Sam Wallace: Woodward the knight errant in an unfamiliar realm of chaos

Click to follow
The Independent Football

For a man whose public utterances have concerned the humility of learning a profession from scratch, and the joy of coaching the Under-14s and of slowly building a career in football management, Sir Clive Woodward's effect on Southampton has been anything but the quiet, unobtrusive introduction to the club he says he wanted. In fact, chaos has been threatened ever since he first took up residence in his office, or, to be precise, took up residence in the office of manager Harry Redknapp.

The coach of England's rugby World Cup-winning side made a spectacular entrance to St Mary's with his instalment in Redknapp's office without the prior knowledge of the man who already worked there. If this was not enough, then it soon became known at the club that Woodward's salary was far in excess of the £320,000 a year that Redknapp commands. As packages go, this knight of the realm has set one record in English football already: no one is ever going to earn as much as him for coaching a group of players still too young to take their GCSEs.

This has been the most confusing aspect of Woodward's introduction to Southampton football club from the very beginning. He is clearly a sports coach of great talent, his appetite for learning is undoubted and his so-crazy-it-might-just-work approach to innovation is a breath of fresh air in any sport. Even Redknapp is not believed to have any personal issues with the man himself: he based his mistrust - and understandably so - on the fact that Woodward's arrival heralded changes at the club that were made without his endorsement.

It begs the question, therefore, why Woodward, despite his qualities, played a central role in one of the most difficult periods in Southampton's recent history. He is too shrewd a man not to realise that football management in this country is a profession that induces paranoia, mistrust, envy, loathing and the fostering of bitter lifelong grudges among its brethren like no other job. He must have known that his presence would unsettle much less reasonable men than Redknapp and he must take great responsibility for what has unfolded.

From those close to Southampton, it was Woodward's appointment of the now departed Simon Clifford, the Brazilian soccer schools and Garforth Town entrepreneur, which was his least intelligent move. Clifford was given leave to work with some of the senior squad who were not involved in the first team and their sessions were understood to be as basic as practising kicking the ball with the outside of the foot. That did nothing to advance the credibility of the new regime.

Woodward also intervened in a training session to tell Nigel Quashie the best way to strike a football - not exactly a vote-winner among experienced professionals - but it was clearly Clifford who pushed Redknapp's patience too far. Clifford's flair for self-publicity, his willingness to assume that what works for an enthusiastic 11-year-old on his school holidays in Yorkshire will do the trick in the brutal battle for promotion from the Championship is an assumption that Woodward might have done better to question.

Perhaps Clifford would like to try managing Bournemouth for nine years and beat Manchester United in the FA Cup third round. Perhaps he would care to handle the huge expectation of West Ham fans - and bring through one of the greatest collection of young players at any club - for a further seven years. And then top it all by taking Portsmouth from the wrong end of the Championship to the Premiership. Every manager who has taken their share of the kicks, who sees a bit of themselves in Redknapp, will wonder why Woodward thought that a badge in Brazilian ball skills was the passport to success.

If Woodward now feels he has made a mistake in employing Clifford - who maintains that chairman Rupert Lowe and the former rugby coach himself wanted him to stay - then he should say so. Football management is a profession which judges credibility very closely. That is not to say a manager need to have been a great player to make it in the job or start - as Sir Alex Ferguson did - with a club so poor that their squad included no goalkeeper. But the trials and tribulations of those who have had to scrap their way from the very bottom should, at least, be respected.

There is no question that Woodward should abandon his pioneering approach to the job but he should also understand that saying you do not intend to ruffle any feathers, or undermine anyone, is not quite the same as making sure that does not happen in reality. To remind himself of the unusual nature of his position it is worth trying to imagine, a year from now, Sven Goran Eriksson, after his glorious World Cup finals triumph of 2006, turning up the collars of his new training jersey and watching serenely from the touchline in his new role as director of performance at Saracens.

It is perhaps indicative of football's status that a crossover in the opposite direction to Woodward would never happen. Rugby union, we are told, is far too specialised. Cricket, likewise. But it is the misfortune of football managers everywhere that every loudmouth fan, smart-alec pundit and fantasy football addict knows better than them. As a profession they are often abysmally treated and a run of bad results can mean years of experience count for nothing. Woodward needs to be a lot more mindful of how unhappy the lot of Redknapp and his peers can be - this is, after all, the profession to which he aspires to join.