Football: Management a Gray area

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The Independent Online
Ron Atkinson, who has had almost as many genuine or apocryphal quotes linked to his name as Bill Shankly, was supposed to have remarked "it's bloody tough being a legend". Not half as tough as taking on a football club so deeply rooted in legends that they act like tentacles on anyone who tries to revive the achievements of both the distant and more recent past. Andy Gray may love Everton, be a wizard TV analyst and a wit in the Atkinson mould but resuscitation is usually left to those with a lot more hands-on experience.

Expectancy, nostalgia and old arguments with the neighbours across the park have a long tradition at Goodison. Back in the mid-1930s, Michael Foot began an Ode to Everton with the lines:

When at Thy call my weary feet I

turn

The gates of paradise are open wide,

At Goodison I know a man can learn

Rapture more rich than Anfield can

provide.

One well documented quote perhaps sums up why old Evertonians like Gray find it so difficult to resist going back. Howard Kendall, returning again in 1990, said: "When you talk about Manchester City you're talking about a love affair. With Everton you're talking about a marriage."

Conversely, that too is why so many good managers believe the job is too demanding and, in any case, brings the unwanted excess baggage of being compared with Kendall, who brought success in the 1980s, let alone the seriously "legendary" Harry Catterick in the Sixties and early Seventies.

Explaining his own permanent affection for Everton, Kendall, who brought them two championships, the FA Cup and the European Cup Winners' Cup, said: "Anyone who has spent a lot of time there will tell you the club gets a grip on you. Andy Gray feels the same way, but it's a job that's taken its toll on men with a lot of experience."

Joe Royle, one of the club's five managers in seven years who left them earlier this year, says that while Gray is now best known as a pundit, he has not only a sound footballing pedigree but a "feel for the club".

Whether Gray can actually translate his television manner to day-to- day work as a manager, who at the end of a game cannot simply go home and forget it, is about to be tested. Gary Lineker, whose arrival as the new centre-forward at Everton led to the departure of Gray to Aston Villa, had a lot of offers to manage after he stopped playing. But he will be wondering about Gray's gamble. "I reckon that being in the media is the best way of staying in the game and being comfortable. Being a manager means responsibility, hassle. It's an awful, thankless task for most of the time. The only thing you get is that adrenalin rush that you had as a player".

Unlike Gray, though, he is probably not thick-skinned enough to cope with what he calls the players' "moodies" on the training ground. In any case he tends to think the role of the manager is overblown. "The biggest job a manager has to do is deal effectively in the transfer market." And that is something Gray has yet to experience.

Certainly he has the enthusiasm and confidence to do the job well, but Everton did not exactly hammer at his door when they began their search for a new manager. Their chairman, Peter Johnson, made it obvious that he wanted to style the club's future on the same pattern as Arsenal under Arsene Wenger. This meant looking abroad, not only to Bobby Robson but Portugal's national coach, Artur Jorge, and Marcello Lippi of Juventus, neither of whom showed much interest. Martin O'Neill and George Graham were also ahead of Gray on the shopping list.

None of that will bother Gray since self-confidence comes high on the list of his personal attributes. However, he may well need the quality. Royle recalls that when he first went to Goodison as a manager, "there were a lot of quiet people about, but they just needed cheering up". Gray inherits a team in need of a lot more than just cheering up. His first priority has to be finding inventive support for Duncan Ferguson, but writing cheques for the right players could prove more difficult than clever doodling on a TV screen at half-time.

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