Modest Resources? SO'D The Solution

By Jim Bonner
Last updated : 20 October 2011

Neville Dalton is a journalist and a Portsmouth fan of more than 40 years.

It doesn’t take some of us long to lose a grip on reality when it comes to our beloved team, does it?

I know we enjoyed a wonderful seven years in the Premier League, fielding some of the best and most exciting players in the country at the time.

And I appreciate (only too well) that we reached two FA Cup finals in recent years, including that memorable win in 2008.

But lads and lasses: get real! We amassed unfeasibly big debts and never did pay off our creditors.

We were so close to going out of business, and even when we were finally saved, there was no indication we had been bought by a consortium with bottomless pockets.

We now have some reasonable footballers, but few – if any – high-quality ones; our crowds have unsurprisingly slumped amid the recessions, both financial and footballing.

And even when we were good enough to attract the masses, our little old ground limited the numbers to under 20,000 – and by definition, the income potential.

Unfortunately (some would argue, fortunately), ladies and gentlemen, we are no longer a big club.

We have the potential to be one. One day we might again have the personnel to turn us into one.

But we are a brave little outfit defined by our unity and solidarity, our ability to punch above our weight and occasionally attract football magicians to steer us towards the great heights we have periodically enjoyed.

Yet, as we all nominate our own preferred men to pick up the managerial baton from Steve Cotterill, our delusions of grandeur surface: splash the cash and bring in the big boys (a few); go for the top names (the majority); shun the dross that have managed only at the wrong end of the Championship or worse (an alarmingly big chunk).

Who are we to dismiss the credentials of someone who has done a tidy job on a shoestring?

Or, for that matter, to expect those who have managed in the top echelon to lower their sights and head for Fratton?

We can all put forward the names we would like to see – everybody’s prerogative, and part of the fascination of following football.

We all have our reasons for our choices.

Arrogant

We can even mentally rule out those we would not want to see at Pompey, perhaps because of their track records; perhaps for other reasons (stand up Adie Boothroyd, but don’t come this way).

But none of us knows how a particular manager would fare at Pompey. That’s what the board and owners have got to try to do, though – and hopefully, they will afford the task the degree of importance it warrants and carefully scrutinise all candidates.

Just because a manager has done a decent job at a certain club doesn’t guarantee he’ll do the same at Pompey.

The reverse obviously applies equally.

Only time will prove us right or wrong. But it doesn’t stop Pompey fans demanding specific names or arrogantly dismissing others.

The fans’ favourite, for some reason, seems to be Dave Jones. It’s a verdict I find difficult to understand, given his limited success and general record of being a nearly man, despite having generous resources at his disposal.

He did take Wolves to the Premiership via the play-offs, but it was probably the least the club’s supporters could expect for his accumulated investment during his time there.

And even though he brought Cardiff to an FA Cup final against Pompey, via an all-Championship semi-final, he repeatedly failed to elevate a side containing the likes of Whittingham, Chopra and latterly Bellamy to the Promised Land.

That doesn’t mean he’d fail at Fratton, even though he’d probably have considerably fewer resources. No-one knows.

But he’d not be my favourite.

Also on our supporters’ shortlist are the likes of Alan Curbishley and Glenn Hoddle, Billy Davies, Gordon Strachan and even Roy Keane.

As I mentioned, some of those may well be beyond our pay strategy. And even if they weren’t, there must be some misgivings about the first two, given that they have both been out of the football front line for a while.

Davies has certainly shone, but seems volatile, and I’m not convinced about his relationship with players and employers.

Strachan would have been higher up my wish-list had it not been for his less-than-impressive spell at Middlesbrough, which came, if my memory serves me right… after a while away from the front line in English football.

While a manager’s previous record does not guarantee a repetition, I’d be more than a little concerned about Fratton Park harmony if the likes of Keane set foot through that familiar mock-Tudor façade.

On The News’s candidates for a fan poll, rookies Karl Robinson and Lee Clark appear alongside the likes of Mark Robins and Nigel Worthington.

Clark, of course, is doing an amazing job at Huddersfield, and Robins has performed minor miracles with two of football’s more modest clubs, Barnsley and especially Rotherham.

Robinson has made a decent start at MK Dons, although I’m seriously underwhelmed by Worthington’s managerial achievements.

But as I said before, no-one knows how they would fare at Fratton.

Personally, I think Exeter’s Paul Tisdale has made an impressive start to management following an excellent apprenticeship at Team Bath.

But I’m sure that, too, would attract sneers from those expecting a ready-made clone of Harry Redknapp, presumably on a budget to match.

Sublime

And then there’s Sean O’Driscoll, the man who has suddenly been elevated up the bookies’ list, even though the thought of him seems to disgust some of the more deluded among us.

Why would Pompey want someone who did no more than establish little old Doncaster Rovers in the Championship before leaving them struggling at the foot of the league, albeit after getting them promoted to that very division?

What could we gain from appointing someone whose only other success was in getting little old Bournemouth promoted to League One on a rather familiar shoestring budget?

Well, for what it’s worth, O’Driscoll was my choice to succeed Cotterill, long before he declared his interest in the job.

Those promotions with Bournemouth and Doncaster were excellent achievements in a world where money increasingly talks – and don’t we know it?

And Doncaster were, in my opinion, the best team I saw at Fratton Park last season.

Their football was sublime; one of the three goals that they scored was the best I witnessed last season…

Oh – and they won the match, eventually finishing six points clear of the relegation spots.

Playing “proper” football doesn’t have to mean losing honourably.

I know they have continued to decline this season, prompting O’Driscoll’s sacking, but he was trying to run a Championship club with limited resources – and yes, maybe it proves he’s not the magician it seems we’d all like to see here.

Even if he got the job – and at the time of writing no appointment has been made – he might fail dismally.

But he wouldn’t be the first to do so at Pompey. And it would be nice to think he would try to get the team playing the sort of entertaining football he managed with supposedly inferior players at Doncaster and Bournemouth.

It would certainly make a change after the largely undisciplined dross we’ve had to endure under Cotterill.

No, O’Driscoll is not perfect. He’s always come across in media interviews as taciturn, seemingly begrudging the interviewers – and by inference, his club’s fans – their questions.

But I believe that with the sort of enthusiasm and devotion for the club that he’d see in Pompey’s supporters, he would go out of his way to become a more relaxed communicator.

No doubt the club’s owners will shortly make their choice. It may please some; it may upset others.

But if they did opt for the likes of Robinson, Tisdale or O’Driscoll, it wouldn’t mean they don’t want success, or that they wish to settle for mediocrity.

It might just mean they are conscious of what has happened to this club in recent years and are looking to walk again before they run.

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