It was Justin Currie who sang “I’ve had enough bad news to last a lifetime”, and when you’re in that particular state you pretty much take what you can get provided it doesn’t come with a health warning.
In light of that, I understand the Sevco fans and their joy that the managerial situation has been sorted out for the foreseeable future with the appointment of Mark Warburton.
I also understand their nearly unbridled glee at the news they’re about to sign a player.
All of this amuses me, because it confirms something I’ve been saying for a while.
The Ibrox operation – whatever it calls itself – is a pale shadow of what it was.
The excitement over a 52 year old manager who’s experience amounts to coaching Watford’s youth team and a year and a bit of first team duties at Brentford is palpable.
It’s also ludicrous, but that hasn’t stopped the Sevco sites from having orgasms and the media from hailing it as a masterstroke.
Only Graham Speirs so far has called it a risk, but even he tempered his criticism by saying that Celtic’s appointment of Ronny Deila should give them cause for hope.
The strange thing is, he means that. This isn’t Graham being a wee bit cheeky or a wee bit sarcastic. He’s equating the two, which is daft if I’m being generous.
As everyone who reads this blog regularly will know, I was over the moon about the Deila appointment. This guy was the answer to all our prayers. I believed that then and I believe it now. He was a proven winner, and it doesn’t matter where you get them from.
Our Scottish hacks couldn’t take into account his having won things in Norway, as though it made him inferior somehow. The fact he did it with a team with no recent history of success either never crossed their minds or was conveniently ignored.
If only I believed this was simply anti-Celtic bias and fawning over Sevco, but it’s more than that. It’s a peculiar arrogance about British football that is colossally misplaced. See, these guys “know” the game in England, or they think they do. They think getting promoted from League 1 and making the playoffs in the Championship represents success because it’s something they can put a marker on.
What’s the truth though?
The truth is simple. The Brentford “success story” – and remember, it amounts to one promotion and one good performance in the Championship – owes everything to the talents of one man, the owner and club lifelong fan Matthew Benham, who actually made the decision midway through last season not to renew the contract of Mark Warburton.
He has invested £90 million in that club over the last three years. Very little of it has been spent on the playing squad – that has to be said first. It’s the areas where the money has been spent which should provide an interesting look at Warburton’s “success”.
He’s put the money into youth recruitmnet, into enhanced training and he’s brought some of the ideas which made him a multi-millionaire as a professional gambler to the table with them.
Warburton wasn’t fired because of bad results. That’s the first thing you need to realise. That club was, under Benham’s ownerhsip, a well oiled machine, where all the parts had to be working in sync.
No, Warburton was fired because he refused to get on board with Benham’s strategy, which was to adopt a complex mathematical model for signings, training and other aspects of the club’s game. Warburton, for all he’s been hailed as an innovative manager, was, in short, a guy in his fifties doing his first managerial job, and he wasn’t willing to move with the times.
Benham’s own comments are instructive, I think. He talked about how managers who lose their jobs often talk about “bad luck.” He said that the easiest thing in the world in football was to tell someone who’d failed that they’d just been unlucky. He said the harder thing to do is go to a manager who has done well and tell him that he has been lucky.
This hints at another side to the Warburton “success story.”
A look at some of the players he signed at Brentford tells its own story. It was a tale of hit and miss, something he could afford there because the owner is hugely wealthy and the club is well run. When Benham wanted to change the way players were signed, identifying them from complex statistical data rather than relying on the old “Sky Sports scouting” method which will be so familiar to Sevco fans, Warburton bucked. He preferred the old “tried and tested” ways. Some say he is right to.
But Benham owns another club, FC Midtjylland in Denmark, where the ideas he wants to bring to the English side have already been given the “stress test” – and the results are astonishing. They have just won the first title in their history, in much the same way as Strømsgodset were turned around under Ronny. This goes well beyond what Warburton achieved, and it seems that it went well beyond what Benham believed he was capable of achieving.
Brentford finishing fifth in the Championship last year seems like a triumph, and that’s how the media has spun it.
But there are dynamics in that league which have to be considered above and beyond that. First, there are clubs in the Championship who have spent tens of millions trying to reach the EPL in the last couple of years, and had to cut costs when they failed to are now languishing as a consequence.
Then there are those teams which had fallen out of the EPL itself and suffered accordingly.
And this isn’t a small number of teams … it’s little over half the league.
Take a look at who finished near the bottom; Wigan. Bolton. Reading. Blackpool. Brighton.
Fulham were 17th, Leeds 15th and Cardiff finished 11th.
