Dwight Yorke, interviewed in these pages recently, wished for a management break as promising as Gareth Southgate's at then-Premier League Middlesbrough. The League Managers Association's celebration this week of the elite band to have overseen 1,000 matches should have made him reconsider.
Of the 18 men to have achieved that mark only one began in the top flight, Sir Matt Busby, at a war-ravaged Old Trafford. Three began in non-League (Alec Stock, Jim Smith and Neil Warnock), and 10 in the lower divisions (Brian Clough, Dave Bassett, Alan Buckley, Dario Gradi, Brian Horton, Lennie Lawrence, Harry Redknapp, Denis Smith, Graham Taylor and Graham Turner). Joe Royle and Steve Coppell began in what is now the Championship, Sir Alex Ferguson at East Stirling and Sir Bobby Robson in Canada.
Wonderful as it is to walk into a job with a supportive chairman, fine academy, and decent squad, rookies learn more when, as Ferguson recalled, you inherit eight players, none of them a goalkeeper, and a recruitment budget measured in hundreds, not millions. Such experiences are invaluable.
The caveat is that managers used to be given time to learn on the job. Steve Coppell noted that he took five years to lift Crystal Palace into the top flight and doubted such patience would be shown now. Indeed, the average tenure of a manager is less than two years.
The most patient chairmen are in the Premier League, where the average tenure is almost four years. Does that mean Yorke is right? Only two of the top flight's 20 bosses began at such a level and Rafael Benitez was swiftly sacked at Real Valladolid while Gianfranco Zola is finding the going tough in that first job at West Ham. For most aspiring managers it is better to take the first steps out of the limelight.