Wolverhampton Wanderers will today begin wrestling with the dilemma of whether to go for an experienced old hand or an inspirational younger man to succeed Graham Taylor, who bowed to public hostility yesterday by resigning as manager of the First Division's big spenders.
Following Sunday's 0-0 draw with Charlton, which left the pre-season promotion favourites in 18th place and sparked an anti-Taylor demonstration outside Molineux by several hundred fans, the 51-year-old former England manager spent the morning in talks with the Wolves chairman, Jonathan Hayward. Taylor was only 20 months into a three-year contract, and it is believed the pair discussed details of a financial settlement.
After four hours, both Taylor and the club secretary, Tom Finn, emerged to make terse statements. Finn, with masterful use of euphemism, explained that Hayward had "informed Mr Taylor of the board's concern over the team's performances and position", after which Taylor "tendered his resignation in the best interests of the club".
Taylor, alluding to the abuse directed towards him by some supporters, then said: "This is sad because it has as much to do with matters off the pitch as those on it. Obviously the team have not been playing well. But, only 13 weeks into the season, we are still in all competitions. Our recent run of two defeats in 13 games is not as bad as our sterner critics claim.
"A return of confidence among players who last year enabled Wolves to have their best season for over a decade is of prime importance. If it does return, I see no reason why promotion cannot be gained this season. However, a team cannot gain confidence if the board and a section of fans do not have confidence in their manager."
This time last year, Wolves led the table, only to finish fourth and miss out in the play-offs. Despite an overall outlay of pounds 7.5m on players, Taylor has been unable to take them higher than 12th this season. The relative success of two local rivals, West Bromwich Albion and Birmingham, added to the pressure on him, and Taylor admitted before what proved to be his swansong that there was an "undercurrent of feeling" against him.
His assistant, Bobby Downes, will take charge on a caretaker basis, but is not a serious contender in the long term. Prior to appointing Taylor, Wolves' owner, Sir Jack Hayward, considered offering the job to Bryan Robson, and may now be tempted to take a chance on such a figure, perhaps even a player-manager.
If so, the names of Steve Bruce, Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle are likely to figure strongly in his thoughts, although there may be an internal candidate. John de Wolf, the 32-year-old Dutch defender Taylor signed from Feyenoord last December, now rivals Steve Bull in the affections of supporters, and was the only player applauded off the pitch on Sunday.
In his programme notes, Jonathan Hayward hinted at a wider role for de Wolf: "He may yet pull this team from the edge of the cliff by the scruff of its neck into the land of milk and honey."
Should Wolves seek a more tried and trusted figurehead, Ron Atkinson would be an obvious choice. Having served as an apprentice at Molineux under Stan Cullis, Atkinson may find the attraction mutual. He also has the let-out in his current post at Coventry of having installed a ready- made successor in Gordon Strachan.
Meanwhile, among compromise candidates touted in the Midlands last night were Danny Wilson, the Barnsley player-manager, Huddersfield's Brian Horton and Millwall's Mick McCarthy.
Taylor's credibility gap, page 26