Pleat helps the man he would prefer wasn't here

Portsmouth's new French manager has a tough few months ahead of him.
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The Independent Football

He arrives in the Premiership as another Continental heart-throb who has elevated an unfashionable club to hitherto unimaginable heights. But there the comparisons between Alain Perrin and Jose Mourinho end.

The more cynical among us may be proved entirely wrong and "Reggie", as Perrin will inevitably be known, could emerge to be another Mourinho or, perhaps more appositely, another Arsène Wenger. It should not be forgotten that the question on the lips of many Gunners' followers was "Arsène who?" when that Frenchman first set foot inside Highbury. Even so, Portsmouth's newly installed manager has seemingly rather too many boxes unticked to assuage the concerns of the Pompey faithful, despite yesterday's 4-2 defeat of Charlton at Fratton Park.

Admittedly, the lack of Premiership experience and knowledge of his new appointment has not diminished the faith of the chairman, Milan Mandaric, who says it is now "all hands to the pump" to secure Portsmouth's Premiership status, even if there is going to be a problem for anyone just to get their digits on the darn thing as the vessel slips under the waves. Pompey now boast, apart from a highly visible chairman, an executive director in the Croat Velimir Zajec, who has overseen the team's decline since Redknapp left; a coach, Joe Jordan: a "consultant", David Pleat; and a manager, Perrin, who has agreed a two-year contract.

While the 48-year-old former PE teacher did not get where he is today by understating his achievements, the problem is that after his remarkable success as the coach of Troyes, who ascended from the French fourth division to the first and into Europe under his stewardship, Perrin's subsequent CV has been rather less distinguished. His dismissals by Marseille (after two years) and the UAE side Al-Ain (after only four months) do not exactly inspire confidence. Neither does the fact that he was considered, but ultimately overlooked, by Southampton after Gordon Strachan's departure, and also, apparently, by Plymouth Argyle.

Pleat, who is blessed with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the game, is, of course, made for such circumstances, although it is a little disconcerting when he concedes that he can offer little insight into Perrin's strengths. The former Luton and Spurs manager says of what is effectively a five-week consultancy period: "This is probably the shortest little agreement in football. But they just said, 'Would you come and ease his path?' The alternative is to cut the grass or go golfing."

He adds: "It's an interesting one, helping him assimilate in this country, though deep down I'd like to see younger British managers get these opportunities. But they've recognised a man who's got a fine coaching pedigree and they probably feel that a coach from abroad may be just the perfect man to lead a club whose team are quite cosmopolitan."

Mandaric, who was apparently rebuffed by Strachan, is understood to have interviewed other British candidates, including Tranmere's Brian Little, before deciding on Perrin. "The problem is that British coaches are bumped off the roundabout before it's done a revolution, and that's a shame," says Pleat. "These days, they don't have the time to develop their characters. I was lucky. At Luton I had nine years before I moved."

At Kenilworth Road, he also learnt the art of brinkmanship. From that moment in 1983 at Maine Road, when he galloped, an ungainly vision in beige, across the pitch having maintained the Hatters' then First Division status, he became recognised as a specialist in survival tactics.

Portsmouth may not consider themselves as yet in need of such expertise. But there is little doubt that, from gleeful bystanders of relegation fisticuffs in which their South Coast rivals Southampton were principal participants, Pompey have been dragged too close to the mêlée.

As Tottenham's director of football last season, Pleat comprehends how a team can slide unwarily into jeopardy, and what is required to escape. "There was a bit of a panic at Tottenham last season. But I signed [Jermain] Defoe in December. He was obviously important because he could score goals. That just tipped the balance," recalls Pleat. "Here we have [Lomana] LuaLua now. He looks in form. [Aiyegbeni] Yakubu has capabilities. If you have goalscorers when you're in trouble they can turn tight games into wins. But principally you've got to make sure you're strong defensively, maybe make some minor alterations in that department, and wait for the breaks. Confidence is a lot to do with it, and you need a win, otherwise it becomes like a cancer. The losing habit spreads. And then the players inside, unless they're very strong characters, and a lot aren't, lose heart."

The man who must prevent that is a Frenchman virtually unknown in British football. Not only at Fratton Park, but in the environs of the Hawthorns, St Mary's and Carrow Road, there will be watchful eyes on whether the next few weeks chronicle the fall or rise of Alain Perrin.

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