Not for the first time, I am slow on the uptake about a non story which appeared in the Bristol Post yesterday where Bristol Rovers fans were invited to advise manager Darrell Clarke on what he needs to change in order to change the club’s fortunes. The responses were fascinating:
Andrew Strong: Experienced centre back
James Read: 5-3-2, just my opinion though, I don’t see players in training or know anything about being a football manager or tactics. He knows what he’s doing let him get on with it, he’ll turn it round.
Luke Dixie Dix: Go back to basics 442 man for man
Ian Smith: Keep a settled team might be a good idea for a few games so team can learn to gel and get used to playing together instead of making changes I believe in DC just think teams are finding us out to early on in games
Ems Bradshaw: A goalie
Paula Marie Gadsby: Stop making so many changes. We need a settled side like we use to have
Scott Milton: 532 with a settled team , same 11 players never been given a long enough run
Mervyn Brfc Harris: Put Slocombe back in goal for a start.
Mark Scudamore: Stop chopping and changing the team, decide whats his best team and stick to it as close as possible imo !!!
Barry Watkins: A goalkeeper that can make a save !!!
Alan Ward: Don’t play 4 4 2. For that you need wingers and we haven’t got any. Square pegs in round holes doesn’t work!
Harley Ashdown: Defensive coach and Slocombe back in goal. Smith has been embarrassing at times from long shots
Graham Seers: Stop dropping Lee Brown!!!!!! for a loan player
Alan Marshall: Play 654 give us a chance….
Paul Wilson: Drop Lockyer.
Martyn Morgan: The owners
John Sheargold: Defensive coach has to be number 1 priority. Things have gone down hill since Yates left.
Are you still awake? All it proves to me is the old adage that opinions are like assholes: everyone’s got one. And there are quite a few here. (Opinions, that is!)
I am sure that Clarke’s critics are all able to see what he doesn’t and they are all experienced and highly qualified coaches because it’s all so easy, isn’t it? Obviously, Clarke and his staff have, despite working with the players for most of the week, have far less idea as to what is wrong at the Gas than those of us who have absolutely no idea of the thinking behind Clarke’s decision.
It’s almost as if people are unable to grasp the simple fact that managing and coaching a football team is very hard work. The gaffer needs to understand what makes each player tick, he needs to the know the fitness and injury status of each player, as well as their mental state. I mention the latter in relation to confidence. And team selection is as complicated as it gets. Ask any manager worth his salt and he will tell you that – and here I apologise for lurching into cliche – there are horses for courses. Some players simply don’t play well together, others are more effective from the bench. In other words, a substitute is not necessarily a lesser player than the one who starts. And guess what? The odds are that Darrell Clarke understands all this far better than we do.
The critics of Clarke – who are, of course, entitled to say whatever they want – offer not only advice without knowing any of the background, that advice is often contradictory. Even in the Post’s list of soundbites critics are calling for different formations, tactics and selections. When the team are on a losing streak, these varied criticisms blend into one overall downer. The manager doesn’t know what he is doing. Even though this one has history of showing that does.
I am not without sin, certainly in terms of selection which, I confess, have on more than one occasion baffled me and I have said so. Managers can have and sometimes do have blind spots in relation to certain players, players who they entrust to carry out certain roles and commit 100% of effort when others don’t. In my playing days, that player was often me! I cannot imagine myself going into Clarke’s office and giving him a stern lecture on his ability to do the job, although I might make what would probably be a less than helpful contribution. And he would explain, forensically, why he did it.
We’re not going to uninvent the internet, are we? The Bristol Post is able to reprint soundbites in an instant, whereas the only way of doing so in the old days was to send them a letter (ask your parents, kids). Everything is in there here and now. That, as Bruce Hornsby and his Range pointed out, is just the way it is. Some things will never change.
The very idea that Darrell Clarke’s job is even considered by some to be in jeopardy is absurd. Yes, we are in the midst of a terrible run, something that the manager readily admits. He says, with his usual honesty, that the players’ confidence is shot. If you have not played football at any level, you might not understand the ‘C’ word but it is a killer. I remember playing for a team in an unbeaten 18 game run which was playing against a team from the foot of the table. The previous game we had played extremely poorly and drawn against a very average mid table team. It damaged our confidence and our belief and it felt to many of us that we were running through treacle. Passes went astray – a speciality of mine at the best of times – and we played like strangers, scraping a 2-2 draw against a team we had previously stuck eight goals past. It is, I promise you, even worse at a professional level, what with the added expectation and the fact that it’s your job and you’re on a short contract. And when the fans get on the players’ back, not all of them are able to turn a deaf ear to it. Nerves get frayed, you think too much. What clicked before doesn’t click anymore. And when it happens, you have to stick with it, as Bristol Rovers should with Darrell Clarke. I can’t believe I have even written the previous line.
We know everything on the terraces, don’t we? Every referee doesn’t know what he is doing and gives us nothing whilst giving the opposition everything. We know, without knowledge, why a manager has selected one player and not another. In fact, we know better than everyone else at the football club which is why we are not manager or first team coach or even assistant youth team coach driver.
I wrote something like this just the other day, but it bears repeating. Darrell Clarke has plenty of credit in the bank. His record to date is excellent and now, for the first time, the team is in a dire run of form. It happens. There was a time when even Sir Alex Ferguson was under pressure at Manchester United, something that seems ridiculous now. I am not by any means comparing Sir Alex with DC but I am saying that sacking the manager rarely works. Have a moan about Clarke’s tactics and selection by all means and then try to keep it real. We are good at shooting ourselves in the foot at the Rovers. Let’s be careful what we wish for.