Community the key to managerial continuity

Managers Welsh Premier League

A blog on a new proposal that could see the Welsh Premier lead the way in management stability.

Former Wales striker Malcolm Allen does his talking off the field these days, but the S4/C Sgorio pundit appeared to inadvertently highlight an alternative to the managerial hire and fire culture of the modern game when commenting on the current Dafabet Welsh Premier League campaign. On the same day that Robert Page became the 30th manager in England’s top four divisions to be sacked this season, Allen spoke about the future of the Welsh Premier League, and how he would like to see more managers become full-time in order to increase and expand on the involvement that clubs currently have within their local communities. Although the two are not connected, the fact that almost a third of the 92 clubs in the Premier League and Football League have fired their manager by the second week of January is alarming, and the figures suggest that long-term strategies and the building of solid foundations have been replaced with a short-term desperation to either get up, or stay up, regardless of the risks involved.

Rob Page was coming through the Wales intermediate ranks as Allen’s international career was coming to an end. In May 2016, Page signed a three-year contract as manager of Northampton Town, but was sacked on Monday with the club in 16th place in League One. Eight points away from relegation, ten points away from the play-off places, Page made headlines for the wrong reasons on Saturday for making an inappropriate ‘men against girls’ comment about the performance of his side in the 5-0 defeat to Bristol Rovers which he quickly apologised for. However, chairman Kelvin Thomas emphasised that the decision to remove Page from his position was based purely on recent results, and the former defender becomes yet another statistic in the demand for instant success. “Following the recent run of results we feel that a change is necessary,” said Thomas. “Rob has always been extremely professional throughout his time and has only ever wanted the club to be successful. It was always going to be a very tough challenge following last year and the expectation that created, so we thank him for his efforts and we wish him very well for the future.” Ironically, Welsh duo Billy Bodin and Ellis Harrison scored the five Bristol Rovers goals that ended Page’s tenure, Harrison scoring four in the comprehensive rout.

However, while the managerial merry-go-round accelerates in England, it is traditionally a very different story in the Welsh Premier League. Inevitably changes are made, but with club licensing setting high coaching qualification standards for both domestic and European competition, fewer available options encourage clubs to work with their manager to find a solution to their problems, rather than assume that the problem is the manager. “The two next steps I’m looking forward to most are seeing the teams who qualify for Europe getting through to the group stages,” explained Allen to S4/C Sgorio. “I think that’s just a matter of time as the league gets stronger. And for clubs to employ managers on a full-time basis to help bring the club closer to the community and to the academy.” The implications of such a move would mean that any managerial change would have consequences far beyond the 1st team, and while that may discourage some clubs from employing a manager in such a combined role, there is fine line between the advantages and disadvantages which would have to be carefully considered against the short and long-term plans.

“With the existing academy structure I hope we’ll see more good youngsters being produced in the next few years,” Allen added. “If I had my own way, academy players wouldn’t be allowed to leave Wales before they turn 18 because at the moment they’re getting signed by professional clubs in England. Some then get released at 18 or 19 and they give up football because they think they’re not good enough. Now you have a league which has a professional approach, in terms of coaching and management, and those young players could be brought into those clubs, part-time but on good money. That would help us build a higher level among the teams in the league.” It seems an idealistic view, but the Welsh Premier League is on the right trajectory in terms of ensuring that a strong academy system exists within each of its 12 member clubs, and the elevation of Tom Bradshaw from the youth system at Aberystwyth Town to full Welsh international shows just what can be achieved.

The cosmopolitan environment at the top end of the English pyramid system will inevitably result in a more continental approach to the management and coaching structure at each club, with the traditional role of manager being replaced by an ever-changing team of people responsible for the various aspects of it. Meanwhile, Allen’s vision for the future of the Welsh Premier League suggests a very different approach, with a full-time manager of a part-time club taking on extended duties to ensure the club becomes the sporting hub of the local community. The British football traditionalists will prefer the latter option, providing the right man is appointed, and if additional responsibilities promote managerial stability and continuity then it should be supported. Allen has also expressed his support for 3G surfaces and their impact on improving the quality of football that the Welsh Premier League is producing, and they too offer the perfect foundation for clubs to build on the community programmes that will eventually shape their long-term sustainability.

Craig Harrison of The New Saints is one manager currently enjoying the benefits that the Welsh Premier League has to offer. On-course to complete an unprecedented treble-treble with the most decorated club in the history of the league, Harrison’s professional playing career at the top-level with Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace came to an end through injury 15 years ago at the age of 24. Now, Harrison joins a select group of managers who regularly compete in the UEFA Champions League, and recently made headlines across the world as his side eclipsed the consecutive win record set by Ajax in 1972. The Welsh Premier League has provided Harrison with an incredible opportunity, and should Allen’s vision for full-time managers to take wider control of football business within clubs then the league will soon become a very attractive prospect for other high-profile managers looking for an alternative option with job stability that the professional game in England no longer appears to offer. Of course, there is still a lot of work for the Welsh Premier League to do, but more and more players, managers and investors are seeing the benefits on offer which can only lead to a brighter future.

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