Brian Viner: Move over Mourinho – there's a new special manager in town

The Last Word
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The Independent Online

The greatest football manager in the world this week is, by common consent, Jose Mourinho.

That might change if Barcelona overturn a 3-1 deficit against Inter Milan on Wednesday night, in which case Josep Guardiola will probably steal back the laurels, although many impartial observers would still point to Mourinho's formidable record in Portugal and England, as well as Italy, as evidence that the Special One is also the Supreme One. Many impartial observers, and Signor J Mourinho.

Then there is Sir Alex Ferguson. His claims to be considered the greatest manager in the world this or any other week are also pretty robust, considering the astounding longevity of his achievements with Manchester United, not to mention his oft-overlooked record with Aberdeen, because even knocking Liverpool off their flipping perch, if I might gently paraphrase, was not as remarkable as breaking the Old Firm duopoly in Scotland. And of other managers currently in business, let's not forget Fabio Capello. Or Guus Hiddink. Or Arsène Wenger. For different reasons they all have their proponents in the "greatest" stakes.

It is natural enough that we only look at the top of football's food chain when it comes to assessing greatness. Natural, but mistaken. Because the achievements that should really be applauded longest and loudest are those that get scarcely any coverage away from the back pages of local news-papers. By this I mean the achievements on a negligible budget of the small-club manager who has to play the transfer market like a violin virtuoso. A virtuoso who wouldn't mind a Stradivarius, but can work miracles even on a battered old fiddle. Incidentally, that's food, football and music in one paragraph; we like to think of The Last Word as a one-stop shop for all your imagery needs.

Anyway, the ultimate embodiment of this splendid breed of football men is Graham Turner, owner, chairman and manager of League Two Hereford United. Turner, the least big-headed of characters, understandably found it difficult to wear so many hats, so a year ago to this very day he kicked himself upstairs and handed managerial duties to his friend and first-team coach John Trewick. Last month, however, with the Bulls veering perilously close to a relegation battle, Turner was forced to sack Trewick and at the age of 62 become manager again himself, since when Hereford have won five out of seven games to banish any prospect of dropping out of the Football League.

To all football fans, Hereford United will for ever be synonymous with FA Cup upsets, having inflicted the biggest of them all, when still a non-league side, on top-tier Newcastle United in 1972. Routinely described as Hereford's finest hour, it is unarguably Hereford's most famous hour, but the greater achievement is surely that of Turner, who became manager of the financially stricken club in 1995, was unable to prevent relegation into the Conference, and then bought the majority shareholding in 1997 to stop the Bulls from being carted off to the abattoir. Eventually he got them back into the Football League, and two seasons ago, after some immensely astute moves in the loan market, even masterminded promotion to League One. At the same time, yet more significantly, he (along with company secretary Joan Fennessy, his co-owner) made them economically stable, a much more viable proposition for a purchaser than when he mortgaged his future.

Last week, indeed, Turner and Fennessy put their viable proposition up for sale. He thinks he has one more football job in him and on Wednesday he told the Hereford Times that the chances of him still being at Edgar Street next season are "very slim". So it seems timely if not quite to propose him as a legitimate rival to Mourinho, Fergie and Co as the greatest manager in the world, at least to ask whether they could have done what, in the most challenging of circumstances, he has done. I doubt it.

Paragon of fair play gets ahead in the name game

Last week, in congratulating the Lionels of the world on being able to share their previously unfashionable first name with the planet's finest footballer, I wrote of my own satisfaction at the sporting redemption of the name Brian, for so long besmirched by The Magic Roundabout and Monty Python. But in listing the great sporting Brians I omitted the English golfer Brian Davis, who in South Carolina less than 24 hours later lost a play-off for the prestigious and lucrative Verizon Heritage Classic as a consequence of the two-stroke penalty he called on himself for a tiny and unobserved breach of the rules. Never has a collective noun seemed more apt; I hereby acclaim Davis as spiritual leader of a pride of Brians.

Robertson turns the tables on snooker sneerers

The sneer directed at snooker is that, with the exception of Ronnie O'Sullivan, there are no characters these days. This is rubbish for all kinds of reasons, but I will cite only one. On Wednesday, having defeated a dogged Fergal O'Brien to reach the last 16 of the world championship, Neil Robertson said it had been like "trying to get chewing gum off a carpet". What character, what personality, there is in that image. Eddie Charlton would never have thought of it.