Saturday, 2 November 2013

Time to let Chris Morgan go?

In a recent post on A United View, I extolled the virtues of a captain like Chris Morgan and rued the lack of similar on-field leadership in recent years. However it is off pitch leadership that leads me to post this. 

There are no "easy" jobs in football management. The level of scrutiny is intensified by the many ways fans and onlookers can express their opinion. Blogs, forums, message boards, phone-ins, super-slow motion replays and analysis of every little detail. Hours of air-time, free-time and so many channels and mediums to fill with content and opinion.

The next managerial sacking is just another line on the bookmakers odds lists and then there are just as many money making opportunities as there are column inches in predicting the replacement.

First steps in management are increasingly difficult for any player or coach looking to make the step up. If you ask any potential football manager how they would like their first job opportunity to come up, then it is fair to say the nature of Chris Morgan's first two opportunities would not be top of the list. 
As a means of proving your worth and potential as a manager they provided two wildly different scenarios, both within a six month period, and the circumstances would make it difficult to come out the other side with a great deal of credit. They probably tested Morgan mentally as much as technically.

Despite the disappointing run of form post-Christmas, it is fair to say United ought to have finished in the top 6 last season even if he Danny Wilson had stayed. To change managers with just 5 league games left (plus expected play off games) put the new incumbent in an unenviable position. A steady run to the end of the season - play offs, finish on a winning run - possible automatic but definitely play offs, struggle to maintain existing form - risk of missing play offs. All ways up it looked like play offs. 

The man offered the opportunity was Chris Morgan and he took over as caretaker with one eye on a long term position. Yet the timing of the change created a level of pressure on a manager - promoted from within - that was unnecessary and could have proved counter-productive. Changing manager was a risk and it didn't pay off.

Whilst you could never doubt Morgan's belief, motivational impact and care, results and performances were mixed. A lacklustre defeat at Huish Park saved The Blades from another expensive disappointment at Wembley.
Having applied for the permanent job himself it must have been an odd feeling for Morgan, looking on, as a player with the same coaching experience was eventually appointed.

Was it just the element of the unknown and a better playing pedigree that made Blades fans more willing to accept and, in some cases, be more excited about Weir's appointment than they would have been about having Morgan in charge? Was Morgan's commitment and loyalty when stepping into the breach now counting against him. 2 wins from 7 matches was not a track record to excite or encourage. So much so that it made Weir's non-existent record somehow preferable?

Roll forward to this season and the Weir experiment failed in dramatic style. With the decision made to axe the Scot on the Friday before a televised trip to Sixfields to face Coventry City. The delay in disposing of Weir gave Morgan little time to prepare his team and the first hour of the game saw little change from the tepid and gutless displays seen under Weir. 
Then Morgan made two substitutions and the Blades were suddenly back to 3-2 from three down and close to achieving an improbable comeback. Whilst the final half hour was gratifying, it was clear that the team lacked direction and a great deal of confidence. For the following two games against Port Vale and Peterborough, Morgan was given an experienced hand. Mick Wadsworth, a respected and experienced lower league coach, was brought in and the impact of Wadsworth's intervention should not be under-estimated. 

This is not intended to deride how Morgan steadied the ship, but a recognition that a steady hand with lots of lower league experience can have a positive effect. Maybe Morgan should have been given that steadying hand at the end of last season? It could be that he wanted the personal test and trusted in the support of David Unsworth or, in the different financial landscape pre-Prince, perhaps the budget did not allow for it. I do wonder if things may have turned out differently if he had been afforded an experienced aide and adviser. 

Morgan seemingly didn't apply for the managerial post after Weir's sacking. Maybe his experience of the summer deterred him, or there was a recognition that the club wanted an experienced manager? United were unlikely to trust a rookie now, with the club in the relegation zone and the Saudi investment creating an expectation of progress. That left him merely holding the fort again. As fellow Blade Lee Doane described him - a modern day Cec Coldwell. Cec was acting manager twice and spent 14 years on United's coaching staff after ending his career at Bramall Lane. 

So what now? Well Morgan prowled the touchline on Monday afternoon, as his Under 21 side lost 3-2 to Birmingham City; failing to hold on to a 2-0 lead. He was assured by Nigel Clough that he had a key role to play in his matchday team. Although Morgan cut a more benign figure against Crewe; resting on the dugout against Crewe as Clough and Andy Garner encouraged, remonstrated and motivated in the technical area.

We have to be careful of imposing staff on an incoming manager. In any business you will perform stronger and better with trusted allies and while I don't doubt Chris would support Clough and deliver in his duties wholeheartedly, a manager has to bring in his own people. Clough has done that and we now have a strong, maybe overstaffed, coaching set-up. The worse thing now would be for the new manager to pay lip-service to the club's request to find Chris a role.
I, like many, would want him to remain at the club. Although a Barnsley lad from the tarn, Morgan is as much a man of Sheffield now as the town of his birth. The fact that the club seemed to have made encouraging noises to fans' clamour for a testimonial match for Morgan is great recognition for his service, as player, captain, coach and caretaker manager.
While not a candidate for United's managerial job now, he may well be down the line. But to be that strong a candidate should the required learning and development be undertaken at United, or elsewhere?

For  the good of his career, it may be that he has to leave Bramall Lane. Assuming Nigel Clough is successful - and we all hope that he is - that means Morgan may not get a shot at management at Bramall Lane for four or five years. Will he be any better prepared after 4/5 years of coaching the Under 21s and more limited involvement in first team preparation?

Chris Morgan will always be well thought of by Sheffield United fans and whilst we always want the club to be built around passionate characters, with a clear love for the club, sometimes we have to free them from their roles. If we do that we will maybe see them return better for it.

Assuming he wants to forge a managerial career, it would make sense for him to seek opportunities elsewhere.  That way he can build his managerial credibility and enhance his knowledge and skills. It may cause gnashing of teeth and sadness amongst supporters, but he should pursue opportunities with good wishes and thanks. You never know, in doing this it may mean that one day he may be back....


  1. Excellent blog.Morgan a hero,but everything said makes sense.UTB

  2. Maybe being a Cec Coldwell at a club you feel is home is not a bad thing.