For Gerry Francis, who returned to football management only through the lure of another spell at his beloved Queens Park Rangers, the challenge is as great as they come. Francis has always thrived on challenges and only once, painfully at Tottenham, failed to succeed by his own high standards.
Francis used to crow that no side of his ever finished a season in the bottom half of the table. Yet even he must realise, at what is bound to be an emotion-filled first home game back in west London today, that such modest ambitions could be hard to realise this time round. After watching his team lose at Huddersfield, and lose again at West Bromwich, Francis is looking up at the rest of the Nationwide First Division with no money to spend. Rangers are pounds 5.5m in debt.
Yet there is hope of survival, something Francis says he has to achieve to prevent further financial haemorrhaging. "It's not impossible," he said as he surveyed the wreckage of a club where he spent 17 years as a player and manager. "Anyone can see my hands and feet are tied. I'm still putting faces to names but I have to make sure we do not go down."
Francis has gone on record as saying that he received 12 managerial offers in his 11 months out of the game. Interest was shown by, among others, Crystal Palace, Portsmouth and Sporting Lisbon. He turned them all down. Only one place could lure him back.
"When I read the balance sheet, I was really shocked," Francis said. "Chris Wright said I made the decision to come back with my heart instead of my head. He's probably right but although it may seem like a cliche, this has always seemed like my own club. I just didn't like seeing QPR in such a drastic position."
While one Francis has a slippery and seemingly endless mountain to climb, the other is almost in sight of the Holy Grail. Trevor Francis, like his counterpart at QPR, has an affection for his club as passionate as that of any diehard fan.
Like Gerry, he too was out of the game for a year. When he came back to St Andrews in May 1996, Birmingham were 15th. Francis kept them up and finished 10th. Then, last season, he improved that by three places. Now comes the big push for promotion although he will be taking nothing for granted at Loftus Road. "The one thing I would say is that we are under no illusions. There will not be much difference between the teams. The gap between the top and bottom in this division is not that great."
Francis said expectations at Birmingham had been unrealistically high during the past two seasons but added: "This is the first season since I've been back that we are in with a genuine shout. Before, we were rebuilding. There have been massive changes in personnel with probably between 55 and 60 players coming in or going out. Only now have we got any stability."
The success of Aston Villa at the top of the Premiership has fuelled the impatience of Blues supporters. Francis said: "I'm sure it irritates our supporters to see Villa doing so well but I can't concern myself with that. All I'm interested in is getting this side out of this division which is no easy feat."
If he achieves his goal, Francis may at last be introduced as the manager of a successful football team at after-dinner presentations and other public relations occasions. Until now, he has had to put up with the same two predictable preambles.
"Either I'm the first million- pound player or the manager who fined Martin Allen for going to the birth of his baby," Francis said. " It would be nice to be introduced as the man who took Birmingham into the Premiership."Reuse content