Football: Walker to feel weight of expectation: Phil Shaw looks at the distribution of managerial pressure in this weekend's Premiership programme

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The Independent Online
THE DISPARATE duties which comprise the the modern manager's role - tactician, motivator, PR man, wheeler-dealer, sound-bite specialist and the rest - come into sharp focus today as three Premiership venues put up the sign: 'Under new management.'

Despite educational work by the players' union and the formation of a League Managers' Association, there is no formal training or preparation for the managerial front line. Yet players, directors, supporters and media alike invest the job with almost mystical qualities, which are expected to transform the most wretched season overnight.

Hence the adulation that will inevitably greet Mike Walker, a former Shrewsbury reserve goalkeeper and top-flight manager for only 18 months, when he emerges before his first home match in charge of Everton, against Swindon. After all, since last week's narrow scrape at Bolton, Walker has had a whole week to turn things round.

At Norwich, who seven days ago were fuming about his defection much as Swindon did over Glenn Hoddle, it will be a case of 'the king is dead, long live the king'. John Deehan, now conveniently rumoured to have been the coaching brain behind Walker all along, begins his reign against Hoddle's Chelsea.

As for Southampton, where Coventry hope to maintain a Phil Neal- led recovery which started against a backdrop of protests against Bobby Gould's departure, supporters are presumably preparing to welcome back Alan Ball. No matter that Ball, whose release Saints are seeking from Exeter, presided over relegation with Portsmouth and Stoke: he is not Ian Branfoot.

While Norwich expect Deehan to maintain the status quo, the respective boards at Goodison and The Dell will be hoping that Walker and the caretaker duo of Lew Chatterley and John Mortimore can inspire a resurgence. With the exception of Brett Angell, Everton's on-loan striker, both clubs today rely on the players responsible for their present plight.

The battle for Manchester City has, in theory, been further removed from what happens on the pitch. Paradoxically, the impending takeover by Francis Lee could have a greater impact on Brian Horton's side than any new manager. City have won only two of 11 League matches within the rancorous confines of Maine Road, where hatred of Peter Swales seemed to become the object of attendance. Arsenal are about the least likely visitors to be intimidated by revivalist fervour.

Similarly, Ossie Ardiles might have wished for less formidable opponents than Manchester United, the Premiership leaders, as Tottenham strive to improve on a record of three wins in 12 at White Hart Lane.

Alex Ferguson has the luxury of being able to perform a midfield transplant: Paul Ince and Roy Keane for Brian McClair and Bryan Robson. In contrast, Spurs' resources, in terms of cash and personnel, have been ominously exposed by Teddy Sheringham's absence.

Should the champions falter - they have drawn six of the last 10 - Blackburn ought to edge closer by winning at Sheffield United.

The First Division leaders, Crystal Palace, return to Wolves, scene of their FA Cup exit, without a win in 13 visits since their first, 73 years ago. Tomorrow, second-placed Tranmere entertain their Coca-Cola Cup hosts, Nottingham Forest, while Sunderland and Middlesbrough for once dominate the North-eastern stage, Boro going into the 54th derby with just six victories in the series.