Managers bearing the cost of failure
'The search will be exhaustive,' said Wigan chairman Dave Whelan, inadvertently highlighting the contrast with his previous managerial appointment. Then the search lasted just long enough to find Chris Hutchings, bring him to the chairman's office and invite him to become manager of Wigan.
Now the amiable but anonymous Hutchings is gone, his achievements being twofold. Firstly, not winning the sack race he was tipped to cruise - ending up a distant fourth (even in his exit, Jose Mourinho was a winner). And secondly, topping the Premier League for 24 hours in August, though an inability to win since then has left Wigan in the relegation zone.
At Bolton, Phil Gartside was similarly succinct in his search when Sam Allardyce decided to leave. As Big Sam was ushered out of one door, Little Sam was steered through another. Like Hutchings, the assistant promoted to management mustered a brief and ignominious tenure, which was swiftly axed amongst the autumn angst that his early results had generated.
But while both can be presented as the continuity candidate, it is notable that no others were considered and also, in a move that appears ever more bizarre, Lee, with an insider's expertise in what made Bolton successful, was given a remit to radically alter their style of play. Yet while Hutchings and Lee appear to bear out the maxim about where nice guys finish, they also raise questions about the appointment process at football clubs.
It is, it is fair to say, an inexact science, and one many are yet to master. Appoint on a hunch or a sense of loyalty and you get Chris Hutchings. Appoint by committee and you get no one's first choice, or Steve McClaren, as he is usually known. Appoint in imitation and you can discover that Jacques Santini is not, like Arsene Wenger, a tactical guru from overseas, or that Peter Grant bears little resemblance to Aidy Boothroyd in the ranks of the bright young managers.
Appoint a grizzled veteran and it can become apparent that Howard Wilkinson cannot replicate past successes. Appoint while you already have a manager, as Tottenham effectively did, and you end up damaging your reputation. Appoint Peter Reid, and everyone laughs.
No wonder, then, that Whelan is eager for Paul Jewell to return. Both a popular ex-player - as Allardyce was at Bolton - and more significantly, Wigan's most successful manager, it is a move that suggests Whelan would rather eradicate the last six months from memory.
Sadly, it is not that easy. Both Bolton and Wigan find themselves in weaker bargaining positions after ill-advised appointments. Pay-offs for departed managers are required, their successors bequeathed unwanted recruits and, in some cases, hefty wages. Hard-earned credibility has dissipated. Bolton's plummeted still further with the choice of Gary Megson, fresh from earning 1.7% of the vote in a newspaper poll (some 49% behind the runaway favourite, A.N. Other).
Yet if the process was a simple popularity contest, Megson would be doomed to a life of perpetual unemployment. An encouraging, albeit winless, start does not yet vindicate Gartside, but Megson would certainly secure a higher ranking if the poll were repeated today.
Nonetheless, it is rare that a sense of doom enveloping the entirety of a club's fanbase is unnecessary; just ask the despondent Sunderland supporters about Wilkinson's arrival or Southampton followers, unhappy whenever Rupert Lowe promoted an unconvincing assistant such as Stuart Gray or Steve Wigley.
Whatever Megson's eventual fate, the process of appointing a manager at Bolton has been brought into question and that, as Gartside will be involved in the selection of the next England coach, probably in the immediate future, has an impact that stretches beyond the M61. The involvement of Mark Curtis, Megson's former agent, representing Bolton is also an issue.
The withdrawal of the application of Graeme Souness may not be unrelated and the Premier League, and even such strugglers such as Bolton and Wigan, still has the status to attract established top-flight managers which Megson, with his 14% win ratio in the upper echelons of the league, is not, even if there are invariably reasons why candidates with superior CVs are 'between jobs'.
Souness, for example, does nothing by halves. A complete conviction in his own opinion leads to some inspired decisions, like recruiting Brad Friedel, Tugay and Morten Gamst Pedersen, and some equally awful buys, such as Lorenzo Amoruso or Corrado Grabbi. Bolton seemed attractive, too, to David O'Leary (who has a decent record, but is widely disliked) and Glenn Hoddle (who has a decent record, but is widely misunderstood).
All, whatever their other faults, have the profile and presence, the charisma that comes with being the central figure first on the pitch and then in the technical area. Hutchings and Lee, accustomed to being in the background in every picture, had an image problem. Indeed, after newspaper references to the latter's 'ill-fitting suit' in the defeat to Newcastle, he spent the rest of his reign in what looked suspiciously like new garb.
More pertinently, Lee struggled to command the respect of a dressing room with a surfeit of senior players. Of course, the internal candidate can prosper, especially at Liverpool in the days when the boot room acquired mythical status, but in recent seasons, that has generally been the case at lower levels, such as David Moyes at Preston or Nigel Adkins at Scunthorpe.
Not that choosing from within was an option when Hutchings and Lee left. Gartside took the radical option of picking an unpopular candidate. Whelan, perhaps noting Harry Redknapp excelling in his second spell at Portsmouth, is harking back to Wigan's past. But he has carte blanche to choose, because he bears the cost of failure.
Like Crystal Palace's Simon Jordan or Chelsea's Roman Abramovich, he can pick his man because he owns the club. The chairman who does not enjoy that luxury and keeps getting it wrong can only remain unaccountable for so long. Rupert Lowe discovered that at Southampton and so, if Megson does not succeed, may Gartside.