s where things start to go wrong.

2. Sammy Lee

It wouldn’t surprise me to hear that Gartside had some kind of breakdown when Sam left. Certainly the comments about little Sam being better than big Sam and the claims about playing more attractive football now (and insinuations that we were sick of him anyway) smacked of the ramblings of a jilted lover.
None of which absolves responsibility for appointing Sammy Lee.

At the time:

No need to shout Sammy.  You have a microphone.

No need to shout Sammy. You have a microphone.

… there was so much wrong with this appointment you have to question the sanity of the bloke who made it. People who’ve built their reputation as coaches over a long period rarely make good managers. They almost never make good managers when promoted in situ. Especially squeaky scouse dwarves. From a football point of view, this was laughable, but to my mind it’s worse than that.

It’s not just the person you appoint that matters, it’s what they are replacing. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that replacing Big Sam, an imposing presence in every respect, with Little Sam just doesn’t fit. Sam had natural authority, Sammy was a million miles away. What we needed to do, and could have done as a top 8 premier league side, was appoint a respected experienced manager to push on from where Sam left us. And at that point, we’d have had plenty of interest. This appointment, and the one shortly afterwards, are uncle Phil’s greatest crimes against BWFC.

As it turned out:
… he was gone nine games into the season. We had a squad including Anelka, Diouf, Campo, Stelios, SKD, Speed et al, but supplemented it with some laughable signings. The dressing room was in pieces, and we’d managed five points from our nine games. We were – apparently – even below Derby. In fairness Gartside bit the bullet early enough, which must have been difficult given his inane ramblings about Sammy’s managerial prowess, but all in all this was a disaster all round. But the relief of Sammy’s relief was short lived …

3. Percy Thrower
At the time:

… Abolutely mind boggling. Then again, I’m not a person-in-football. Gartside’s mental breakdown must have been in full swing by this stage. We’d had a poor start, but we were still essentially the squad that had finished in the top eight just a matter of weeks earlier. We were an attractive proposition. So how can you justify Megson, a man so poisonous that nobody would touch him with a bargepole for two and a half years before then- League one Leicester gave him a job just a few weeks earlier. This was a man with a reputation for football so dire Neil Warnock wouldn’t watch it. This was a man who fell out with everyone everywhere, who spent most of his time bleating about everything being someone else’s fault. This was a man whose only success came in getting teams up from the league below, whose premier league experience consisted of an almost-record-low points tally and an early sacking. This was a man we overwhelmingly didn’t want.

As it turned out:

The Ginger One in familiar pose.

The Ginger One in familiar pose.

Megson’s spell as manager was as poisonous as we expected. We stayed up for a couple of years on a diet of dourness, but in the process drummed up debts of £100m+ and drove a huge wedge between club and fans. Uncle Eddie’s cunning money-making scheme (he didn’t think it through) meant that pissing away £10m on Elmander was actually seen as a good thing. And as if we didn’t have enough reasons to despise Megson, let us never forget that this is the man who thought Zat Knight was worth £4.5 million quid.  Disastrous in every respect, but then merciful relief and …

4. Owen Coyle

Ding dong the witch is gone, to be replaced by our saviour, our knight in shining armour, one of our own, a former Bolton … ahem … err … ‘legend’ …

At the time:

Not only was there euphoria regarding the Ginger One’s demise, there was a great popular surge for Coyle. Some of this was the usual ‘he used to play for us’ nonsense. But there was also a great body of evidence to support Coyle’s appointment as being one of our most promising ever.

Owen's getting an alice band.  Just like that nice Chris Eagles.

Owen gets fitted for an alice band. Just like that nice Chris Eagles.

OC’s record was excellent. He’d had success at unfancied clubs in Scotland and just down the road in six-fingerland. He’d enjoyed great cup runs, giant killing success on more than one occasion, and was spoken of glowingly by players and former players alike. The sound-bites were great, and in interviews he talked a great game (he must have caught gibberish from uncle phil when he cam here). He had a stated desire to support youth development, even turning out for the reserves to keep an eye on the young lads. And he had the right approach to the game, preaching flowing, attacking football with a stated admiration for Wenger’s passing style.

What’s more, Burnley seemed to be doing it on the pitch. The few games I saw, they were great to watch. Everything from Burnley was reminiscent of our own short but glorious Rioch era, and here was a player from that era who was responsible for it. What’s more, Burnley fans worshipped him for it. Perfect! The only downside was that a man enjoying that sort of success and adulation would never walk away from a job half-done to join a struggling albeit bigger neighbour …

As it happened:

Of course, we all know the reality was nothing like. Gartside played a blinder to get him. It’s easy to forget that, given Coyle’s obvious failings and the benefit of hindsight.

