Saturday, May 30, 2009

Paul Sturrock Revisited

I was very critical of Sturrock once he had left us for Southampton and you can read what I thought of him then here.

In my Review of the 08/09 season I said that I was unreservedly behind him now. Read that here if you like.

“That’s very contradictory” you may say to yourself. Well I don’t think it is. Never once have I doubted Sturrock’s ability as a manager. In that earlier piece about him I said that I believed that he could be our Shankly, Revie, Busby, Clough or Stein figure; that he could be the one to transform us from 100+ years or mediocrity into something special and my major gripe about his departure was that I was robbed of the opportunity to find out. I also felt that he had made an extremely poor career move for all of the wrong reasons and I think that time has borne that out. I was so angry with him not because I doubted his ability but because he had chosen to prove that ability elsewhere ~ and he did in the end. Twice.

But that was then and this is now.

“How can you forgive him and forget what he did” you may well ask and I’d argue that I have not forgotten at all but I most certainly have forgiven. You have every reason to wonder “Why?”.

I guess that just boils down to who I am and how I think. I am all for giving second chances (maybe more) if somebody actually admits to the error of their ways in a genuine and sincere way and Sturrock has done just that. Here is a quote from him on his return:

This will be the hardest job I've ever had to take over but I am very, very pleased and looking forward to the challenge. The bottom has been out of most of the clubs' trousers as far as the position they are in the league - all of a sudden, I'm taking over a team that's fourth in the Championship and flying. It's a difficult one. I do feel I have taken a difficult job because of the expectation-level. Plus, there's also the old onion that you should never go back to try again. But I feel very comfortable with coming back. I think I can fit right back in again, and the chairman and I have a relationship that means I am looking forward to working with him again. I'm just hoping to be honest, to make sure supporters know where I'm coming from. There was no way I would have left for any other standard than the Premier League. I've been to the Show. I've had a wee taste. I've pitted my wits against the top men. I think everybody has that ambition in them. Had it been even another Championship team, I wouldn't even have contemplated leaving because I have a dream for this football club, a long-term dream to take it where it would like to go. From then on, politics has been very much a part of my problems at every football club. The one good thing that I have done since I've been away is that I pride myself that I have left teams I took over in a better shape than when I took them over. So, at least I've done a professional job at every club. At Southampton, I had Rupert Lowe, who things didn't work out with; at Sheffield Wednesday, I got promotion and then had a taste of the naughty side of football. Then, at Swindon, it's been very zany, getting promotion and then having four months of turmoil when people have been taking over the football club, then not taking over the football club. Finances were very low, there was an embargo of players so you can't sign anyone - then, you wake up last Sunday and, lo and behold, we're three points outside of the play-offs.

The glowing way he refers to Stapleton, the pledge of a long-term approach and the very fact of his return are all tantamount, in my mind, to him admitting that he had made a very bad mistake in leaving in the first case. His return reminds me of the Biblical parable about The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32 (New International Version)):

11Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them.

13"Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17"When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' 20So he got up and went to his father.

"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21"The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.[a]'

22"But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate.

25"Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.'

28"The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'

31" 'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' "

Sturrock is our Prodigal Son. He has returned. Get the fattened calf ready. I forgive him. If it is good enough for Jesus it is good enough for me.

Despite our success under Sturrock I still honestly believe that we just do not realise quite what a brilliant manager we have. In half of Dundee he is basically enshrined as the Greatest Living Scotsman. Now that might not be entirely surprising giving the unprecedented success The Arabs enjoyed when he was a player for them but it ignores the affection for him throughout Scottish football. His one-club playing career and loyalty did not pass without remark. Most players of his ability (and we forget, or perhaps in some cases just didn't ever realise, that he was a truly brilliant player) end up either "down south" or, and in many ways this is worse, playing for the Old Firm. Not Luggy.

As a rookie manager he had transformed St Johnstone from perennial losers to a competitive top flight club passing his apprenticeship with some panache before returning to Tannadice. I think in his mind he was committed to being an Arab until he died but ill health saw his tenure as manager come to an end and he had to move on. Luckily he rolled up down here where instead of being "A Legend" he was "A Who?".

From there we know the story intimately. People who have been critical of the club in various ways, like Peter Jones, have no hesitation in acclaiming Sturrock for the success that we have enjoyed. It's been ever upwards for us and almost the same for him. I'll never agree that he did anything other than sin by becoming a Saint but he has shown repentance by returning and that'll do me.

His record as a manager is incredible:

St Johnstone (Promoted as Champions)
Argyle (Promoted as Champions ~ arguably twice)
Sheffield Wednesday (promoted via play offs)
Swindon Town (promoted)

As a player and as a manager he has never been relegated except for at the very start when he took over a St Johnstone side that was already doomed to relegation. Every club he has managed would gladly have him back tomorrow. Even if you point at Southampton and say “he was sacked there” (which he was not) “and failed” then his record there was better than any manager who has had the job since in terms of points per game and that includes the highly esteemed Harry Redknapp. Not at al bad for a “failure” and Southampton fans as one would have been delighted to see such performance since.

We have, quite simply, the very best man we could possibly wish for as our manager; he has a great relationship with the Chairman; he promises evolution and not revolution; he offers no quick fixes and makes no outlandish promises; he is happy to work with the constraints that Holloway was not prepared to accept and many would never even consider; he completely understands us as a club; he carries out his duties with huge dignity.None of that is good enough for some who want to slag the man off and abuse his coaching staff. Which leads me to 2 more quotes:

I just don't believe it. - Joni Mitchell

You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone - Victor Meldrew 

A few more points:

We are told there are 10 better out there who would apply if the job was advertised. If they are that good why are they out of work? Pardew? Keegan? Dowie? Magilton? Tisdale? (Some of those suggestions are likely to be laughable if you come back to this in 3 years time.) Are you genuinely serious? Of course he could be easiily replaced but easily replaced with somebody who would want our job and who we could afford and who has as good a CV? I don’t think so. Replaced by somebody better? Impossible unless we got very, very lucky indeed which of course we might. What might the odds be? 10-1? Longer I suspect and it would be a reckless gamble.

"Only good enough at a lower level". I don't actually agree with this at all but if he is not good enough at this level but is at a lower one and we were to be relegated then we have the best possible man at the helm already to get us back up, don't we?

There is no way in the World that Sturrock should ever be sacked as Argyle manager on the grounds of his ability and I doubt very much that any other grounds will ever transpire. He should have a job here for as long as he wants it and we should be rejoicing in the fact that he is ours and that we are lucky enough to have him. After all he has achieved, and hopes to achieve, here it saddens me deeply that there is so much hostility towards him from some of our fans. They are in real danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. You should always be very careful about what you wish for ~ sometimes you might get it and not like it very much when you do.


At 8:44 pm, Anonymous Andy Owen (Ham Green) said...

I find myself nodding at most of what I read on here, and though I've been leaping over the fence like a horse on speed over this issue, I can't disagree with what you've said.

Too often teams go for what seems to be the easier option after a bad run. I bet the Scunthorpe fans are glad their board didn't decide to get rid of Adkins after one bad season. Or maybe they have a better sense of perspective than we do.

The only fair test of a manager's skill is when he has a set of resources comparable with the rest of his rivals. At the moment everyone else is cutting their wood with chainsaws; Luggy is hacking away with a butter knife. We can only hope that the Japanese offer something more. A nice buzz saw perhaps.


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