Thursday, 6 December 2012

Why "The Worst Manager" Escapes Vilification

We live in an ever demanding football world. The past is soon forgotten, as runs of bad results immediately lead to cat-calls from the terraces and managerial obituaries written by keyboard warriors. When past success has been obliterated from the memory, all that is left is the resonating sound of the failures that brought a managerial reign to an end. Either a mournful last post or a rousing anthem of uprising and anger.
Fans have long memories. Very few managers leave and are remembered fondly. When they do, there is always the denouement which tarnishes it. Dave Bassett took United to successive promotions and back to the top flight for the first time in 14 years yet, in the latter days of his reign, United's poor form following relegation and his inability to address the issues led to infighting amongst fans at matches. There are few things as divisive as a dip in form from a worshipped manager.
Bassett is lucky, fans will look back on his time fondly and he is guaranteed a great reception every time he returns to Bramall Lane. Others will never be that lucky. Returning manager's receptions are either black or white, you either loved them or you didn't. Rarely is it a grey area. Saturday demonstrated the exception to the rule.
Micky Adams returned to Bramall Lane, as United faced his Port Vale side in an FA Cup tie, just 18 months after he had departed having presided over the final instalment of one of United's worst seasons in recent memory. He had joined a club in turmoil, much of its own making, thanks to sacking Kevin Blackwell just three games into the season and then giving the late Gary Speed his first managerial experience before he left after 3 months to take the Wales job.
Few shed any tears for Blackwell, although the timing of the decision was widely condemned as ill-conceived, and once he had gone the club was only ever going to promote Speed; a man finding his way in the job. By the time Adams took over from caretaker boss John Carver on 30th December 2010, United sat in a disappointing 19th place, two points above the relegation places. United were fighting to get the club back on an even keel, paying the price for maintaining a Premier League infrastructure, paying players extortionate salaries in a sign at all costs mentality and a misuse of the loan market.    
A Blades fan from childhood, Adams' appointment received a mixed reception from United fans. Some saw him as a relatively safe pair of hands, an unimaginative, but steady appointment. Those last two adjectives also being barbs aimed by his detractors and those of the board who wanted United to show a little initiative in their appointment. Maybe he could be the man to put a bit of passion back into an apathetic club, limping along in the Championship.
The immediate, and often short term, boost in form from the appointment of a new manager never happened and the appointment of Dave Bassett as a consultant, to advise and share the burden, just over a month into his reign was a sign he wasn't up to the job. Far too often winnable games, slipped away. Rumours quickly spread of player dissention and disciplinary issues.
The beginning of the end was a week in February when United played relegation rivals Preston, Palace and Scunthorpe and picked up no points. The Scunthorpe game saw United 2-0 up at Glanford Park, before eventually losing 3-2. Post-match, in an emotional interview with local radio, Adams referred to issues behind the scenes that were not helping him in his job. He suggested that it was 'about time the players took responsibility because you can’t fool the public all the time.' He sounded at a loss as to what to do next.
Having had a small advantage over relegation rivals on Adams' arrival, United made as much progress as an asthmatic ant with a large bag of shopping. United finished second bottom and were seven points from safety. Adams' United took 14 games to get a win and by the season end had won 4 games in 25. United had incurred one of the division's biggest wage bills and used 40 players.
Saturday saw a muted reception from the Blades fans as Adams appeared on the touchline. All the noise being made by the Vale fans still supportive of a manager who had left them for the Blades, only to return and successfully steer the financially stricken club to second in League 2. The only time United fans joined in the "One Micky Adams" chants was ironically as Shaun Miller stole it for the Blades in the final seconds of injury time. As the fans chanted "Na, Na, Na, Na, he's a Blade and he's a Blade", a little bit of you felt for the man stood staring in disbelief on the touchline.
As we watched the highlights of the FA Cup on ITV at the weekend, Adams appeared for a post-match interview. His rabbit in the headlamps stare was something we saw so often saw in his previous time at Bramall Lane. He had a general look of bewilderment at the events that had unfolded and looked like he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. He talked about his love of United, how glad he was to have received a warm welcome and how he hoped United went on to further success. The edit removing any comment on his new club and how they had performed.
"Aww", said my wife. "I just want to give him a big hug. He looks like he needs one."
I saw a similar comment from a fellow (female) Blade on my twitter timeline the next day. And there you have Micky Adams in a nutshell.
A man who got his dream job, in the most trying of circumstances and just wasn't up to it. A majority of fans bear him little malice. They recognise he was one of us. No-one doubted his efforts, no-one could believe he didn't do anything but his best, but his best just wasn't good enough. He came across as the little boy lost, deep in his own thoughts, chastened by his experiences and unable to foster the respect and toil required of his charges. A man you would happily share a pint with, but wouldn’t necessarily leave in control of the family crockery, you know, just in case he dropped it. A man who looks like he needs a hug.
Past managers have dismayed Blades fans with their attitude (Steve Bruce), their ineptitude (Adrian Heath) or both (Bryan Robson). Bruce deserted when money became tight, Heath's man- management and results were awful and Bryan Robson squandered probably the biggest budget and most talented squad in recent memory, yet aimed his barbs at the fans rather than recognising his own failings. None would get anything near a warm welcome at Bramall Lane. None would receive the dispassionately neutral response Adams received, yet statistically Adams was the worst manager in United's history.   
Back in 2010-11 Adams was a loyal and committed sergeant leading his troops over the top on an risk-laden mission, compromised by events that had gone before and the plans of the generals and tacticians above him. At the same time he was unable to organise his troop of deserters and people just not up to and up for the charge. The outcome had been depressingly predictable for some time. Few will forget those events, few will look back fondly on Micky Adams' time at Sheffield United, but few will doubt his commitment and effort.
I can imagine he made a note in his diary as he headed to Bramall Lane for the final home game against Barnsley, fate all but sealed, that simply said "Bugger!". It was only a surprise that he never appeared on camera with two pencils up his nose and his underpants on his head shouting "Wibble". Mind you I doubt it would have helped, I mean, who would have noticed another madman round Bramall Lane that season?

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