Saddlers did not want a thinker
WALSALL fans have reacted to the sacking of Sean O’Driscoll like a jubilant spaniel watching the family car pull on to the drive.
Having slipped nine points behind leaders Burton on the back of six wins from 16 games, the board’s ruthlessness has been roundly praised.
But let’s not start throwing high fives just yet.
Walsall’s owners knew that O’Driscoll was an innovative, challenging coach, a man whose quest is to rip up the rulebook.
“I’m gobsmacked at times by what players don’t know,” he said in 2010, while managing Doncaster. “They’re never asked to think. We breed players from eight years old who never ask ‘Why are we doing this?’ or ‘How does this work?’.
“All our coaching philosophies are about understanding your responsibilities.
“Some players fly with it. Some find it difficult. Some of the older ones still want to be told.”
O’Driscoll wants his players to question everything. Do centrehalves actually need to go forward for corners? Does the distance you cover during a match really matter? What is a system? Why does it work?
That kind of stuff doesn’t happen overnight. Trust needs to be won. Receptive players procured and resistant types jettisoned. It yields results eventually – just ask Bournemouth or Donny – but we’re talking years, not months. Certainly not 16 games.
Walsall also knew – or should have – that O’Driscoll, 58, is no motivator. He is about as likely to harangue a fourth official or yell at players as he is to crack a joke.
Dour, taciturn, contemptuous of the media and unwilling to suffer fools, he calls touchline theatrics “tiresome” and is about as far from Jurgen Klopp as a manager can be. He is a cynical character in a cynical business.
Appointed by Bristol City in the midst of a five-year slump, his method and mien were all wrong for a club in desperate need of electrification. Successor Steve Cotterill may not have possessed O’Driscoll’s acumen, but he knew how to kick a few kennels.
Ironically, it was O’Driscoll who, just 18 months earlier, had replaced Cotterill at Forest and found an over-prescribed squad more than willing to embrace his more scholarly approach. It is the perfect example of horses for courses.
Which begs the question: If Walsall wanted someone to drag them over the League One finish line, in the wake of Dean Smith’s defection, why did they hire O’Driscoll in the first place?
Players in Walsall’s position don’t need to be challenged. They don’t need to be improved. They don’t need a dour tactician.
They were second in the division, honed to perfection and on course for promotion.What they needed was continuity and, in caretaker Jon Whitney, the Saddlers already had the perfect man for the job.
On paper, O’Driscoll was a ‘better’ coach. Given the situation, he was the wrong man. Just look at Rotherham’s revival under Neil Warnock. Ask those who’ve played for the 67-year-old and none will attest to any kind of tactical genius.Yet his strengths – motivating, setting clear instructions and identifying the best style to suit limited personnel – were exactly what the struggling Millers needed.
Again, it’s horses for courses and Walsall, it seems, have finally saddled up the right man in Whitney, a Smith disciple who won two of his three games in caretaker charge. The 45-year-old has been named interim manager, a decision welcomed both on the terraces and in the dressing room.
Nevertheless, it’s a shoddy way to treat O’Driscoll, a potentially costly waste of two months by the club’s board and a reminder that a good reputation and a decent CV mean nothing in the wrong environment.
IMPACT: Danny Drinkwater