Ironically, the first slight misgivings were based on the fact that he’d agreed to join us in the first place. Keeping Burnley in the prem would have seen Burnley fans worship him as … well, whatever’s one up from god. Even a battling relegation followed by promotion would have comfortably maintained his hero-status. So why walk away, leaving the job half-done and destroying that adulation, if you think you can do the job? Then again, it’s easy to put that to one side on the basis that he briefly played for us. Especially given his track record …

As it turned out, we initially enjoyed … well, not much difference, but it’s tough to join a struggling team mid-season. And we did get out of trouble and finish comfortably fourteenth. The following season started well. Inspired by potentially one of our best ever signings – Stuart Holden for nowt – we were in the top six half-way through the season. We were also gaining an undeserved reputation for playing great football, based on a few brief flashes. But in fairness we were competing, and – though revolution it wasn’t – there were signs of better things to come.

But we were already seeing signs of Coyle’s failings: a tendency to have favourites and scapegoats, and a failure to apply his own stated rules consistently to all players. And we were also – vaguely – seeing signs of how we might have been seduced in the first place. How many dire performances were described delusionally by Coyle? We created numerous chances, we took the game to the opposition, we played on the front foot. When we’ve done none of the above, the only people that’s fooling are the ones who haven’t seen the game.

But still, if not god, at the midway point he was certainly lauded as the architect of a new and promising era for our club. It’s alarming how quickly and how dramatically things can go wrong.

The new year saw a change in fortunes. Often blamed on the injury to Holden, which cam much later, Coyle’s decline started with the new year. Already keen on dropping the likes of Petrov and Klasnic at the slightest opportunity, we now saw Chungy given the “he’s tired” treatment to excuse shoe-horning our by-now ineffectual Swede into the team without dropping Sturridge or SKD. And it was Sturridge’s goals that kept things ticking along. We were still in the top six and going well in the cup. That loan signing and the goals he brought largely papered over the cracks, but Holden’s injury and the semi-final debacle seemed to drain the last of the hope and confidence. Other than a victory against Arsenal, we lost our remaining games and dropped to – again – fourteenth. And worse, we’d already seen the signs that OC didn’t have a clue what to do about it.

The following season was always going to be a challenge given that the feel-good momentum was long gone, we were taking abysmal form into the new season, and we had a particularly tricky start. Add to that a host of key injuries, and it’s easy to see Coyle as an unlucky manager. And to be fair, we were a goal-line clearance at Stoke away from premiership survival. But that doesn’t hide the fact that Coyle was dire for us in the end, and had little clue how to turn things around. Once he’d lost the plot, he’d well and truly lost it, and it was with a mixture of relief and disappointment that Gartside put him and us out of our misery after a poor start in the championship.

5. Doooogie Freedman

Dear Dierdrie … My mate Phil had a girlfriend. He was smitten, convinced that she was ‘the one’. Unfortunately for Phil, things didn’t work out. But then he met another girl who looked just like her. I’m worried he’s on the rebound and making a big mistake …

"We've this much chance of promotion."

“We’ve this much chance of promotion.”

At the time …
DF had Palace near the top of the league. A young, Scottish manager … hmmm … with a reputation for playing youth (who wouldn’t pick Zaha?). At that point the similarities pretty much end. Dooogie’s approach to football makes Megson seem like Ossie Ardiles, keeping Phil’s erratic run going (Sam’s hoofball, Sammy’s alleged fancy football, Megson’s dourness, Coyle’s ‘attacking passing game’).

Unlike his predecessor, he has achieved zero success as a manager. If Gartside was seduced by Palace’s good start to the season, he shouldn’t have been. They’d started just as well the season before and finished 17th. Worse, they’d managed just one goal per game in the whole of that season, and less than a goal a game in the Doogie’s tenure in the previous season. He was such a great manager, Palace had no interest in keeping him. And given the failings of our previous manager, surely it was time to avoid taking a risk on a novice?

For me, it’s a stinker of an appointment, not as bad maybe as Sammy Lee or Megson, but nonetheless a stinker.

As it turned out:

Not looking good at the moment, but too early to say where it will go. Although, given some of his inane ramblings, particularly the pampered-premier-league-players one after the Blackburn game, I suspect the dressing room is irretrievably damaged. A fairly nondescript start picked up with the arrival of Dawson, but Freedman’s refusal to bust a gut to keep him for the play-offs (we could have done) and a reluctance to even show any great enthusiasm to do so cost us dearly. I suspect Freedman will never again have such a great opportunity to gain promotion to the top flight. In my book, he blew it simply by being a dick.

But from a personal point of view, Doogie’s biggest crime is that he’s now deprived me of the ability to give a shit. I don’t really care if we do well under him, because it will be at the expense of watching utter shite week in week out. Let’s imagine by some miracle we bore enough teams into submission / scrape enough one-nil wins to go up, we have the ‘pleasure’ of watching us try and fail with the same negative tactics in the top flight. And inevitable, and no doubt embarassing, relegation.

Time will obviously tell, but Doogie’s time may well prove to be shortlived unless he can turn a corner and quickly.

The verdict

Appointments-wise, uncle Phil’s record is two good ones, three stinkers. Not the overwhelmingly bad ratio generally touted, but the stinkers have been so bad that we all face that horrible dilemma … if and when Dooogie goes, Gartside will be choosing his successor. Do we really want to go through that again?

– wakeywhite

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