Anyone reading this piece in lieu of the opening ‘Football Manager’ article – with a working knowledge of the game – will not be shocked by the following; I left Sheffield and those undeserving ‘Blades’. It’s practically a given that your first new ‘career’ on the latest FM will not last too long. The novelty often overshadows the necessary. Too much time was spent trying to do everything in the opening weeks, and by the time we rolled over to Crewe at home, I already had my hat and coat on. Factor into the scenario that Marlon King had been sent off 15 minutes in, I didn’t fancy running the riot act at half time with him.
In considering my next move it just so happened that the news was still rippling with the appointments of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane as Ireland’s #1 & #2. Now I am no Steve Staunton, I was never going to leap right into the international set up. However, a comment by O’Neill – whilst discussing the managerial merry-go-round at Sunderland – about Paulo Di Canio being a ‘managerial charlatan’ got me thinking. Pair those thoughts off with the book I had just finished reading – Fergie’s My Autobiography – and I found my solution.
Sheffield United represented a starter job beyond the remit of any realistic career. I had to go lower. Once or twice in the past I would choose to maroon myself down in what is now the Skrill Conference North with dreams of getting to Europe – sadly on those wages I couldn’t even afford to holiday there. This got me thinking about a happy medium. Like Fergie I had to start local and build up. Unlike Di Canio I couldn’t hop into a top job too soon. It all became clear that I had to take the reins from Ian Baraclough and set up shop at Sligo Rovers.
Despite being my local club – Man Utd got the nod by me at a younger age and I don’t have the heart to leave them at this difficult time of transition – I do not have an array of experience managing them at Football Manager level. However, a far more loyal and proud Rovers supporting friend of mine has totted up enough vivid memories for the both of us. This local legend led Sligo Rovers to innumerable domestic triumphs as well as an unforgettable European night in Portugal when Paul McTiernan, who was leading the line for his Rovers side that night, inspired a massive 5-1 win against Boavista in the UEFA Cup. It soon resulted in him being offered the U.S.A job. I believe a Gold Cup soon followed. This was inspiration enough for me.
It is clearly to my advantage that Ian Baraclough left the club in such good condition. As such, for now it will be a matter of consolidating the good work done. However, with the luxury of a good squad to begin with comes the expectation of delivering the desired results. With that, the scouting system was to be largely overhauled. Again, The Nowhere Men served me as a keen reminder that these lone rangers are a valuable asset to any aspiring organisation and I was delighted to welcome aboard former German World Cup finalist Jens Jeremies. Surprisingly enough – but perhaps not so much as Andy Cole’s decision to work with the U-19’s – Jeremies seemed content to accept the relatively paltry sum of around £250 weekly for his services. When you consider what his midfield partner for that 2002 World Cup final Dietmar Hamann was spending while betting on the cricket, it’s tough to believe Jeremies may perhaps be double jobbing to cover expenses.
The greatest concern when taking over the job was the alarming number of contract expiries due to occur at season’s end. Given the general nature of Ireland’s domestic footballers to ply their trade for an assortment of League of Ireland teams in a career, I made sure to tie down the likes of Gary Rodgers, Alan Keane, Danny North, Gavin Peers et al to healthier deals. Tying down Joseph N’Do for the perpetual Indian summer of his impressive career was of paramount importance also. This became all the more important when I revealed to the press one of the only two signings I wish to make. Joining N’Do and Jeremies on the rare list of Rovers staff to have been selected squad members for the 2002 World Cup comes the man who bagged the opening goal of the tournament; Papa Bouba Diop. Employing a central triangle where Danny Ventre will do the hard running (and tackling), Diop and N’Do will regenerate some kind of Hoddle/Waddle effect in the middle of the park. That is the plan anyway.
The other notable signing made – one that is certainly a result of the club’s impressive standing – is former Irish international Stephen Elliot. Considering that I’ll only be playing one up top ideally, it will be a dogfight between Elliot and Danny North to nail down that spot.
The transition from life in Sheffield back to Sligo beginnings has left little time for an advance just yet on game time. Last week the realities of moving house proved hazardous. This week has been taken over by looking for a job – one that perhaps doesn’t let me employ three former World Cup competitors – but thankfully that’s been sorted now too. For the odd one or two that find themselves as interested as I am in other people’s Football Manager stories it will surely prove to be a whirlwind week in which the conflict of interests between Football Manager and the other stuff I have to do will result in definite bemusement. However, a commitment has been made, Baraclough is gone and I am in. Let the already good times roll.
P.S. In between finishing this and sending it off I fitted in the first pre-season friendly. Under the guidance of my assistant we decided to play the first team against the U-19’s. This would apparently allow me the vantage of seeing all the players at my disposable and as such discern the prospects of the young pretenders. Well, it finished 6-0 to the first team. The future is bleak. Jens has his work cut out.