Football: Managers on the dole - Harford foresees 'flying doctor' role

Clubs could benefit by finding trouble-shooting positions for widely experienced coaches
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The Independent Online
IF THE law of supply and demand was working properly in football, we would not have so many out-of-work managers sitting on their backsides waiting for the phone to ring. Heaven knows there are enough of them ... Howard Kendall, Roy Evans, Frank Clark, John Rudge, Denis Smith - never mind the younger ones, such as Glenn Hoddle and Mark McGhee. The list is endless and it is not as if there is not enough work or enough money in the game to employ them.

The fashion of appointing greenhorn managers - notably at major clubs - makes their unemployment all the more illogical. Even if some of them have exceeded their sell-by date they still have much to offer. Ray Harford, who helped Kenny Dalglish steer Blackburn Rovers to the Premiership title five seasons ago, believes that there is a desperate need for what he calls "flying doctors" to help out at clubs.

The Derby manager, Jim Smith, called for his old pal when Steve McLaren left to become assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United last season.

"I think I was good for Jimmy because I was able to talk to him about what he really wanted to know," said the 54-year-old Harford.

"There's a crying need for people like me, with no ulterior motives, to go into clubs - particularly in the Premier League where the pressures are so great - and help out some of these managers. Sometimes it's difficult for them to know what's going on because of the politics and bad relations that may exist among the staff."

Harford believes it is a tough enough job for experienced managers like Smith, who he considers the best in the game for his all-round ability, never mind the apprentice managers of which there are a growing number. At a time when managers need to be better prepared, to handle things like company politics and players on vastly inflated salaries with egos to match, the opposite is true.

"When I was a young manager I would have loved to have been able to bring in people like Malcolm Allison and Dave Sexton because I could have learnt from them," Harford said. "They should use our brains."

The win-at-all-costs mentality of many clubs today, coupled with the demands of too many games, means that managers have less and less time to coach. Harford presented a damning indictment of the state of English football when he said: "There are not many managers who actually coach in the Premier League apart from some of the foreign managers. In fact there's not much coaching done, full stop. First and reserve team coaches can only coach to a certain degree, otherwise they may be seen to be queering the pitch. It's just a case of managers picking the team and getting them out there, often twice a week, to play.

"The only ones who are coaching now are the academies, where there is a much more professional set-up these days, but once the first- and second- year pros move on the coaching stops when they most need it, unless they are good enough to be involved with the first team. That's why at 18 to 21 we struggle internationally."

Harford, to the surprise of many, was Dalglish's automatic choice as coach when he took the job at Blackburn and it is generally believed that when Alan Shearer eventually moves into management, as he inevitably will, Harford will also be at his side.

When Smith chose to adopt a more hands-on approach at Pride Park this season, the "flying doc" decided it was better that he moved on, although he now appears to have taken on a terminal case at Selhurst Park in Crystal Palace, where he is doing the coaching for Steve Coppell.

"If someone would grant me a wish I'd like a couple of years coaching abroad," he said. "I think it's better because you can be a better coach there; you can prepare properly for games. Bobby Robson has often said he became a better coach abroad because of that. I remember Ron Atkinson saying, the short while he was in Spain, how willing the players were to work. Unfortunately in England that isn't always the case; you may get half a dozen who have been out on the piss all night - although that happens less often these days - or players who hold grievances against you and are reluctant to do anything."

That said, Harford blamed the foreigners at Derby for not achieving a place in Europe last season once Premiership survival had been secured. "We needed to kick on but one or two of the foreigners were too shrewd for that and had switched off," he said. He made the point, though, of absolving the Italian midfielder Stefanio Eranio from that criticism. "With 20 like him you could win anything."

Football, it seems, could do with fewer mercenaries and more missionaries.


Graeme Souness

(ex-Rangers, Liverpool, Southampton, Benfica - recently linked with director of football job at Hearts)

Howard Kendall

(ex-Blackburn, Everton, Athletic Bilbao, Xanthi, Ethnikos)

David Webb

(ex-Brentford, Chelsea)

Bobby Gould

(ex-Bristol Rovers, Wimbledon, Wales)

Keith Burkinshaw

(ex-Tottenham, West Bromwich, Gillingham, Sporting Lisbon, Bahrain, Aberdeen director of football)

Denis Smith

(ex-York, Sunderland, Oxford United, West Bromwich)

Mark McGhee

(ex-Reading, Leicester, Wolves)

Roy Evans


Frank Clark

(ex-Orient, Nottingham Forest, Manchester City)

Terry Venables

(ex-Crystal Palace, QPR, Barcelona, Tottenham, England, Australia)

Steve McMahon


Ray Harford

(ex-Luton, Blackburn, West Bromwich, QPR)

Glenn Hoddle

(ex-Swindon, Chelsea, England)

Bobby Robson

(ex-Ipswich, England, PSV Eindhoven, Porto, Sporting Lisbon, Barcelona)