Rupert Lowe, the Southampton chairman, unveiled his ninth manager in as many years yesterday and declared it was "a great day" for the club. Lowe's confidence was enhanced by the simultaneous promotion of the club's performance director to director of football.
Whether George Burley and Sir Clive Woodward, the respective appointments, prove as effective and harmonious a combination as Lowe hopes only time will tell. To judge from their body language at St Mary's yesterday it should at least be a less frosty relationship than the one between Woodward and Harry Redknapp which precipitated the latter's resignation.
However, there was an early indication that the journey would not necessarily be a smooth one when Woodward said he still had ambitions to be a manager, but was putting them on hold for "two to three years". Burley, having expressed the wish that he would be at the club "for a very long time", then admitted his contract was for two and a half years. Woodward added: "My managerial aspirations come second. I'm determined to support George Burley now."
Southampton fans concerned about the situation can draw succour from the fact that Burley walked out on Hearts earlier this season when they were top of the SPL when he felt his independence was being compromised. "Being able to work with Sir Clive can only help me as far as improving my outlook," Burley said. "The key for any coach is to get the best out of people and Sir Clive has been a world-class coach. It's important not to be blinkered, and it's good to look at other ideas. Look at [Jose] Mourinho. He didn't win medals as a player, he was Bobby Robson's interpreter and he hasn't done badly."
Woodward is the first World Cup winner to work for Southampton since Alan Ball was manager. The difference, as Burley acknowledged, is he won his gong for services to rugby union.
Woodward said that he was very clear about his role in the new set-up, leaving first-team training, selection and tactics to Burley and concentrating on the whole environment at the club and relations with individual players.
He added: "My role is the whole training ground environment. George is in charge of the first team. If, at some point, he thinks I'm capable then maybe I will help with that, we'll see. George will handle recruitment."
Burley, who has also managed Ipswich and Derby County, taking both into the First Division play-offs, and Ipswich to promotion, said:
"I'm first-team coach. My job hasn't changed at all. I will be coaching and working with players, no different to any other club. I've got no reservations. Clive's and my opinion are very similar and, importantly, we have the same ideals."
Burley, 49, said that he was convinced to take the job by the quality of the youth academy at the club and the potential for a return to the Premier League. The club are presently 12th in the Championship, 22 points adrift of Sheffield United in the last automatic promotion spot but only four behind Wolves in the final play-off place. "I am optimistic we can reach the play-offs," Burley said. "It will take hard work and luck, but it can be done."
Burley's first job is to persuade two players at opposite ends of their careers to stay at the club. The teenager Theo Walcott has been unsettled by the changes at the club and is courted by most of the major teams. Dennis Wise, 20 years his elder, had hoped to form a new management team with caretaker manager Dave Bassett who has now left the club. "I'm sure Dennis will soon get a very good manager's job but I'd like him to stay," Burley said. "He's still a very good player."
Bassett departed claiming that the players had wanted him and Wise to take over. Bassett added: "[Woodward's] been looking for that since day one. When Harry was there he couldn't do it. No manager was going to get the job unless he agreed to work with Clive Woodward."Reuse content