Still Searching for our Special One

Last updated : 14 November 2007 By Richard Oldroyd
A typical break-up, then, between two parties with a strong bond and plenty in common. Burnley Football Club and Steve Cotterill had entwined their destinies for three long years, and so it could not be anything other than an emotional end. The emptiness and the uncertainty for the future that lie across Turf Moor right now are the natural reactions of human nature.

When Burnley Football Club appointed Steve Cotterill we were, as we are again now, looking for 'the one'. Way back before he got the job, I had suggested that Burnley's need for a modern and technically gifted coach with knowledge of the lower divisions made the former Cheltenham boss and Leicester coach a candidate worth casting an eye over.

I think it proved a decent call. Before even mentioning his performance at first team level, it's worth remembering the transformation to a scientific approach to football and to medical treatment, the profile of the youth policy, the improvements at Gawthorpe. For a someone who at times wore his ambition nakedly, Steve Cotterill cared more about the long term footing of the club more than one might have reasonably expected.

On the pitch, too, the early signs were promising. He set his first Burnley team up imaginatively, with Robbie Blake as a deep-lying lone striker and two wide men running in behind; when he was subsequently forced to change personnel, he recast his team effectively around Ade Akinbiyi. And over those first two seasons his transfer record, which broadly saw Blake and Chaplow exchanged for Mahon and Gray plus a stack of cash, was nothing short of remarkable.

Those were hardly heady days - the football was too dull, interspersed with rare highlights (Liverpool and Blackburn in the cup, one a victory, one a moment of rare togetherness in a defeat) - but they were days of promise. There was a sense of purpose, a sense that Cotterill knew what he wanted if only Burnley could find the means to help him get there.

In writing this, I looked back at what I had written at different points during those first two seasons: I thought, then, that I could see a vision; a plan involving players with an elder statesmen with a winning mentality interspersed with wide-eyed gems picked up from the lower echelons. I thought his ambition could take Burnley with him one day and I got jealous of the eyes he could openly make at the other, bigger Championship jobs. I got all optimistic at what might be once Steve had just a little more cash, a bit more room for manoeuvre.

But strangely, that dot on the horizon, the ultimate dream of the Premier League remained like a mirage: no matter that we seemed to be travelling towards it, we never actually got any closer. Not just whilst we didn't have money, but also in the final year of his reign, once Brendan Flood came on board and let us all know he would be making some available to the manager.

We waited for his real vision to emerge from the necessities of poverty, and for the arrival of the powerful young athletes that he had surely spent two years identifying from outside the pool of reliable performers on which he had thus far relied…and we kept on waiting, still waiting, until we ultimately began to doubt that he could either attract proven Championship heavyweights to Burnley, or scout the lower leagues for untapped resources.

In the end, neither the theory nor the execution of Cotterill's plans inspired any real belief, and nor did comments to the media which painted a bleak picture of Burnley Football Club. That is where Steve Cotterill went wrong at Burnley, if indeed he ever did - and it was then that we began to cast envious glances at clubs such as Preston whose astute policy of buying young and making better made our own more pragmatic approach all the more frustrating.

But when I come to analyse whether those thoughts were fair, I can't. Because I'm not exactly sure what Cotterill was dealing with, whether he was right when he blamed his budget or whether it was the way in which he decided to try and spend it.

In that respect, Steve Cotterill will be defined by reference to his successor. It may be that man can spend that money and is therefore able to build on what Steve Cotterill leaves behind. Or, conversely, it may be that we look back in twelve months time with the fondness and regret of one who knows they acted in haste.

What cannot be doubted is that Cotterill leaves his replacement a team - indeed, a squad - with real potential. He has three centre halves to chose from who have won promotion from this league before, creative players such as Mahon and Blake who have done the same, a goalscorer in Gray, good youngsters in McCann, Lafferty and Spicer. For all that his vision had become confused, and for all his frustrations in the transfer market, he was only a couple of players short of accomplishing something special.

But that does not deflect from the fact that, deep down, the idea had taken root that we might not be made for one another. As much as anything else, Cotterill had become disillusioned and worn down with the realities as he found them. And so, after a good three year stretch, we find ourselves searching for a leader once again, knowing they will have to be good to beat the standard of their predecessor.

This time, we must make a simple choice: attract someone with an established record of Championship success with the funds they will expect; or go for another innovative and ambitious young choice and hope he knows his emerging markets better than Steve ultimately did.

That gives you a choice between a Paul Jewell or, say, a Martin Ling or a Dave Penney, or even a Paul Ince. If Brendan Flood is prepared to trust Jewell not just with transfer fees but with wages too, then he is the stand out candidate. But Souness, Reid and the other established names? There is something about them, the idea that they might be a throw back to less enlightened times, which bothers me a little. And all the other coaches who I would dearly like to see at Burnley, such as Mick McCarthy, are currently with more attractive employers than Burnley.

And so, beyond Jewell, I find myself looking for a candidate who offers something different - the extra dimension necessary to steal a march on our bigger rivals for the promotion picture. An Arsene Wenger for our level if you like.

A name which intrigues me, and which offers that fresh approach, is Swansea's Roberto Martinez. A Spanish background, a knowledge of both the English lower divisions and the Spanish market as well, and a burgeoning reputation in South Wales - I like the idea. It's different, and it may not be an obvious match for Burnley, but they do say that opposites attract.

Anyway, right now we are just like almost every club in the country, looking for the man who satisfies an impossibly lengthy profile to become our dream ticket. Since we appointed Steve Cotterill, most clubs have been through this whimsical process at least once, perhaps twice, perhaps three times.

Steve Cotterill was a victim of that, ultimately. Good luck to him, a good manager and a dedicated man. I hope that somewhere, he will find that chemistry, just as I hope the next man offers it to Burnley. I hope that ultimately, his path crosses Burnley's again sometime, on opposite sides of a Premier League encounter - because that will provide the conclusive proof that this break up really was best for us all.