It wouldn’t have caused a flicker among most Premiership devotees but I was intrigued by a story on the Sky Sports News ‘ticker’ quite a while back: ‘Stuart McCall resigns as Bradford City manager.’ It wasn’t a surprise that he’d left the club, given that they were struggling at the wrong end of League Two, but the fact that he’d actually, voluntarily, given up the job.
With the exception of Kevin Keegan, who used to hand in his notice as regularly as he handed in his programme notes, managers rarely resign these days. Even if a team are rock-bottom of the league with the dressing room in revolt and fans burning effigies of the gaffer in the streets, they invariably cling on regardless.
In fact it turned out that McCall hadn’t stepped down in the traditional manner either. In a follow-up interview a reporter asked why he’d chosen to resign, McCall looked a bit surprised and said something along the lines of “well, I didn’t resign really, I went in for a chat, we discussed how it was going and decided to make a change.”
Which sounds very much like mutual consent. Unfortunately that term is so overused now that if you say ‘mutual consent’ everyone assumes that it was really the sack. It’s a bit like when rock bands used to split up and put it down to ‘musical differences’, when actually they’d been touring America for three months and wanted to kill each other.
Pretty much the only managers who do actually step down these days are, ironically, the ones fans want to keep. Even these can become retroactive non-resignations several years after the event, when the parting occurred due to a row over transfer policy or some contractual faux-pas and ends up being construed as ‘constructive dismissal’ in order for the gaffer to receive a sacking-style pay-off.
Proper resignations are now restricted to bosses getting a better offer – ideally involving several huffy denials, even while driving to meet the players - and sabbaticals, a period of reflection after which your stock should hopefully have risen like a good soufflé.
The Celtic Park sabbatical merry-go-round is a fine example of the latter method. Martin O’Neill left Leicester for Glasgow, which went well, took a year out for family reasons before walking into a nice job at the newly-affluent Aston Villa. Good timing.
Gordon Strachan had a few decent years at Southampton, spent a year body-swerving the Scotland job then walked into O’Neill’s old seat at Celtic, which also went well. Then he took another sabbatical but was swiftly tempted out of it by the lure of, er, newly-relegated Middlesbrough, and brought half his old Celtic team down during the transfer window. Which makes you wonder why he didn’t just stay in Scotland really, if he liked the players so much. Perhaps he just fancied a taste of that luxurious Teeside lifestyle.
It’s probably a good job that Boro chairman Steve Gibson has now bagged himself a recognised resigner, as he’s famously reticent about giving bosses the boot. This became particularly awkward at the tail-end of the Bryan Robson era, when Boro were on the cusp of yet another relegation but, rather than put the hapless Robson out of his misery, Gibson brought in Terry Venables to ‘assist’.
Venables promptly took over the whole gaff, of course, leaving Robson to haunt the training pitch like a lost soul. But would he take the insult on board and tender the fateful letter? No he would not.
It reminded me of the time growing up when our next-door neighbour decided to bite the bullet and move his mistress into the house, making his regular family live in the extension. Admittedly, the wife did look a bit like Gordon Strachan.