Glenn Moore: Sturrock takes the long route to the top

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The Independent Online

It used to be the time-honoured path to the top for football managers. An ambitious manager would start at the bottom and work his way up. It is the dream that sustains one-time greats such as Tony Adams as he struggles at Wycombe, and less heralded names like Martin Ling, at Orient.

It used to be the time-honoured path to the top for football managers. An ambitious manager would start at the bottom and work his way up. It is the dream that sustains one-time greats such as Tony Adams as he struggles at Wycombe, and less heralded names like Martin Ling, at Orient.

However, research by The Independent suggests they are wasting their time. Adams, being famous, might get a shot at glory if he transforms Wanderers but Ling's chances of mixing it with Arsène Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson are slim.

Since the Premiership was formed, only nine managers have been plucked from the Football League, without prior Premiership experience, to manage Premier League clubs. Moreover, only five have gained such promotion in 10 seasons.

Which is why the likes of Ronnie Moore (Rotherham), Ian Holloway (QPR) and Dave Penney (Doncaster Rovers), all talented managers doing well on limited resources, will be alongside Paul Sturrock in spirit in the dug-out tomorrow, as he makes his Premiership bow as the Southampton manager against Liverpool tomorrow.

Sturrock joins David Moyes, of Everton, as the only current Premiership managers who have gone from Nationwide to Premiership without even an interim spell as coach, like Micky Adams had at Leicester. When the Premiership began there were four: George Graham, Gerry Francis, Ian Porterfield and Ian Branfoot.

Though Moyes' early success at Everton prompted renewed interest in managers such as Paul Hart and Alan Pardew, when a Premiership job actually came up clubs thought twice. They either looked within (Chris Coleman at Fulham, Eddie Gray at Leeds) or to a familiar face (David O'Leary at Villa, Peter Reid, initially, at Leeds). Wearying of this closed shop, described by Sturrock as "the dead pool", the former England manager Graham Taylor wrote: "Premiership clubs should look down the Leagues when the top jobs come up instead of at 'the usual names'."

Sturrock's appointment may buck the trend but it looks a sensible one. In a decade of management he has had considerable success at St Johnstone and, after a disappointing spell at Dundee United, the club he so graced as a player, Plymouth Argyle. But while the doctors are confident he can he handle the physical pressure of Premiership management [he once collapsed in the dug-out] can he handle the heightened expectation, the bigger egos and the better opposition? "In the end, it's man-management," he said. "Two sets of 11 boys go out and kick a ball around. They're just slightly better in the Premiership."

He added: "It's just hype. David Moyes and David Jones have proved that. I watched Claudio Ranieri. He's a fantastic coach, but he does exactly the same things that I did with Plymouth, only with better players. Nationwide managers get short-changed. Hopefully this will be a benchmark and more clubs will take the gamble. But it takes a brave chairman."

The one who appointed Sturrock has few doubts. "In any appointment there is risk," said Rupert Lowe. "We have chosen the man we think will be the right one for the job and it doesn't matter whether Paul was managing in the Premiership, Nationwide or Conference." The Southampton chairman speaks with the benefit of experience having previously brought Jones to the club when he was the manager of Stockport. Though the relationship soured after Jones was suspended, then replaced by Glenn Hoddle while fighting charges, later dropped, of child abuse, he was enough of a success at Southampton to be taken on by Wolves.

Lowe added: "We don't subscribe to the view that you can't manage in the Premier League unless you've done it before. We're not frightened of giving someone a chance. Management is management. The principles are the same. The biggest difference as you go higher is you get better facilities. The players may be better known but they still need to be managed, organised, coached and stimulated. It is about communication."

Sturrock is regarded as innovative and ambitious. In the past he has had players tiling roofs, going canoeing and cooking banquets for their team-mates. He is also flexible tactically and capable of working on a limited budget - the latter virtually a given for successful lower League managers.

There are two obvious developments since 1992. Clubs appear less prepared to hire players straight from the dressing-room and more inclined to promote their coaching staff; they also look abroad. In 1992, "foreign" meant Scotland.

Southampton considered following the trend with Alain Perrin, formerly of Troyes and Marseilles, in contention for the post. Harry Redknapp, the manager of neighbours Portsmouth, is glad they opted for Sturrock. "He's earned the right to manage a Premier League club," said Redknapp. "I was talking to some Southampton supporters and they said they were hoping to get the French coach. I said, 'What do you know about him?' They said he must be good because he's foreign. I said 'Maybe he is great, but why not give it to somebody over here?'"

Like Redknapp, who started at Bournemouth, David Pleat also came up the hard way, beginning at Nuneaton Borough. Pleat, currently engaged in manager-hunting as a member of Tottenham's board, said: "Sturrock's appointment is rare, and that's sad. Premiership chairman tend to go for flavour of the month and there is a great danger of not taking a deep-rooted, thorough look at a manager's qualities and deficiencies.

"My manager of the year is Stuart Murdoch. He has kept two academy teams going, a young reserve team that doesn't get walloped, and has a first team that has no chance at all. I don't know how he has the morale to keep going.

"Sturrock's had a proper apprenticeship. If I was the chairman of a big club I wouldn't hesitate to look at someone who has done the miles. Where did all these people come from: Eriksson, Ferguson, Wenger, the guys without a great playing background? They started at the bottom, at lower league clubs [respectively Degerfors, East Stirlingshire and Nancy]. It was the same with Jim Smith and Howard Wilkinson [both Boston], myself and Ron Atkinson [Kettering]."

The bigger the club the greater the pressure to appoint a "name" but, added, Pleat, neither the stock market nor supporters should influence an appointment. "If the new manager wins his first three games everyone will love him, he loses them they will want him out." That is one aspect of the Premiership, Sturrock, like managers everywhere, will be familiar with.

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