Sunday, 1 May 2011

Fans Can Get You Down

Former Sheffield United manager Kevin Blackwell has been out of work for over six months now. But I suspect his stock has risen as a result of what has gone on at Bramall Lane since he left.

The last year or more of his tenure at the Blades featured a growing disillusionment from Unitedites about their lack of progression and 'one-dimensional' football under Blackwell. They demanded a quick return to the Premiership and, turning a blind eye to the financial realities once they lost that play-off final to Burnley and their parachute payment just two years ago, their criticism of him grew to a crescendo after their unacceptable eighth-placed finish last season. The Board caved in to the terrace demands just TWO league games into this season (a none-too-shabby away draw with Cardiff and home defeat to champions QPR). If they knew the panic button was so close, why didn't they give someone else their summer transfer funds?

I well remember several conversations I had with moaning Unitedites at work last season, in which I warned them to be careful what they wished for. After a season of utter thinkable disaster, culminating in relegation to League One, it's worth reflecting on the benefits of the boredom of another mid-table finish.

It's not just United, it's the same with all football fans. We all want promotion and silverware and, if that isn't on, then at least to have some remote hope of the playoffs into spring. Goodness knows, across the city at Wednesday, some fools were still banging on about the top six when they hadn't won at home for two months and were in freefall.

Fans don't like mid-table mediocrity. But sometimes that is what is good for them, and it is directors who have to be strong enough to stand by managers (like Tony Pulis) who may not light up your stadium every week, but who will turn in a dependable level of performance come the end of the season.

The League Managers Association has produced research which shows that, statistically, a managerial change is not likely to lead to improved long-term performance. Like shares, an investment in a new manager can go down as well as up, and fans would do well to remember that a proven mid-table/occasional play-off devil you know is a better bet than the one you don't.

The SUFC fans I know were desperate to get out of the Championship. Well, now they've got their wish. But it's not the one they hoped for.

PS. There is a time and a place to change a boss who has clearly lost his way. And I'm delighted to have seen the effect Dean Smith has had on a Walsall side that was dead and buried when he took over and is now one win away from a truly great escape. Dean was a lovely bloke and a fine skipper during my time at Wednesday. I wish him the best of luck in an admittedly tough trip to Southampton, albeit that the Saints may already be up by next Sunday.

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