Dis­ap­pointed? I feel re­lieved

The Football League Paper - - GRAHAM WESTLEY -

WHEN­EVER I have lost a football man­age­ment job in the past, I have felt a sense of dis­ap­point­ment. In my­self. In those that lost faith in me. In the things that needed chang­ing that I didn’t change or couldn’t change. I hate fail­ing. And I hate free Satur­days. I thrive on the buzz of the next game.

But this week has been dif­fer­ent. I feel re­lieved to have left the New­port chal­lenge be­hind. I re­ally do.

I wasn’t having fun. I was not en­joy­ing the slog. Ev­ery­thing was harder than it can pos­si­bly be if you are go­ing to win con­sis­tently.

There are times when I wish I was a quit­ter. Be­cause I could eas­ily have walked away from New­port. I did re­sign in late Novem­ber when I re­alised just how frus­trat­ing the job was to me. But I was per­suaded to stay when the club fired its sec­re­tary in­stead of let­ting me leave and I took on my sense of duty to give my heart to the job and ful­fil my con­tract.

It was a very dif­fi­cult job over time to com­pete in the Football League with New­port’s re­sources and the way those re­sources are struc­tured:

We didn’t have a ground to base our­selves at, to be­long to, to build an iden­tity around

We trained on a dif­fi­cult and de­mor­al­is­ing sur­face; and we even had to fight some days to be al­lowed to train on it

We played our matches on a rugby pitch; a pitch not fit for pur­pose

Dif­fi­cult

Our ad­min­is­tra­tive/ sup­port staffing was lower than at clubs that I man­aged in the Ry­man League, mean­ing that many things couldn’t get done to any­thing like the pro­fes­sional stan­dard

Our football man­age­ment staffing was sim­i­lar; no an­a­lyst, no fit­ness coach, no full time physio, player/coaches not ded­i­cated coaches; we didn’t have ba­sic things that play­ers need nowa­days: in the end, over time, these things cost re­sults

The squad/team hadn’t been re­cruited with its pitch in mind and was a cul­tural mis­fit to the club; play­ers were un­der­stand­ably not nat­u­rally in­spired by their club and its fa­cil­i­ties and many were used to so much more; there was no re­cruit­ment of­fi­cer adding ideas and dili­gence – it was just down to the man­ager

There were way too many play­ers in the squad caus­ing a nat­u­ral malaise that needed con­stant man­age­ment in a stretched en­vi­ron­ment and player homes were too widely spread from the club; you can­not play your best football at New­port long term with your fam­ily re­sid­ing hun­dreds of miles away; phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally it just doesn’t work; it isn’t sen­si­ble in the long run.

I in­her­ited a team that had won once in 24 games and, de­spite my best ef­forts, I only man­aged to win six of my 29 games. I moved a 4% win rate up to a 20% win rate. Even that was re­ally hard graft.

In leav­ing, I can hold my head high though:

The club have pub­licly ac­knowl­edged the enor­mous hard work and ef­fort I put in, in­clud­ing my work in de­vel­op­ing the new man­ager

And they have shown grat­i­tude for the strate­gic/ struc­tural changes that I ad­vised upon and im­ple­mented; I at­tacked their prob­lems with a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude and made many many good dif­fer­ences

Pos­i­tive

Twenty-two of the play­ers have texted me re­ally pos­i­tive tes­ti­mo­ni­als about my work with them, with many en­dorse­ments ref­er­enc­ing their growth both as peo­ple and play­ers, and many ex­press­ing per­sonal and col­lec­tive dis­ap­point­ment

And I re­cruited a low cost/low li­a­bil­ity draft of play­ers in Jan­uary that has given the club a good chance of a strong end to the sea­son with­out any se­ri­ous sum­mer or on­go­ing costs; the best team at New­port right now is a good solid League Two team. No ques­tion.

At the be­gin­ning of last week, the main chair­man told me that one of his num­ber had wrongly leaked a story to the press ‘van­dal­is­ti­cally’ in which it was sug­gested that I had two games to ‘save my job’. I had made it clear that I wasn’t work­ing un­der those cir­cum­stances and that the club needed to ad­dress that.

