A columnist who points a metaphorical pistol at the top of an ailing club’s hierarchy is also there to be shot at.
So... if Nigel Clough comes to Sheffield United, and fails, then your correspondent will be holding his hands up, hopefully in the company of the Blades’ top brass. Because he’ll do for me, even if some fans are underwhelmed by a man they see as less than a dynamic choice.
Can’t fault the club either if, as per the Telegraph going to press, they wait for their top choice rather than dive in elsewhere amid a shock betting scramble on Sven Goran Eriksson (who can’t be entirely dismissed but seems to jar with the club’s league position).
No loss of face in a delay pending Clough’s compensation dispute with Derby, leaving Chris Morgan in charge against Micky Adams’ Port Vale on Saturday.
I’ll also admit to giving a cautious welcome to the ill-fated David Weir last summer. Having argued the case for experience, I felt that, if it had to be a novice, then Weir had the right potential. Still has, in fact.
His misadventure was in taking a job now to be filled by a ninth man – including caretakers – in the last six years.
Ailing club? Well, not in the sense of the Saudi investment which apparently puts the Blades in a more competitive state. But United have to pull themselves together off the field before they do so on it.
Decision-making on the management has been little short of disastrous and to his credit Kevin McCabe has, in the past, owned up to mistakes. Subsequently, none has been bigger than Danny Wilson’s axing late last season.
From what I hear, Weir was also very much McCabe’s appointment. The overall owner is, of course, fully entitled to make the big calls and he never flinches from his responsibilities.
But for Kevin’s own good, I truly feel that – having appeared in the past to seek qualified advice but not always take it – he should in future distance himself from the hiring and firing of team bosses, as he seems to have done – publicly – this time.
Throw in the complexity of a 50-50 team split with Prince Abdullah and it’s not only the League One table that is challenging.
But you have to start again somewhere. It was to have been with Weir – and it did happen in the sense of the change of ethos that survives him. United had options other than to appoint him but ultimately no option, I feel, other than to fire him.
Chief executive Julian Winter told me right here that Weir would not lose his job for failing to win promotion. But being bottom was in no-one’s script. As I’ve said,
United now need to harness the undoubted talent in a much strengthened squad, rather than – to reverse a phrase – throw the bath water out with the baby.
The son of the legendary Brian Clough looks equipped for that task, much as Orient’s Russell Slade would have been my first choice. It’s about practicalities, not name appeal. That’s why Crawley’s Richie Barker, with a Blades academy background, is also a strong shout.
Nigel Clough is his own man, much different to his flamboyant dad, but his pedigree and principles are right for United’s chosen path. Crucially, the former England striker proved at Burton Albion early in his career, taking them to the brink of the Football League, that he can work with players of much lesser ability.
His record across four years at Derby may appear moderate but he always kept them respectably placed on limited resources.
I suspect Clough was earmarked from the moment he was sacked at Pride Park on September 28th. While I was sceptical at first, I can see why.
So here’s one messenger ready to be shot at if it all goes pear-shaped.
Owls takeover saga will end soon
Some well-placed sources claim Sheffield Wednesday’s ownership intrigue could finally be coming to a head. The Owls and their fans are dutifully accustomed to being described as “in limbo.” But that doesn’t make it any less painful a state of affairs.
It is not a condition gladly tolerated by a hyperactive chairman either. That’s why I think the current perception of inertia, whether real or imagined, will not outlast the next fortnight or so.
My gut feeling is that, within that time, a takeover will either be pushed towards completion or fade from the agenda. In the latter event, expect Milan Mandaric – never less than hands on - to tighten his grip on the wheel and make whatever decisions he feels necessary to drive the team clear of danger.
The interest of Hong Kong businessman Sammy Yu, who leads a Chinese consortium, first emerged in July but started in May. In layman’s terms, the time to “put up or shut up” could be fast approaching.
In the end it’s about money on the table – and I’d guess we are talking a minimum of £20m-£30m here. I’d be surprised if Wednesday have not set some sort of timetable so that the club can accelerate a pretty pressing schedule if it is not met.
It’s hard to see that period extending beyond successive away games at Bolton and Barnsley as manager Dave Jones seeks an essential victory or two to invigorate an improving team and reinforce his own position.
From all I hear, the accusation from a minority that Mandaric has “lost interest” in the club could not be further from the truth. He is restless and impatient for progress on and off the field with other potential buyers, believed to include a Saudi group, circling.
Inevitably, there will be a sliding scale on the club’s value. Simply put, it will go up or – as currently – down according to league position. Mandaric knows it must be improved for all possible reasons.
n Jailed Gary Madine is lodging an appeal and, from the noises I hear, I’d be surprised if he is sacked by Sheffield Wednesday as a £400,000 striker with 20 months left on contract.
I feel the Owls are likelier to take the middle course, effectively cancelling all or most of this season’s terms and retaining an option – for club and player – to resume his career at Hillsborough next season.
Moral issues can be argued either way but the reality is that Madine is expected to serve half, or less, of an 18 month term.
When his time is done, the Owls are likely to want to explore re-harnessing the player rather than giving him away.