The Peter Corrigan Column: Can Woody's thick skin brave the arrows?

Click to follow
The Independent Football

A distressing number of clubs, and a much larger number of managers, bear the scars of the experience, but chairmen have to be tolerated as a necessary evil and it is generally a matter of luck whether or not you have a good one.

Where Sir Clive Woodward differs from them is that he hasn't bought, bullied or bamboozled his way into the game. The chairman and owner of Southampton FC, Rupert Lowe, considers that the former architect of the best-ever England rugby team and leader of the recent much-vaunted but forlorn charge by the British and Irish Lions into the stronghold of New Zealand has the ability to help direct his football club to greater heights.

It is a brave call by Lowe and an even bolder response by Woodward to accept the title of technical director and attempt to impose his theories on a game he has admired and studied only from afar.

There is an uncomfortable feeling that if it doesn't work out Harry Redknapp, the manager, will carry the can, but we are well used to the expendability of the men who hold that post. The point is that Woodward is introducing an approach that is unique in both its application and its authorship, and which adds a fascinating aspect to the upcoming season.

As a pioneer, Woodward runs a risk of collecting an arseful of arrows, but after New Zealand he is already in possession of one of those, and the way he bounded into his new job, a week early, is evidence of the thickness of his skin and the power of his self-belief.

In a run-up to the season worryingly dominated by the incessant sound of Chelsea's recruiting drum there is something intriguing about a newcomer offering a way of creating a successful football club other than pounding it with your wallet.

Understandably, much of the discussion about Woodward's arrival at Southampton concerns the situation in which the popular Redknapp finds himself. Bad enough that his team were relegated last season. Now he has to contend with an ex-rugby man in a supposedly superior position.

Redknapp, sensibly, has called a halt to the media frenzy and made a plea to let them both get on with their jobs. Quite what he, or anyone else, perceives the nature of Woodward's job to be is difficult to judge.

Lowe is said to be impressed by the way his meticulous and demanding methods created a World Cup-winning England rugby team, and it will be part of Woodward's role initially to introduce the ethics of hard work and temperate behaviour into the club's youth academy. It won't be long before the senior players are subjected to the physiological and psychological detail that Woodward considers essential to the fulfilment of a team's objectives. His simple doctrine is that success, in any walk of life, depends largely on the correct preparation.

The danger will occur at the point when Woodward's priorities conflict with Redknapp's, but we are not in totally strange territory here. Although we have never witnessed a cross-over of this magnitude before, various sports have happily plundered the ideas of others.

Australia's innovative cricket coach, John Buchanan, has used a baseball coach to improve his team's fielding and is hoping to meet Manchester United's manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, for a brainstorming session. He also wants to compare notes with Woodward, whose qualities were being admired in football before Southampton came along.

When Mark Palios was briefly the chief executive of the Football Association he considered Woodward as a possible successor to Sven Goran Eriksson. Perhaps we have more reason to be grateful to Ms Faria Alam than we previously realised but, as for Southampton, it is a time for open minds and Mr Redknapp's patience.

The avenger in waiting

Say what you like about the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand, and many have exhausted themselves on the subject, the level of silence maintained by those within the party has been commendably high.

Despite being battered and buffeted by criticism from outside, the members of the largest Lions party ever to leave these shores have remained remarkably restrained. They have been back for three weeks now and so far not a word of dissent, nor even a dribble of disagreement or dissatisfaction, has passed their lips.

There is plenty of time for any simmering disgruntlement to rise to the surface, but the good ship Woodward doesn't seem to have had many mutineers on board. This is in sharp contrast to the Lions tour four years earlier, when Graham Henry was more savaged from within than he was from without - and he only narrowly lost the series against Australia.

But there was one dissenting Lion having a minor roar last week, although it wasn't against the management. Lawrence Dallaglio made an early exit from the tour after breaking his ankle in the opening match and was undoubtedly a big loss. He would have livened up the proceedings in more ways than one.

He said that had he been playing in the First Test he would have "sorted out" the New Zealand captain, Tana Umaga, and hooker Keven Mealamu after their assault on the Lions captain, Brian O'Driscoll, which put him out of the series. "If I had been there, the first thing I would have done is to make sure that we sorted those two out straight away," said Dallaglio.

Does that sentiment carry an implied criticism of those Lions who were there and didn't seek swift and merciless retribution? They would have had to catch Umaga first, but the fact is that O'Driscoll remains unavenged, and Dallaglio won't be the only player dissatisfied.

Perhaps that is the reason Umaga is said to be unlikely to make the All Blacks tour of the UK and Ireland in the autumn. Ret-aliation in rugby doesn't have a time limit.

Marking our cards

BBC TV's Breakfast programme rudely interrupted my slumbers last Monday morning with the news that the 2012 Olympics will start in precisely seven years' time. And to prove that they've started the countdown in earnest, they included Olympic items in the programme for the following few mornings.

I would have thought there was more news in the revelation that school playing fields are still being flogged off at an alarming rate, but the Beeb obviously felt it their patriotic duty to plug the great event so that we would rush to buy the Olympic scratchcard which went on sale on Wednesday.

The "Go for Gold" cards are expected to raise £750 million, which is half of the Lottery's contribution of £1.5bn to the event. The remainder will come from Lottery profits that would normally have gone to arts and heritage, whose supporters, naturally, are complaining bitterly.

London taxpayers will shortly be swelling the Olympic kitty but we have yet to learn what to expect from the Government, who are also committed to investing in sport generally, in keeping with the Olympic ideal.

What we do know for certain is that the Treasury will take a 12.5 per cent cut of every pound we spend on the "Go for Gold" cards.

Seven years to go, and already we're scratching for the money.