Football: Duffy finds life after the sack

Calum Philip talks to the Scottish Premier cast-off who headed south
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THE SCOTTISH Premier League may have shut down for its winter break, but that has not brought an end to the harshest climate of all: the managerial mean season. Even 500 miles away in London, Jim Duffy still felt the chill after-effects when he heard last Tuesday that Dunfermline's Bert Paton had become the fourth Premier manager this season to lose his job.

Exactly a year ago, Duffy was in Paton's shoes, bottom of the Premier with Hibernian and tossed out on to the ranks of the unemployed. Twelve months on, however, Duffy provides tangible proof that there is life after managerial death. Every day spent by the side of Gianluca Vialli and Graham Rix at Chelsea's training ground, near Heathrow, confirms to Duffy that the rat race which consumes managers north of the border is all wrong.

"Expectations in the Scottish Premier League have become totally unrealistic," Duffy, now Chelsea's youth coach, said last week as he reflected on Paton joining Aberdeen's Alex Miller, Harri Kampman of Motherwell and Tommy McLean of Dundee United in the dole queue. Four sackings may not seem much, but when it represents 40 per cent of the workforce, it does seem more alarming.

Duffy insists that it is not a sense of failure that prompts his scathing verdict of Scotland's top clubs. "It is not opinion," he declared, "it is fact. There is not a club in the Premier League which has not sacked its manager in the last three years. Even Walter Smith eventually left Rangers because the pressure and the expectations were too high. He took Rangers to nine titles in a row, but that was not good enough for some."

When Duffy arrived at Hibs in 1997, he came with the reputation as one of Scotland's rising managerial stars thanks to his good work on a shoestring budget at Dundee. That reputation, though, was tarnished by what happened at Easter Road.

Duffy's successor, Alex McLeish, could not stop Hibs - who actually led the table at the end of September but then won only two out of 22 games - from going down last season. "Sometimes a new manager works, sometimes not," Duffy mused, "but the improvement in results does not usually last.

"I feel sorry for Bert. Not many men will do a better job than him with the resources Dunfermline have. Bert had performed a miracle simply keeping them in the top flight for the last three years. The one thing managers need to achieve goals is time, and that is the one thing they don't get. I was in a hurry to get Hibs into the top three in Scotland, and with the style of football that Hibs fans wanted. But that was an unrealistic ambition. My target should have been to do it over three years."

Hibs' status as one of Scotland's big four, along with Hearts and the Old Firm, pays scant attention to the decline which had set in since their last honour, the League Cup in 1991. Duffy inherited a squad of under- achievers in 1997 and quickly had to bring in players to stave off relegation that May, but could persuade few buyers to take anyone off his hands.

Consequently, the dressing-room expanded to accommodate 53 professionals, ranking Hibs along with Manchester City as having the largest rota in Britain. The net result was that Duffy wasted valuable time on the telephone instead of the training ground.

"I reckoned that about 75 per cent of my time was spent talking to agents, players whose contracts were expiring or other managers. I was at Easter Road till 10pm some evenings because of administration."

Watching Vialli at work has given Duffy the blueprint for his future managerial plans, should he ever try his luck again. "Gianluca is away by 1.30pm because his job is simply coaching the first team.

"If Chelsea want someone like Marcel Desailly, the managing director, Colin Hutchison, sorts that out. That's the way it should be. If I got another manager's job, I would be far more single-minded about simply doing the coaching role because, ultimately, results are what managers are judged on."

Yet, for just now, it is the future which concerns the 38-year-old - who was a team-mate of Rix at Dundee - and trying to develop teenagers to follow Jody Morris into the first team.

"I spend 90 per cent of my time on the training ground and I love it," Duffy said. "People go on about Vialli's rotation system, but football is a squad game now. There are six boys in the current squad who have come through the Chelsea system and there will be games when boys like Jody are every bit as important as the players we've bought. And if another club wanted to buy him, they would have to pay pounds 2m, which justifies a youth policy straight away."

Maybe, it is about time football invested in a youth system, too, for managers, before precious talent like Duffy's is frittered away.