The Nick Townsend column: New brooms are sweeping in for season of witches

It seems football cannot help itself when it comes to the hiring and firing game, but are chairmen just showing a lack of judgement?
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From some quarters, the reaction was understandably withering rather than welcoming. Former referee-turned-talking head Graham Poll could hardly wait to comment on his nemesis returning to the managerial brotherhood: "There cannot be a less popular character in football," he said. But that's to be expected when your name is Neil Warnock, celebrated arch-provocateur to officials and certain of his peers alike.

You didn't have to be at Selhurst Park on Thursday to imagine the scene. You could picture the love-in, or perhaps more a massaging of egos. Could itreally be that Crystal Palace's chairman, Simon Jordan, and Warnock are the veritable "dream ticket", as the former assessed their union? Or is it more likely that they will come to represent, where Palace followers are concerned, a nightmare in tandem?

The answer comes from Jordan – or is it Tarzan? – as he swings through an imaginary jungle, torso-thumping, while grunting: "We will get things off our chest. That is what real men do." Now some unkind souls would dispute whether real men continue to bitch about a past manager (Iain Dowie), whom they have already defeated in the courtroom. And would areal man allow panic to set in like a gullible teenager on a sleepover in a haunted house just because results are less than respectable after 10 games of a 46-game season?

Far more pertinent than all the predictable knockabout stuff – Warnock castigating officials and Jordan denigrating Dowie – was the fact that Warnock was Jordan's eighth manager in seven years. They have not all succumbed to subsequent failure. Two, Steve Coppell and Steve Bruce, are both faring acceptably in the Premier League. The aforementioned Dowie has returned to the Championship with Coventry after a calamitous few weeks at Charlton last season. And one suspects that Palace's last incumbent, Peter Taylor, successful at Hull and as the coach of England Under-21s, will not be unemployed for long.

Even allowing for the fact that Bruce and Dowie both departed of their own volition, stability is evidently a concept with which Jordan is not particularly familiar. Neither, it must be said, are too many of his counterparts. As we enter the witchingseason, that time when things tend to go bump in the night, notably managers' careers, it is an all-too familiar story in English football.

Already members of club hierarchies are rifling through the dictionary of sacking explanations. "The League table does not lie," gravely declared Gianni Paladini, the QPR chairman, as John Gregory found himself among the nine managers who have already departed in the English Leagues this season. Maybe not at season's end it doesn't. But in early October it can certainly tell a few fibs.

As John Hollins, the much-travelled former Chelsea player and manager, reminded me wryly this week, there's an old maxim in football: if he hasn't won anything in three years a manager changes his players – or his club change the manager. Except that the real figure for managerial security is now less than two years. One doesn't have to be a paid-up member of the League Managers' Association to suggest that this is absurd.

A total of 48 managers left their jobs last season (albeit some were resignations, including Warnock from Sheffield United). This season's tally in the first two months is liable to increase significantlyby Christmas, traditionally a period for culling. Though life tends to be more secure in the Premier League than lower down, Sammy Lee's future as Bolton's manager is in increasing doubt after poor results and a reported revolt among senior players; there are whispers regarding Lawrie Sanchez's job security at Fulham; not to mention the much-discussed positions of Martin Jol at Tottenham and Bruce at Birmingham.

Yet it is the Championship which represents the scariest of scenarios. The longest-serving manager is Steve Cotterill of Burnley, and his tenure has only been three years. During that time Leicester have employed no fewer than seven managers. The explanation is conceivably largely a legacy of the play-offs. The Premier League, with its promise of manna from the football heavens, beckons for so many, if only a team can "string a run of results together", as callers to the phone-in shows tend to demand of their clubs.

The same applies if a team are in desperate straits in the relegation positions – yes, even after 10 games. The advent of the transfer windows means that a manager can no longer secure that missing link at his or his chairman's whim. Sometimes it is easier for the club to satisfy the faithful's demand for success, or survival, by changing the boss. Never mind that the clubs arguably responsible for the finest teams, and achievements, over the past decade have been managed by Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger, who have both demonstrated how a club can thrive on continuity.

But then their virtues as managers have long been proven. Ultimately, one has to question whether some of those appointed, often directly after retiring as players, by chairmen who place goodwill before profound judgement, truly possess the qualities demanded. The suspicion – and he may yet disprove this – is that Lee was a good coach but was never cut out for the rigours of management.

Perhaps the most illuminating comment of the week was that of Peter Grant, formerlythe No 2 at West Ham, who departed the managerial seat at Norwich with the words: "I have to assess if it's the right job for me to do because I want to grow old – and I don't want to be old at 42." It's a shame that such candour is a rare thing in a world where rampant ambition too often fails on the cruel cutting edge of reality.

Warning sirens sound as computer generation pull plug on football

As England's seniors progress belatedly towards Euro 2008, and Stuart Pearce's Under-21s advance towards their own finals in 2009, the warning sirens are being cranked about future generations of English talent; not least by Peter Taylor, Pearce's predecessor.

For many, the solution is simple: minimum quotas of English players in club teams. Indeed, that argument has an influential advocate in Sepp Blatter, the president of Fifa, who says there should be six home-grown players in every team across the world.

This week Harry Redknapp gave short shrift to that proposal.It could be contended that the Portsmouth manager, who has seven African players alone in his squad, would, wouldn't he? Yet many will agree with his view that young African players "possess the hunger and drive working-class boys of England had 30 years ago". Redknapp added: "When I was growing up, working-class lads in the East End lived and breathed football. Now I rarely see a kickabout in the park. All I see are the dazzling lights of bedroom windows from the glare of TVs and computers."

The consequences will only be observed once the "computergeneration" comes of age. But it does not bode well. And no amount of Blatter intervention will alter that fact.

And finally, as if Gareth Southgate didn't have enough troubles, with Middlesbrough claiming just two League victories so far this season, the Boro manager has just thrust his hands into a beehive unprotected. The Mayday for Nurses "hardship campaign" was designed to raise £1 million through Premier League players donating one day's wages. Reportedly, only £200,000 has been collected.

The names of those who have not contributed have been made public and include Southgate's players, though they made more appearances in the community than any other Premier League club last season and are also said to donate thousands to charities. Southgate has described the tactics of the campaign organisers as "bordering on blackmail". Whatever his attributes as a manager, he is a decent, forthright character. But when you are on the side of the devil, the mega-wealthy football elite, is it wise to pick a fight with the angels?

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