Sixteen years ago Everton were looking for a manager. They peered into the lower divisions and saw a former player doing well at pre-Jack Walker Blackburn. Six years on, Howard Kendall had become their most successful manager ever.
But that was before the Bosman ruling, share issues, Sky TV's millions and the cult of the personality chairman took over. Clubs with the pretensions of Everton do not appoint promising lower division managers any more, they go for recent international players, exotic foreign coaches or someone else's Premiership manager. Everton recently gave Kendall a third stint at the helm, but not before trying all the other options.
A former Evertonian, David Jones, will be at Goodison Park tomorrow in the away dug-out, Southampton having decided to appoint the man who, as manager of Stockport County, knocked them out of last season's Coca-Cola Cup. Jones eventually steered Stockport to the competition's semi-finals and, more importantly, the First Division.
This earned him the dubious reward of assuming the most vulnerable position in the game. Most clubs have a player of the season award, some have a goal of the season honour. At Southampton these are usually won by Matt Le Tissier so, to spice things up, they have a manager of the season.
Jones is the latest lucky winner after Ian Branfoot, Alan Ball, Dave Merrington and Graeme Souness. Since an already difficult job has been made immeasurably tougher by injuries to Le Tissier and Egil Ostenstad (who, in a rare break from tradition, was last season's Player of the Year), it is no surprise to find Davy Jones' locker anchored near the Premiership sea bed.
Apart from three heady days at the end of August, and the 25 hours between last Saturday's win over Spurs and Bolton's defeat of Chelsea, Southampton have been in the relegation zone since losing to Bolton on opening day.
"I knew what I was coming to," Jones said when we met at his impressive house overlooking Winchester earlier this week. "They have struggled for the last five years - I don't know how they got out of it last year. The same players are still here so I knew it would be difficult, but I also knew if I could get the players in I wanted I could turn it around."
He has since signed Paul Jones and Lee Todd from Stockport, Kevin Davies (in an aleady planned deal) from Chesterfield and Carlton Palmer and David Hirst from Sheffield Wednesday. The most significant of these could be the pounds 2m Hirst, whose brace against Tottenham suggested he could do for Southampton what John Hartson has done for West Ham.
"I had been chasing him for some time," said Jones. "He'd been there 10 years. I knew he wanted a new challenge and first-team football. It was the first signing we've kept quiet from the press which was good as, had other clubs known he was available, they might have come in.
"It was important psychologically to get off the bottom and out of the relegation zone. We have a lot of good players but some of them are underachieving. Saturday's win owed much to Le Tissier as well as Hirst. "It's no coincidence that of the five games he [Le Tissier] has played we've won four and drawn one. Other players are lifted just by him playing, especially the ones who have been here a long time.
"I've spoken to him about his game. Other managers appear to have wanted him to work off the ball. I think to get him to work we might have to give him the ball, that's his strength. Carlton Palmer said to him when he joined: "Get me 15 goals and I'll do all your running". That's what he's about.
"He's up for it, he wants to be in the World Cup. He's very laid back but he's not as lazy as people assume. He does work hard in his own way and he cares. He's honest and a nice pro to work with. People think he's not ambitious because he decided to stay here, he is ambitious, he just likes it here."
Jones is also ambitious. When he succeeded Danny Bergara at Stockport he gave himself four years to reach the Premiership. He made it in two- and-a-half. "I felt if I turned Stockport into a good side someone might come along. When they did it was not a difficult decision to leave, more an awkward one because I had a great relationship with the chairman. I've left the club with a good squad and there's no reason why Stockport should not be a force in the First Division. Whether they have got the resources to make that final jump... I don't know.
One of Jones' first thoughts when he took over at The Dell was what he would do with all the extra spare time. Last year he prepared Stockport for 67 matches, Southampton played 47, the Premiership average. However, any thoughts of lowering his golf handicap soon disappeared once the job began.
"The biggest difference in the Premiership is that you don't have any time. If you are not coaching you are at some sort of function or with the press. It is so time-consuming. It is a different way of life. You can't go anywhere without being recognised and not just around here. My wife will not go out with me. Your life is no longer your own."
It's not always been big houses and instant recognition for the 41-year- old. He was, in his own words, "a bread-and-butter player" but he was good enough to win England Under-21 honours and play full-back for the Everton side that pushed the champions, Nottingham Forest, all the way in 1977-78. At 23 he moved to Coventry to play in his preferred centre- half position but was injured in his third match.
In two seasons Jones started five more games before being released. He played in Hong Kong and, against medical advice, two seasons with his brother, Mark, for Preston. At 29 his knee had had enough and, though he played park football up to last season, his professional career was over. He is a laid-back fellow but scratch the surface and the hurt is still raw.
There is understandable bitterness over the tackle which finished him. He will not name the guilty player but adds that, in the present climate, he could have sued him. There is also a belief that players should realise their fortune and make the most of their talent. You sense he feels his brother did not and his son may make the same error. This outlook was deepened by a spell playing and coaching in non-League followed by social work with deprived and problem children.
It was the need to be involved in the game, and maybe make the mark he was denied the chance to do as a player, which brought him back into football as Stockport's youth coach. It certainly was not the money - it meant a cut from social worker's wages.
It was also a risk. Married to Ann for 21 years, he has four children ranging from three-year-old Georgia to 20-year-old Lea (currently looking for a club). Like many managers he relaxes on the golf course and with the company of a few close friends, people who remember Jones the promising youngster, Jones the crippled player and Jones the social worker.
He feels passionately that the apprenticeship in non-League and at Stockport has been vital. "Clubs have started to look for so-called big names but there is no guarantee a `big name' will be successful. There are a lot of good managers lower down who are not given the opportunity. The likes of Chris Waddle [now managing Burnley] would have loved a big job in the Premiership but the experience he is getting lower down will stand him in fantastic stead.
"Look at Alex Ferguson, Martin O'Neill, Howard Kendall, Brian Little, Joe Kinnear... they all had an apprenticeship. If I do a half-decent job it might open the door for a lot of people, men like John Deehan and John Duncan, rather than having the same faces on the same merry-go-round."Reuse content