A Decade for DC?
by Martin Bull
Before I start you must promise to, 1) hear me out, and 2) not send for the men in white coats.
Ok. I’ll start then.
Recently I’ve had this sneaky feeling that Darrell Clarke is going to buck all the modern management trends and write himself into the Bristol Rovers history books like no manager since Bert Tann.
Well, because DC has an absolutely unique chance to go down in the Gas chronicles as someone who utterly transformed Rovers on the pitch, and had a healthy influence on the infrastructural changes off of it as well. So maybe, just maybe, he’ll want to take that chance and run with it. He has already deflected interest from old club Hartlepool United when in the Conference, and Leeds United last summer, preferring to stay with Rovers after being shown a realistic vision of the future by the new owners of the club.
Land for a new training ground and academy has since been purchased and if a new stadium is forthcoming I think DC could be enticed to help drag our club into the 21st Century (yes I realise it is already 2017…) and sit proudly a top a hill, master of all he surveys, the Lord of North Bristol (and South Gloucestershire).
Currently DC is already the ninth longest serving manager in the Football League, and after being here almost four years already he might as well stay another six to make it a decade of DC at the club.
Is this an utterly fanciful and unfeasible possibility?
Although Darrell is ambitious the boy from the council estate also has his feet firmly on the floor, and at the tender age of only 39 Darrell may not yet have the itchy feet that an older man with less managerial experience might have, desperate to climb the greasy pole in an unsustainable way before singing “It’s better to burn out than to fade away” when sliding off the top.
Many up and coming managers (nay, most workers all over the globe) would appreciate a steady progression rather than the boom or bust the less patient crave, and if the evolution comes at a stimulating pace then that’s even better.
DC’s managerial progression has certainly been very rapid and vastly consistent. A season as player-manager in the seventh tier of the football pyramid, then two in the sixth tier, before the infamous blip, a League Two relegation season as (mainly) an assistant to John Ward, swiftly followed by redemption; a season each in the Fifth, Fourth and Third tiers. That’s a staggering four promotions in five years of full management, and he’s still in with a slender chance in this sixth season.
Whilst it may be normal in this era of instant gratification to expect an immediate jump to the Championship, and DC could most probably have obtained it with Leeds, I think our gaffer is made of cannier stuff. His career path has been perfectly crafted so far and there is no reason to suspect it couldn’t continue that way. He also has a highly tuned moral compass, values loyalty and honesty, and is adored by most rational Gasheads. A sense of belonging has been enhanced even more following a frank and calming explanation of the hasty departure of Matty Taylor to our noisy neighbours, complete with an already legendary cheeky ‘glance to camera’ moment when he said he knew why “there was only one Championship club in for him”.
Young managers who have achieved success will often have a chastening calamity or two on their CV, but this might be something DC will consciously seek to avoid by staying at Rovers to build his legacy rather than jumping ship at the first few signs of extraneous treasure being offered as bait. There are numerous poison chalices out there, including the Elland Road job, and supping from one may not be the best long term move.
The impressive Eddie Howe (also 39) experienced failure at Burnley between his two stellar spells at Bournemouth, and I will hold my hands up and admit that I wondered if Michael Appleton was a basket case after somehow being rewarded for failure with three Championship jobs in a row (Portsmouth, Blackpool and Blackburn Rovers), all of which were well above his rank. But he has bounced back to do a great job at Oxford United, especially amidst off the field wrangling over the stadium, the sale of many of his best players, and having to weather an injury crisis that hit their promotion run-in last season. Appleton finally won me over when speaking very eloquently last week on BBC TV (well, as eloquently as you can sound as a Salfordian) and being big enough to admit he made poor employment decisions in the past and tried to run before he could walk.
Those two men share an aspect of their past which may partly explain the managerial drive and down-to-earth disposition that has contributed to their success – both had a playing career cut short by injury, something that other young successful managers also overcame, including Brian Clough, Malcolm Allison and more recently Paul Tisdale.
If DC does leave before this decade is out I suspect it could be to make certain he’s not been ‘forgotten’ by the higher clubs, or more simply to gain extra income in this most tempestuous of career choices. The worst scenario would be a departure because the infrastructure does not improve as much as is needed to produce a club capable of not only reaching the Championship but, just as importantly, staying there.
Although both of our local clubs have got into a bad habit this decade of sacking managers quicker than you can say anti-establishmentarianism both sides of the river preceded it with a period of great stability. Paul Trollope and Gary Johnson were appointed within days of each other in September 2005 and both lasted until 2010, making them amongst the longest serving managers in England at the time.
Ollie had almost five seasons and Gerry Francis had four so it’s surely not out of the question that a successful manager like DC couldn’t reach a decade on the payroll; maybe he could even bring life at Rovers full circle by ‘going upstairs’ when we’re settled in the Premier League?
OK, maybe now you can make that call to the men in white coats…