So you think you can pick a manager?

Last updated : 18 May 2009 By Number Eight
Some say, as Jeremy Clarkson would put it, that being a football manager is the hardest job in football, and press pundits and commentators frequently wonder why people put themselves forward for such insecure employment.

The reason ex-players go into management is fairly straight-forward - it`s better than laying bricks, hammering nails, pouring pints or driving a van. The option of running a football team is far more desirable, and if a modicum of success is achieved, financial rewards can be considerable.

Being a football manager, however, is not the hardest job in football. Appointing the right manager is the hardest job in the game, and this task usually falls to club chairmen.

As supporters wax lyrically about who should succeed Walter Smith at Rangers, and let`s all hope that a succession is imminent, names of favoured candidates abound, but people often base their choices on hunches, punditry chat and playing reputations, and they do that for a reason - no-one has yet established what it is that makes a football manager a successful football manager.

When Alex Ferguson was given his first job at East Stirling, was there the faintest clue that he`d go on to become one of Britain`s legendary managers? He isn`t particularly articulate, he goes off the deep end with some frequency and he had no track record other than his playing days in the sport.

Since then, he`s given an impression of seeing only what he wants to see, and just occasionally being a tad hypocritical in his utterances. He`ll slag off officials for not adding on sufficient time, but will remain silent if a premature finish suits his team.

Even now, when interviewed, he`s singularly unimpressive in his responses, and yet this is the man who is Britain`s greatest manager by the length of Sauchiehall Street. This knighted son of Govan - a Rangers supporter - has climbed to the top of the tree, and he`s done it with style, flair and beauty.

Who saw this coming? Who foresaw that Alex Ferguson would one day look down on the rest of Europe from his kingly residence? Not even those East Stirling directors who gave him his first opportunity could have imagined that they were about to take on the man who would out-perform and outlast all the rest.

Law schools can identify the stars in their midst, and medical schools can do the same. Academia can spot a star of tomorrow today, but football has not the foggiest idea who or what makes a successful manager, and so major clubs need to see a record of success before taking the plunge on a new man - but there`s no guarantee that previous success will continue at pastures new.

A good doctor is a good doctor, and a good lawyer is a good lawyer, but a good manager today can be a bad manager tomorrow.

It is generally expected that Ally McCoist will soon inherit the top position in Scottish football, and there are more than a few doubters who fear this appointment, and yet McCoist has spent his career playing, talking and now coaching football, and he`s no longer a young man. He is as ready for the Rangers job as he will ever be, but sadly, the club might not be able to provide him with the advantages enjoyed by his predecessors.

Financial recklessness from the top of the house has made the Rangers manager`s job an uphill struggle against city rivals who are stronger and tougher, and if the league title isn`t won in the next few weeks, the degree of difficulty for Rangers may be as steep as it has been since the dark days of the early eighties.

Should Ally McCoist become the next manager of Rangers, he will already know what stands in his way before wild celebrations and cheeky smiles are the order of the day once again.

The club is going for the easy option with his appointment, but that doesn`t mean that it can`t work out. Ally could be the next Sir Alex, an abject failure or another trier who earns our respect briefly and then moves on. As no-one can define what makes a successful manager, this appointment might not be the risk many believe it to be, but one thing is certain.

If Ally McCoist steps forward and fails, failure will not just belong to him. It will belong, primarily, to a chairman who has taken the club for a ride on a fast track to the buffers. If he succeeds, his success will belong to him and him alone, having been achieved against a background of penny-pinching, debt repayment and the club`s best players being unloaded to pay for the excesses of a flawed chairman.

Until someone works out what qualifications are required to assure clubs of managerial success, Ally McCoist may be as well-qualified as anyone to rescue Rangers at this time. If fate decrees that his time is now, we can only hope that he can shape a future which reflects our glittering past.

Yes, it`s a risk, but my first choice for the job - Sir Alex Ferguson - would be a risk too ...