All is fair in love, war and appointing football managers?
Feature by DavidR
Updated Friday, 4th September 2009
Another day, another fine mess. But this time, maybe the blame lies somewhere other than with the Millers...Nothing is ever simple. For the second time in its history, Rotherham United has a manager on gardening leave. The first time it happened, the club wanted rid of McEwen, who had no intention of leaving quietly. Unable to agree the terms of his dismissal, the club told him he was still manager but was not to come into work. Harry Gration on Look North sniggered his way through a report from the car-park at Millmoor, as the club gave every impression of being run as someone's hobby instead of the multi-million turnover business that it was.
This time, the situation is, if such a thing is possible, more farcical. A manager, who the club is at pains to stress it wants to remain at the helm, is suspended from his duties whilst he considers whether he's interested in further talks about a job at another club that he may or may not be offered. Even if Robins isn't offered the Barnsley job, or if he is offered it and declines to take it, it's very hard to see how he could continue in position as manager of Rotherham United. Meanwhile, we go into a vital league game which we're paying Robins to prepare and manage the team for, whilst at the same time forbidding him to prepare and manage the team.
Our track record as a club would suggest that, if there's a crisis, calamity or generally some sort of mess, it's probably down to the operation of a combination of the law of unintended consequences and borderline incompetence that has been a feature of the management of the club for as long as most of us can remember. But, for once, we look more like the sinned against than the sinners.
Having sacked Davey, Barnsley faced a fortnight without a game. The transfer window closed at 5pm on Tuesday. The chairman, who will make any appointment, is out of the country until this weekend. Not only had they no particular need to take any steps towards appointing Davey's successor this week, they lacked the ability to make the appointment in any case.
The Millers, by contrast, played on Tuesday and face an important game against both promotion chasers and local rivals Chesterfield on Saturday. Even the most cursory glance at the fixture list would have told Barnsley that an approach this week would be incredibly disruptive for us (much less so than after Saturday, when we have a clear week until Morecambe). Perhaps Barnsley just didn't think about the effect their approach would have on our club, but how much respect does such lack of thought show to a fellow League team?
The "why this week?" question hasn't been asked by the press, making it about the only issue in the saga that hasn't been discussed at length. Barnsley made it clear at the start of the week that they were looking for a young manager and were considering candidates already in a job. Radio Sheffield merrily speculated that Robins was top of the list and, surprisingly perhaps when discussing the manager of a team in their patch, endorsed the potential move wholeheartedly.
In the old days, matters like this were private. Clubs didn't comment on speculation and only said something when there was something to stay. This week, developments leaked out like water through a colander. Barnsley wouldn't name names on Monday, but would confirm they were looking for a young manager and their shortlist included managers already employed at other clubs. On Wednesday, Radio Sheffield somehow learned of Barnsley's approach to the Millers, some two hours before Tony Stewart confirmed it.
Somehow, journalists got to learn of the location and timing of Robins' meeting with the Barnsley board and so the Star was on hand at 8pm to pick up some quotes from him as he left. Barnsley, too, were very happy to comment on how well the talks had gone and that they looked forward to Robins meeting the Barnsley owner. Such statments are unusually forthcoming in the context of a manager who is, at present, contracted to us and very different from the usual bland "no comments" issued in these circumstances.
By Thursday morning, the situation had become completely muddied. Barnsley had spoken to Robins, were happy to confirm that those talks had gone well, but were unable to make an offer, if that's what they choose to do, until after the weekend. Robins couldn't choose to be Barnsley manager because he hadn't been offered the job, but because the whole affair had been conducted almost entirely in public, could hardly be expected to focus entirely on preparing for Chesterfield's visit either. Tony Stewart had little option but to relieve him of his duties whilst matters are resolved.
It's hard to see how we could have handled things differently. Given that Barnsley's approach for Robins had somehow become public, had Stewart refused Barnsley permission, he'd have had a potentially unhappy manager on his hands (it's clear that Robins wanted to explore the opportunity - you can't force someone to attend a meeting with another club). Once Barnsley (and Robins) had publically said they wanted to have further talks about the Barnsley role after Saturday, it was impossible for Robins to take charge of the team.
So, yes, it's a mess. But this time, one we've been pushed into rather than one we've created. Barnsley have been surprisingly free in their comments and seemingly careless about the consequences of their actions. In more gentlemanly times, the Oakwell tongues might have been more still and their actions more carefully thought through.
Stewart has said he wants to make us a modern football club. This week will have taught him how modern football clubs think it fit to behave. Perhaps there's something to be said for the old days after all.