Cool heads required in the search for the man for all seasons
Feature by Richard Oldroyd
Updated Friday, 31st December 2010
After a period of months which has by turns been frustrating, demoralising and heart-breaking, the inevitable has now happened.
Let us get the pleasantries out of the way. Callous though it sounds, Laws has performed a useful function for Burnley as a human punch-bag. With dignity, he has taken the brunt of an awful lot of frustration which was not of his making; though Burnley's form this season has not been good enough, he has kept a relegated side stable, which is not necessarily the formality it may sound. He has put in place good structures for promoting and bringing through a crop of young players who offer reassurance for the future beyond the Premier League parachute payments.
His passion for the job, for the club, has never been in doubt and he should be thanked and applauded for his efforts.
But the reality is that his skills have not equipped him for the task. Perhaps someone always had to take the blows which would inevitably follow Owen Coyle's departure. The task of keeping Burnley up would have been too big for most managers - and it proved well beyond Laws' capabilities.
But there are men who would have had sufficient stature and authority, and enough talent as coaches and managers, to bounce back from that inevitable flak and lead a team towards promotion.
The tragedy is it became clear early on that Laws was inadequate in all of those respects - yet his unpopularity amongst supporters of Burnley from the day of his appointment meant he needed to superior.
It is regrettable that it has taken until the cusp of the New Year, with the season almost half way through and the transfer window imminent, for the end to come. No doubt, now events have played out as they have, Barry Kilby wishes he had made the move sooner. But if Kilby's greatest fault is his determination to give his managers a fair chance, then it is an honourable one which should help make the Burnley job attractive now and in the future.
And in any event, this is no time for point-scoring and recriminations. What is now required is a clear-headed analysis of Burnley's strategy for both the rest of this season and the next two or three years. The new manager must reflect both the short term and long term aims and expectations of the board of directors.
It is a difficult balancing act, and it is made difficult by supporter expectations which have become absurd after the enormous success of Owen Coyle. The problem for the board is that majority wisdom has it that Burnley are looking for a loyal version of Owen Coyle, chosen with the benefit of hindsight: an articulate, up and coming tracksuit manager with charisma, a commitment to good football and a proven track record of success, who is attracted to Burnley and prepared to make a long term commitment. It is an implausible list and, whilst the process is further complicated by the need to reconnect with supporters after a year which has strained relationships, the board must be careful not to pay too much attention to those demands.
If the board are working on the basis that the squad cannot be sustained beyond this season, so that players like Chris Eagles and Andre Bikey will not be retained in the summer nor replaced with players of a similar calibre, then they must appoint a manager with the experience and track-record to maximise the prospects of salvaging a promotion challenge this season - and they must do so quickly so that no time is lost in the transfer window.
It is easy to suggest the names of potential successors; it is far less easy to do so with insight, because at the heart of management are highly personal qualities which cannot be measured from afar. But if the need for speed prompts Burnley to select an out-of-work manager with experience, then Phil Brown would appear to be the outstanding candidate, ahead of the likes of Chris Hughton and Iain Dowie. Sam Allardyce has the outstanding track record, but his style of football and stated desire to remain in the Premier League may mean that Allardyce and Burnley are not attractive enough to one another to make the proposition realistic.
The problem is that the rationale for any such a choice would be inherently short term - and if promotion did not follow, the appointment might not remain suitable for the changed circumstances of the 2011/2012 season. If Burnley could have their cake and eat it, they might appoint Brown, or someone of a similar ilk, until the end of the season. But with Preston now also seeking a manager, the prospects of Burnley's persuading anyone to take the job on that basis may be limited.
Alternatively, if the board are prepared to sustain investment over the next couple of seasons, the immediate importance of this season diminishes - and so does the need for a manager capable of achieving results immediately. That would raise the attractive proposition of appointing a young manager from the lower leagues, or a coach with top-class qualifications but whose experience as a manager is limited.
Possible young and promising managers might include Eddie Howe, Paul Cook, Paul Tisdale or Gus Poyet. Of those whose careers to date have been in coaching, Mike Phelan, Steve Clarke and Gordon Cowans may prove strong contenders. The successes of the likes of Chris Hughton and Brian McDermott in the last year have demonstrated the notion that coaches cannot step up into management has always been flawed: there are few other professions in which managers of small or medium enterprises are considered better qualified for the job of chief executive at a global corporation than a deputy chief at a similar conglomerate.
But these are individuals who would need time to adjust to their new environment. Their lack of a track-record could lead to a delay in making the appointment as research is done and appropriate backroom teams are put together. They are unlikely to have clear ideas regarding Burnley's existing squad and potential transfer targets. As a result, they are appointments who can only be countenanced if all concerned are prepared to allow modest short term results as part of a longer term strategy.
There is a small class of managers who straddle both of these camps, and who may prove the most rounded candidates for the job. These are the men who are currently managing other Championship clubs, but who may nonetheless consider the Burnley job for one reason or another. These are the likes of Paul Lambert, Sean O'Driscoll, Mark Robins or Malky Mackay - men who could do for Burnley what Owen Coyle did for Bolton last season. Should any of these rival managers be appointed, there will be an irony with the events of 12 months ago which would be hard to miss.
None of these men have a track record matching some of those who are out of work, and all would require time, effort and money to lure them from their existing clubs. In this respect, all are big gambles. But if one of those managers is interested and satisfies the board that he is capable of making an immediate impact - which might rule out O'Driscoll - then they might be the candidate closest to the everyman Midas that most supporters appear to want and the best bet for all seasons.
But whilst the frenzy of speculation will no doubt take hold around them, the board must take at least the weekend to regroup and make a pragmatic decision. There are lessons to be learnt from the reign of Brian Laws - but we are fortunate to have an experienced, grounded group of directors making the appointment. With the club in the strongest position it is likely to enjoy for many years, it is a decision which they simply must get right.