Beginner's giant leap for manager kind

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The Independent Online
O WING to contradictions beyond our control, we have yet to establish the precise reason why the pathetically brief management of Swansea City by Kevin Cullis came to an inglorious end on Wednesday. The club insist that he resigned, a full seven days after taking office, following the previous night's 4-0 defeat at Blackpool. Cullis vehemently dismisses this as a pack of lies while the players claim that they captured control of the team from him in a dressing-room coup at half-time.

"The place is a shambles," declared Cullis in a parting shot that is difficult to deny, particularly as he was followed out of the door yesterday by the Shropshire millionaire Michael Thompson, the man who had hired him and who was in the process of buying the club. Normally we could leave them to it; league football, after all, has a proud tradition of firing a 21-manager salute in honour of the Queen every season. But the Cullis case is so abnormal as to be worrying.

When a manager leaves a club it is usually because he falls victim to illness and fatigue. In other words, they get sick and tired of you. Cullis wasn't there long enough, according to the players, to master their Christian names. Half-wits playing Fantasy Football have more control over their teams than he seemed to have over his.

That all this should coincide with the much lamented death of Bob Paisley swept us from one extreme of managerial fortune to the other and was a reminder that of all the jobs doomed to be conducted under piercing public scrutiny this is one of the most demanding. And to the precious few who perform the task with consistent brilliance and style, no praise or honour is too grand.

They are our miracle men, the dream-merchants, the rain- makers, the vendors of the elixir of life . . . They can weave their way into our folklore while their less successful brethren are being hounded out of town, a description that was distressingly literal for Burnley's Jimmy Mullen last week.

The perils of failure in football management are too well known to require elaboration, but what befell Kevin Cullis was a new variation. Even in the act of taking the job, Cullis was committing a sin not many in the game would forgive. He had never played or managed in league football or anywhere near it.

He came straight from looking after Cradley Town's youth team in the West Midlands Junior League. It was a leap he was eager to make, and Swansea's new chairman supported him with the words: "We intend to disprove the theory that the way forward is to appoint a big-name manager."

Far from disproving it, they have set the theory in concrete for the rest of time. Those under whose auspices the astonishing scene was played out may also have a lesson to learn. The Endsleigh League, as any sporting organisation concerned with standards, ought to have some screening system for new owners and their plans. Football clubs are rooted deeply in their communities and deserve a certain level of official guardianship.

A basic course in running a league football team, covering man-management, press and spectator relations, should be a prerequisite for any inexperienced candidate. I doubt if Bob Paisley would have required one and probably wouldn't have passed it if he did. From birth he possessed whatever quality is required and years alongside Bill Shankly at Liverpool allowed him to take over, albeit reluctantly, in 1974 and improve dramatically on the great man's accomplishments over the next nine years.

Inevitably, Paisley's death led to comparisons with other managers who have dominated our game - Matt Busby, Bill Nicholson, Alf Ramsey, Jock Stein, Brian Clough and Jack Charlton are a sample and a common denominator is not immediately apparent. You couldn't boil them down to make a tangible qualification that would be recognisable in a young pretender. They were all good players but not exactly superstars. They could all persuade players to perform to the best of their ability and a bit beyond but they didn't employ the same methods to do so.

But, apart from motivation, each was an expert at rationalising every triumph and every set-back. It is vital not to let teams get too high or too low. At well-run clubs every fixture comprises three distinct games. There's the one the spectators see, which is basically the real one and serves to provide the official result. There's the one the players play, which has an overpowering personal view about it. And there's the one the manager describes afterwards.

This is the true art. I spent a great deal of my young life accompanying league football teams on long coach and train journeys and marvelled at the process. You could get on a train at Manchester Piccadilly having been thrashed 4-0 at Old Trafford and by the time you get to Birmingham New Street you were unlucky not to have drawn.

It is possible for bullshit to flourish alongside genuine talent and the two are often indistinguishable until it's too late, but the ability to improvise is crucial. No doubt an assembly of our best managers past and present would be able to tell us why, despite all their efforts, England have such trouble in producing enough world-class players to form a successful team.

It may be of some comfort to Kevin Cullis that we have yet to produce a manager who can answer that.

A USTRALIA and West In- dies may have to pay a fine of up to pounds 2m for refusing to play World Cup cricket matches in Sri Lanka because they feared further terrorist activity. They had already forfeited the two matches they were due to play there.

Whatever you may think of their decision - made by the respective boards rather than the players - it raises questions about the European Championships in England this summer. Any further bombings in London or in other parts of England might cause hesitation on behalf of some visiting countries. I fancy, however, that football authorities might be a little more resilient and a lot more in need of the money. In any case, if they will brave hooligans, they are not likely to be put off by a bomb scare.

It's a shame England are hosts. I don't know how highly they rate their chances but it sounds a bloody good excuse to pull out of it.

V INNY JONES is having to fork out a fine of pounds 2,000 to the Football Association for writing in his column in the Sun newspaper words that likened Ruud Gullit to a cockroach and, among other unpleasantries, dismissed foreign imports as squealers.

As a fellow columnist who knows how difficult it is to avoid making the odd harsh comment, he has my sympathy. Especially when one reads the news from New York that Joan Collins won her case against publishers who were demanding their money back because two novels she wrote for them were so awful.

Vinny has to pay out pounds 2,000 for writing crap while she writes even more crap and gets paid pounds 800,000 for it. It is no wonder the poor boy gets confused.