Just as the frustration was rising over the clock ticking down to a new season and no manager in place to follow JJ, seems we have the news. Nothing official yet, but no reason to think that the reports saying Swindon’s Ben Garner is about to be appointed will prove wide of the mark (barring some last-minute failure to agree terms). That the guy didn’t even feature in the odds might be considered strange, but that reflected the fact that nobody had a clue what TS was thinking; having his son quoted at one point at 12-1 was truly surreal and only serves to underline the point.
No, we haven’t managed to attract Mourinho, Guardiola or the like. No, no manager or assistant from a higher division will be coming to impress us. Yes, the jury will be out for some time to come over whether disposing of Jackson was the right move, especially as we have replaced him with someone equally unproven as a manager, one still learning the craft. And yes, for most of us Garner is an unknown quantity, so the immediate reaction is no doubt for many that this is an underwhelming choice. It is after all a selection which points more towards a desire for gradual progress than an all-out drive for promotion next season (although that still has to be the objective).
Fair enough, but that’s surely where it ends. I want Garner to succeed, just as I wanted Adkins to succeed. We’ll no doubt discuss shortcomings, disagreements over new signings, tactics and team selection, but criticism has to be positive and Garner deserves our backing in principle.
There are obvious reasons why Sandgaard has gone for him: his background in youth development, a different approach, and it would seem a preference for a style of play which TS favours (on that front I’m in the camp which would prioritise results and promotion over style but would welcome results in style).
I don’t mind admitting I harbour reservations about Sandgaard’s style of management and it’s not surprising that he’s come in for criticism of late, even if a chunk of it appears well over the top. My personal view is that he is a million miles away from Duchatelet (and the wasters he was ready to pass us on to) and we are fortunate to have him in charge. And as I’ve commented before, if we’ve had a bad year we haven’t seen (I imagine) our net wealth drop from a estimated £400m to less than £100m. But nobody’s perfect and IMHO the management structure he seems to prefer is deficient, being suited to a small company – or one in an industry which the owner knows inside-out – rather than disparate nature of a football club.
I could of course be wrong, but from a distance it seems that everyone in a meaningful position at the club reports directly to him, no chain of command. That means two things. First, it undermines trust. Nobody (except TS) knows exactly what anyone else is telling TS, what TS is thinking etc. Where each person stands in the pecking order can end up depending not on areas of responsibility but on who is in favour/out of favour at any particular point. It’s a reassuring set-up for the man at the top but a poor one for everyone else. IMO it does not help to create an efficient and well-motivated operation. Second, and related, when you are not an expert in a particular field it is very easy to be impressed by, convinced by, good presentations. Until the next good and equally convincing presentation which contradicts the previous one comes along. So there is vacillation, apparently random decision-making. In our context we have to hope he gets most of the decisions right, but the process is I’d suggest far less than a science. I remember Richard Murray once commenting that Iain Dowie delivered a good presentation.
If this all comes across as idle thoughts from afar (and for sure there’s an element of that) it’s because I’d acknowledge that I ran a (small) company in a similar fashion. That worked (I think) as there were effectively no other stakeholders and no need for a management structure or team. I’d encourage staff and others to tell me what they thought, take it all on board, then decide and implement. It was OK not least because it was my area of expertise and I was, in that sense and in that limited area, an expert. I don’t think it works well for a more involved structure.
That said, if it’s the case that Garner will be bringing with him his assistants from Swindon it would indicate he will be less isolated/more influential than if it was just him. Tough on Jason Euell if he as a result moves out, but it was tough on JJ too. It goes without saying that we all hope JJ proves a blinding success at Wimbledon – and if Euell goes we would hope he reappears somewhere else quickly.
The basic upside is that the choice is made, hopefully now everyone can get on with agreement over what players we need. The decisions over players released included the obvious surprise of Washington not being retained, good luck to him. Who knows? Perhaps Garner will be in favour of offering him a new deal. The focus has shifted and we can at least move on to the preparations for next season.