Cool, calm meticulous –and so underrated
ASKED to explain why he was bombed out of Middlesbrough by Lennie Lawrence in 1993, Bernie Slaven gave a brutal response. “The source of friction was a clash of personalities,” said the striker. “Lennie didn’t have one.”
Lawrence, it must be said, has always been more Sven Goran Eriksson than Joe Kinnear, more Wenger than Ferguson. His three decades and 1,000-plus games in management built more on studious analysis than tub-thumping rhetoric.
Yet if the 66-year-old isn’t exactly Jose Mourinho, Slaven’s assessment is hardly reflective of a man who won three promotions and is respected throughout the game.
“With Lennie’s experience, he knew how to get his point across,” argues Matt Taylor, the former West Ham and Bolton midfielder who was given his professional debut by Lawrence as a 17-yearold at Luton in 1999. “He never really seemed to scream and shout but you always knew exactly what he wanted.”
It is a point backed up by Rob Lee, who started his career under Lawrence at Charlton before going on to win England honours.
“I always enjoyed working under Lennie,” he said. “He was very meticulous in what he did and always organised the team very well.
“He was a good motivator but he didn’t need to shout. You had confidence in everything he told you.”
These days, Bolton’s assistant manager is a byword for experience, a professional sounding board who, since retiring from management in 2005, has assisted the likes of Jamie Pitman at Hereford, Paul Trollope at Bristol Rovers and, since 2010, Dougie Freedman at Crystal Palace and Bolton.
“He’s perfect for that role,” said Glyn Snodin, Lawrence’s friend and currently assistant manager at Preston. “He has so much experience, so much knowledge about the game. And he’ll share that advice with anybody. What a great bloke to have alongside you in the dugout.”
It is a role close to Lawrence’s heart. After a playing career spent in Non-League (he played alongside school class-mate Roy Hodgson at Carshalton Athletic), the then 31-year-old was thrust into management as a caretaker at Plymouth in 1978.
“I’d only arrived as reserve coach the year before and the job came too soon for me,” he admitted. “I needed help.”
And it came in the form of exMan City boss Malcolm Allison, the cigar-chewing, fedora wearing media darling.
“He was such a big character and he had charisma,” said Lawrence. “The press would look at Malcolm instead of the players. I remember one occasion when Malcolm came into the dressing room, took off his fedora, threw it across the room and it landed on a peg!
“That’s an example of the type of thing he used to do and it made me realise you couldn’t go about looking nervous. You had to look calm and in control.”
It was a skill Lawrence would certainly need. A decade at Charlton was spent battling horrendous financial problems, while a move to Middlesbrough in 1991 found them training in a prison yard to make ends meet.
Yet he would guide both sides into the top-flight, laying the foun- dations for Alan Curbishley’s golden era at Charlton and Steve Gibson’s Galacticos at Boro.
“What he did was incredible,” said Steve Gritt, Charlton’s skipper under Lawrence. “We were ground-sharing with Crystal Palace and the club’s finances were also in a terrible state. There were times when the players didn’t get paid and a match against Blackburn even had to be called off. I probably have more respect for him – as a person as well as a boss – than anyone else.”
Subsequent spells at Bradford, Luton and Grimsby were less successful, but Lawrence’s career was crowned by a move to Cardiff and victory over QPR in the Third Division play-off final of 2003.
Though he would leave in 2005, he had yet again laid tough foundations. The Bluebirds have never again returned to the third tier and even spent 2013-14 in the Premier League.
It is, says Joe Royle, a division in which Lawrence should have spent far more of his career.
“Lennie has had more than 1,000 games as a manager and his sides have always played good football,” said the former Everton boss. “He has been successful without ever getting a bite at the big-time. I’ve always found it a bit puzzling.”
Dave Bassett puts it more bluntly.
“Football is obsessed with appointing fashionable 40-year-old managers who look good rather than people with substance,” he said. “Lennie doesn’t fit the bill but he’s a great manager.
“He’s cool, he’s experienced, he doesn’t over-react to situations. He’s always been very underrated.”