Sad­dlers did not want a thinker

The Football League Paper - - NEWS -

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

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