James Lawton: Same old faces on radar due to lack of a Clough or Revie

Sunderland owner Ellis Short invested in a young Roy Keane who refused to take his calls when things got tricky

Sunderland's enthusiasm for either Martin O'Neill or Mark Hughes is hardly a surprise. Whoever emerges victorious from the hand-to-hand battle, if indeed it is one that they care to pursue after establishing the terms of engagement being offered by owner Ellis Short, is likely to create an immediate sense of well-being at the Stadium of Light.

But whatever happened to the old possibility of a young coach filled not with a world-weary sense of the cost of everything, including mediocre midfielders from Bulgaria, but the conviction that he could change the face of football?

In the top flight of the English game there is just one working example and he is 34, Portuguese and right now might benefit from a little help from Our Lady of Fatima, to whom Jose Mourinho was said to be so devoted, at least in the formative stages of his career.

The other difference between Andre Villas-Boas and young English lions like Brian Clough, Don Revie and Malcolm Allison who insisted they were bound for the stars, is that he never kicked the ball professionally.

The point, of course, is that Sunderland's Short, who did invest heavily in the unproven potential of Roy Keane, and was rewarded by the great player's refusal to take his mobile phone calls when things got a little tricky, has every reason to cut his losses and look for the certainties that he can expect in an O'Neill or a Hughes.

When someone complained to Hughes during his time at Blackburn that the team's style of football was not exactly lighting up the moors around Ewood Park, he said he could solve the problem immediately if his critic immediately handed over £50m.

A whole generation of top footballers has both waxed extremely wealthy and seen, close-up, the pressures that accumulate so quickly. Hence players who in the old days would have seemed sure-fire candidates for major jobs in English football, now flock into the TV studios, most of them to bombard their viewers with the most anodyne of double talk.

One notable exception is Sky's Gary Neville, whose bracing analysis is winning some unlikely admirers and also suggesting that he might be a conspicuous loss to the managerial ranks. When asked about the likely successor to his fallen former team-mate Steve Bruce he said, not disrespectfully but with perhaps a hint of resignation, that inevitably it would be one of the old names – or, he might have put it another way, the usual suspects.

It was a reminder of the encrusted nature of the English football establishment, among whom Alan Pardew's brilliant surge is the performance of the baby among the Premier League's three English managers. At 50, Pardew is more than a decade younger than Harry Redknapp and Neil Warnock.

The intriguing, and rather saddening, historical detail is that Brian Clough was 32 when he took over at Derby County and Don Revie 33 when he assumed command at Leeds United. By comparison Malcolm Allison was quite elderly when he launched Manchester City into their greatest years. He was 38.

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