Look at the sides who went up last season, finishing ahead of Norwich, who still have the infrastructure of an EPL club.
They were Bournemouth and Watford.
The former were in League 2 just five years ago, and almost went out of business.
The latter finished 13th in the league in the 2013-14 season, and were quite simply exceptional last year.
The English Championship, in short, is one of the most volatile leagues in Europe, where fortunes can change rapidly and where unpredictability is all.
Sevco won’t be the first club to pay the price for grabbing a manager based on a good performance in one season there.
Tony Mowbray anyone? Owen Coyle?
Benham knows all that. He told Warburton he’d been lucky. He wanted to change the structure of the club to make sure they didn’t fall prey to the kind of swings in fortune that are notorious down south. Warburton said no.
Aside from that, there’s the Sevco “culture” and how he deals with that.
I listened to him intently the other day, and I was amazed to hear him talk about playing a certain style of football at the club, and about blooding the young players. I fear that he’s going to learn – and quickly – just how little natural ability there is in the Sevco youth ranks, and how little appetite the club’s fans have for “long term projects” such as that.
They will settle for nothing less than a sure-thing this year.
Promotion is a must.
Another play-off race is a disaster here, not a triumph as it was seen to be at Brentford.
On top of that, they expect big money to be spent, and for the club to win games easily, and right from the start.
This is the “Rangers way” after all.
This guy has to hit the ground running. He’s not going to have time to develop “sexy soccer”.
The last manager who tried to fundamentally alter the culture of this club was Paul LeGuen, and not even he – with a sterling record in France, real success – was given the time and space to get things running the way he wanted it.
When you’re 52 and your career has barely begun, what do you think the pressure will be like to get results when they are expected of you every week? How long before all the ideology is thrown overboard in the name of simply winning?
This isn’t Brentford, where expectations are low, where getting to the playoffs is seen as a major accomplishment.
The Peepil expect instant success, and won’t settle for less.
The enormity of the task in front of Warburton and Weir is just one barrier to success.
The mind-set of the fans is a far, far bigger problem.
Mark Warburton looks like a good fit for Sevco right now. Their fans are overjoyed, and that’s understandable because their club has “stability” at last, or so it seems.
Yet let’s not get carried away here.
Warburton hasn’t done anything substantial in his career.
His backstory is interesting, but that’s really all that it is. He did well with one club, but a lot of the groundwork for his “success” had already been laid, by Uwe Rosler and Benham.
He was managing a team with zero expectations from the fans, in one of the craziest leagues in the game.
He has never worked in an environment even remotely like this one, and he has a whole team to build and zero room for error.
This is a monumental risk alright, and the media can spin it as genius if they want but I’m sure friendly journalists would have written the same about General Custer’s tactics before the Little Big Horn.
If you’d asked the Sevco fans at the start of “the journey” how they’d have felt about appointing the manager of Brentford, and signing English lower league players, they’d have gone off the deep end.
If you’d told them that, seriously, they’d be trying to develop youth in one summer, to win the Championship, after wasting three years on signing dross, they’d have rioted.
See, on the surface of it those who believe in the Survival Myth still think they’re something special. They think their club has some kind of divine right to sit atop the Scottish game, but yet underneath it all, you know what?
Little by little that smug superiority is draining away.
Today they’re delighted with the appointment of a 52 year old who’s got just 18 months managerial experience in the lower leagues of England behind him. They are celebrating the imminent signing of a guy who’s just failed a medical at Birmingham and has spent the better part of his career as a loanee.
This is who they are now. And they are beginning to adapt to that.
Oh Warburton will be gone long before the three year contract comes to an end, because there’s enough of the old mentality there to make his life impossible when they experience the first bumps in the road, but this is the start of a fundamental shift.
Things have changed, and deep down they know it.
The title of this piece is another song Justin Currie wrote, and the lyrics of that one are pretty dead on.
“Go and tell your mother,
Go and tell your friends,
You’ve been fooled again.
He appeared like magic and he left you on a late night train.
Yeah, some things never change.”
Yeah, I understand what’s happened here alright.
It’s season ticket time, after all, and the Sevco fans have had enough bad news to last a lifetime.
What a shame that seasonsed observers of this shambles think it’s going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better.
If it ever does.
Their grandchildren really will be Celtic fans, you know.
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Glasgow Scooped Issue 2 is out now, with a piece on the insanity of not letting fans into the Youth Cup Final … and the team has found an alternative career for Mental Bilel Moshni. You can download a copy by clicking on the cover.