THE art of management can be a confusing business and the thought struck last weekend that there really can only be the tiniest of margins in becoming a success or not.
Duncan Ferguson (who’d been basically banished from the dressing-room in the club under previous managements for shouting) thundered into Everton and they pummelled Chelsea with tackles, second balls, individual battles and pure desire to win 3-1.
Around the same time last Saturday afternoon, a couple of divisions down but in a different world really, another story was developing, where Rochdale again put together another of their regular goal-of-the-month contenders in beating Rotherham.
A lovely rhythm of a team move that ended with a Luke Matheson dummy and Aaron Morley strike across the goal from outside the box and that had their manager explaining afterwards how that kind of goal can only come from repetitions and constant work on combinations in training.
Their manager being a certain Brian Barry-Murphy of course, who seems to be part of a kind of experiment to see if there is a right way of playing and if there’s a possibility of making an idea work at that level of football.
Rochdale scored a pretty famous goal earlier this season that got made into a story, a 16-pass team combination in a win over Southend that immediately got put out there as evidence of Pep Guardiola’s influence and became a big deal in the idea of English football altering its way of playing if even Rochdale of league one could attempt a move like this.
The New York Times sent a reporter to a Rochdale game v Ipswich for a feature on whether this shift in mentality was reality. The home side ended up lumping long balls and Rochdale fans complained that it wasn’t in keeping with the way they want to do things.
A fans’ forum pre-season had one fan complaining that they wanted more goalmouth action and this battleground seems to be at the centre of this conversation of what exactly football fans want from their team. Jamie Carragher made a point a few weeks ago that Everton fans expected a certain energy and aggression (tackles), that it was in the club’s culture to play like this.
Barry-Murphy has form in being his own man here. It’s still not considered possible to not make reference to his dad in some form, but there always seemed to be something quite deliberate about going to England as a young player and making his own path away from the expectations of a city where the name Barry-Murphy has its own meaning.
I recall an interview with Barry-Murphy from way back where he mentioned going to watch Spanish teams whenever they came to England as inspiration and of watching clips of Barcelona even when playing lower league and others might have thought he was having notions. They broke out of a relegation battle when he took them over last season with 20 points from the last 11 games.
They went to Old Trafford this season and were neat and tidy on the ball in getting to a penalty shoot-out in the league cup and that goal against Southend wasn’t the only example of more than ten passes on the way to a goal. Players who’ve come from the Man Utd academy have spoken of Barry-Murphy’s good intentions and philosophy in how to play the game.
There’s also a hint of the Jurgen Klopp in how the manager interacts with players, of the friendly relationships in the group that he considers himself a part of and even the Cork link with someone like Eoghan O’Connell at the club.
Barry-Murphy has spoken of sticking with the process, patience in being comfortable playing the ball from defence and moving the ball a certain way in possession.
They’re still 16th though and recent struggles with injuries and style have been a reality dose about competing at that level. Their goal last weekend made a point that the manager isn’t for turning, and it’ll be of interest to see if and how he adapts his ideas to make things work.
A few outside thoughts here. Firstly, there’s something to be taken from the lack of Irish managers working in the English game right now, three are listed currently through the four divisions and it’s jarring certainly compared with a time where say Dave O’Leary was bringing Leeds to Champions League semi-finals or even Roy Keane was in the Premier League at least with Sunderland.
German coaches are hot right now for a certain modern style of pressing and fast counter-attacking. English coaches are becoming popular and more progressive.
Does anyone know what Irish football coaches would bring to the table tactically or technically or what sort of football might fall into the category of Irish? Is it a lot of crosses, physical battles, second balls? Obviously all the Irish managers working are outside the Premier League and are ex-players who basically played their careers in the lower leagues as well and so have more natural routes into these jobs.
Two, this must lead to an Irish pathway, almost a necessity driven by lack of opportunities elsewhere for Irish coaches to work on ideas and styles in a competitive environment. Not wanting to overemphasise about the one example to do this, but clearly Stephen Kenny’s leap from League of Ireland to international boss is a worthwhile plug for the possibilities given the right circumstances and encouragement.
There has to be space provided for Irish coaches to learn on the job and develop and it’ll be interesting for example to see how Neale Fenn merges the need to engage with the Cork City football public and their expectations of what a Cork City side should look like with his own brand of football.
Brian Barry-Murphy is getting that to an extent now and it’ll certainly be worth keeping an eye on what he does with his own chance of building a career in management.