So what can we say of the end of the Ben Garner era, all six months of it? First off, good luck to the guy, wherever he resurfaces (assuming of course it isn’t a places just down the road). Nobody questions his commitment and the fact that he’s failed is at least as much down to others (the transfer window) and bad luck (injuries) as what might be seen as his shortcomings. Whether or not sacking him proves to be the right move will only become clear in time – and I haven’t got the faintest idea who might replace him. But no question his departure involves a massive loss of face for Thomas Sandgaard; and it does pretty much sum up our current plight when the owner talks about ‘salvaging something’ from the current campaign, one which was heralded as a new dawn under a bright, developing young manager.
It is possible to recap on what was side when Garner was appointed. I noted then that what came across strongly in the related interviews was the depth of the ‘singing from the same hymnsheet’ mantra, beyond what might reasonably be predicted. While TS and Steve Gallen talked about the selection process, what came across as the key factor was the style of football Garner planned to play, which obviously struck a chord with TS, while SG talked in terms of it having become clear early on that BG was the first-choice candidate (from a ‘serious shortlist’ of around six, a shortlist of perhaps 10, perhaps 40 seriously considered applicants, and apparently hundreds of actual applicants). All three talked in terms of a style of play to be adopted at all levels, one followed by Swindon last season (which resulted in them topping the table on a number of measures but failing to get promoted).
I wrote at the time that “if it all goes pear-shaped there can be no pointing of fingers”, ie the buck truly stopped with TS. He could be excused for going for Nigel Adkins and that not working out, but having dispensed with JJ and choosing Garner only to sack him six months later is, in itself (ie unless it transpires that the decision is linked to any other development), a failure on his part. Just how he is going to be able to select a replacement and present him as the new ‘best thing’ is beyond me. And just what sort of tenure can the next manager expect? He will be looking over his shoulder from the start.
This isn’t to say I think sacking Garner is the wrong decision. I found his statements inconsistent, sometimes counter-productive, sometimes annoying. He moved quickly from praising the commitment and effort of the players to warning of some being on a ‘last chance’, talked of needing a couple more transfer windows and the need to bring in better players, which can hardly have helped the morale of some, suggesting that we were not competitive in this division when some results demonstrated clearly that in fact we are, when at our best. The biggest indictment (for me) of his time was the conclusion of my previous post: that we are effectively halfway through the season with no settled side or formation, no established partnerships in key areas, and quite frankly no idea what team will turn out from week to week. Garner has not got the best out of the players we have and it has to be speculated that he ended up losing the dressing room (and if that's the case the players had best take a long look in the mirror).
All that said, the guy is 42 years old and has been a manager since 2019. Like JJ before him, mistakes along the way are hardly going to be surprising; just ask Curbs about learning on the job. If TS accuses Garner of inconsistency you have to ask who was there to help him develop in the job. And the only consistency involved in having four managers in two seasons is consistency of failure.
Again, I’ve no idea who comes next. Looking at the betting we have apparently former Spanner Marc Bircham, sacked by Waterford, at 5/4, Dean Holden at 2/1, Kenny Jackett (another with a dubious past) at 10/1, alongside Lee Bowyer, then basically a collection of anyone else currently not in employment. And there are some decent names in there: Lambert, Wilder, Ferguson. Personally, if there’s no return/involvement for Sir Chris or Curbs, I quite like the notion of Scott Parker (25/1). It is after all time for the embarrassing treatment of a club legend to stop, whatever the manner of his departure.
Whoever it proves to be, we are undoubtedly at a very low ebb, facing for the first time in my life a fourth consecutive season in the third flight and with no ongoing progress towards a return to the Championship. That risks an already apparent viscous circle intensifying, whereby TS resents funding the club’s losses and tries to make further savings, and/or sells players, while the fans become increasingly apathetic and attendances fall even further.
As for a way out, there are always options, albeit not many. First, TS issues a mea culpa, clarifies his intentions (ie the balance between cutting losses and spending on the team), and calls for a renewal of the relationship with supporters. There is still considerable goodwill there, we all want the club to succeed. Second, new owners/investors.