No man­ager should work in an en­vi­ron­ment where that stuff is go­ing on. But my thought was not about me. It was about the club. New­port need to win points not fight in­ter­nal po­lit­i­cal bat­tles. The board needs to be united around its man­ager. Or there is no point. Waiting for him to fail is neg­a­tive; want­ing to be right that he isn’t the right man helps no­body.

The team I con­structed is good enough to stay up with key men fit and ev­ery­body be­hind it. It won’t be easy and there will be bad days along with good ones.

Pipey (David Pipe), Joss (Labadie) and Riggy (Sean Rigg) re­turned yes­ter­day and hey presto! My last act was to make Joss cap­tain this week and he re­sponds with a last­minute win­ner against fourth­bot­tom Crewe! Two wins, six draws, three de­feats in 11 now. The team does have mo­men­tum.

I could be bit­ter or de­fen­sive about my time at New­port. I could talk ill of cer­tain things but I won’t. Dig­nity mat­ters. I know I did a lot of good work.

How­ever it is wrapped up, my view is that the club in­vested in bring­ing a League One man­ager (44% win record at Posh last sea­son) in to cre­ate a mir­a­cle, lost faith after the loss to Ori­ent that it would hap­pen and can­not af­ford my salary if they do slip into the Na­tional League. So they are tak­ing steps be­fore money is­sues get away from them. Sim­ple. Un­der­stand­able. I get that. It is fan owned and there is no big backer. Money mat­ters. A fan gave me a magic wand when I ar­rived. I was told I would need it. We pro­gressed. But be­cause we lost our two top scor­ers in Jan­uary and have had Joss and Riggy miss­ing, re­sults haven’t been suf­fi­cient enough im­me­di­ately, and the ex­tent of the progress isn’t clear to all. That is fine. You need to know what you are look­ing for if you are go­ing to re­ally mea­sure sta­tus and po­ten­tial. I joined New­port at the bot­tom of the League after the pre­vi­ous man­ager was dis­missed for win­ning six points in his last nine League games. I leave them at the bot­tom of the League having won eight points in my last nine League games. He lost five, I lost three. Sim­i­lar records. I did just a bit bet­ter. 40% less losses.

Bet­ter

Given time I’d have done a bit bet­ter still. And a bit bet­ter again. Be­cause I’d have re­lent­lessly pur­sued bet­ter­ment through­out all ar­eas of the club un­til we got it to the best level it could be at. Win­ning isn’t a click of the fin­gers. It is an ev­ery­day and in­cre­men­tal process.

Fans don’t see a man­ager back­ing his board in the team room as the club’s vi­sion gets ques­tioned. Fans don’t see a man­ager com­mu­ni­cat­ing re­lent­lessly with 25-plus play­ers to help them be­come bet­ter at their game. Fans don’t see the work go­ing in to de­velop the tech­ni­cal, tac­ti­cal, teamship, phys­i­cal, pro­fes­sional, per­sonal and men­tal com­po­nents of each player.

Fans see re­sults. And if im­prove­ment isn’t big enough, emo­tion can lead to the trig­ger get­ting pulled and the bul­let get­ting fired.

I am 49 years old. I have worked for four Football League clubs. Wikipedia shows that I have man­aged 889 games, with a 46+% win record and an ag­gre­gate goal dif­fer­ence of +287. Not too many man­agers can of­fer sta­tis­tics like that and my FA Cup cre­den­tials add weight to my CV.

I’ll dust my­self down now and be­gin de­vel­op­ing my skills for the fu­ture. Football is ever- chang­ing and a man­ager who wishes to thrive in the fu­ture must learn to evolve and adapt enor­mously.

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

BAT­TLE: New­port County’s Scott Ben­nett, right, in ac­tion with Ply­mouth’s Jor­dan Slew and, in­set, the cut-up Rod­ney Pa­rade pitch which also hosts rugby

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