David Unsworth probably curses the day Ronald Koeman was sacked. Autocorrect on my laptop always changes “Koeman” to “Foe man” and I dare say that is probably a fairer assessment of how Unsworth sees him for dropping him in it like this.
Regardless of the straight bat rhetoric, Unsworth will have been looking at this as his golden opportunity and I’m positive there will have been hope from upstairs that his appointment would lead to a steep upturn in results and him taking the role full time.
Shame that it could end up not just costing him any ambitions of managing the club full time in the future, but also caused enough damage to any prospects he might have had anywhere else.
That’s the curse of the caretaker manager situation though. It’s a gamble whether you put yourself forward seriously or not. How many coaches do you know who have refused the opportunity to to step in to the breach when asked? It’s more of a request than a question.
His standing within the club may or may not be unchanged but the general perception of his potential to do such a role has definitely taken a dent.
The problem that Unsworth has faced is the same that anyone making the step up does; the perception the players have of you in the hierarchy of the club.
Not that it’s as common a phenomenon as it once was, but it’s the same problem that player-managers have too. It isn’t just the fact that your relationship with players change, it’s the fact it HAS to change.
There’s no doubt that the Everton players will respect Unsworth but it’s in his capacity as a youth coach and that doesn’t quite hold the same authority as someone like Koeman did.
The familiarity with him in that role means that any contact with him doesn’t carry as much weight. The relationship is on a friendly basis because there is no real consequence to your interactions. You have perhaps spoken about things and let something slip that you wouldn’t ordinarily have told the manager or his assistant and now that he’s in the hotseat, you wonder whether that knowledge may work against you.
If players sense any weakness or feel authority is lacking because of the temporary leader, they take it upon themselves to know what’s best in the situation and play their own game. That’s why clubs like Everton and Rangers who leave a leadership vacuum continue to suffer. People pull in their own direction instead of following one particular path.
The insecurity quite naturally leads to players and staff trying to protect themselves at a time when togetherness is needed most. There are cases when no manager is better than anything but those are rare cases when the relationship between a manager and his player has deteriorated so much it’s like the toppling of a Middle East dictator. Suddenly gloom is lifted, the sun shines through the clouds, the scent of blooming flowers wafts through the players’ nostrils and they play with free abandon.
It is about more than a simple change of manager and atmosphere in the dressing room though. The most diligent of tacticians will fail if he can’t get the players to do what they want them to, in the way they want them too. Whether they give players lots of freedom or restrict them to rigid tasks, players need a clear leader.
I’ve experienced the problem at first hand. The first was exactly like I mentioned before about player-managers being in the same situation as a caretaker. It happened with Terry Butcher.
There was no doubting Butcher was a leader. You could have dropped him in an army regiment and they’d have all followed him in to battle, but that was the problem at Sunderland. He wasn’t just dropped in as manager. He was a player first and as much of a leader he was as a player, he was still one of the lads to begin with, and it’s difficult to change that.
One minute the lads are taking the Mick and calling you Stan Laurel in the dressing room and the next minute you’re making decisions on their futures at the club and their livelihoods.
Then when it didn’t work, Mick Buxton was reluctantly thrust in to the job first as caretaker and the cycle started again.
Caretaker managers should be a thing of the past. Clubs should be better prepared and treat the recruitment process for managers the same as players and have ready-made shortlists at hand at all times. Not just a plan B but C and D too.
Then the only time we’d ever have to hear the word “interim” would be when the new manager is shouting “Get in to him.’ to his players, and they’ll listen because they’ll know for certain who’s boss.