Manager wanted to revitalise underperforming staff. Good salary structure so no budget issues. Attractive location with company car provided. Must be physically fit and like fish and vegetables. Sounds attractive doesn’t it, and so it should be, although I am a touch surprised this football managerial vacancy has arisen.
David Hockaday had been in charge at Forest Green Rovers since September 2009, a run of just over 200 matches. He was already in post when green energy entrepeneur Dale Vince took over the club. Together they seemed, until earlier this year, to be attritionally building a team that would, in time, make the Football League. Vince spoke of a 10 year plan, without meat, of couse. There was no indication of change.
However a slump at the end of last season cost Rovers a play off place. More money was invested. I once asked Hockaday if Vince always said “yes” when it came to signings. His answer was “no.” He assured me there was always a strong debate, but looking at the squad he was able to assemble, you don’t get the impression Hockaday lost that argument very often. Now, someone else will get the chance to work at one of the best resourced clubs outside the Football League.
Hockaday had a long career as a player, but Rovers was his first stop on the managerial roundabout. His time as a coach was spent extensively working with young players. The squad he brought together had a sprinkling of players with links to two clubs where he had previously worked, Watford and Southampton.
As time went by and Vince loosened the purse strings, they were added to with established Conference performers. The squad list on the back of the club’s programme made impressive reading, but as I pointed out in “a sticky wicket” (10/10/13) scoring eight goals in your opening league match can be a noose around your neck.
The collapse started at Welling, where Rovers lost
5-2. Saturday’s 3-1 defeat at Grimsby was the seventh
in eight games, a period in which five players had been sent off. Finding Rovers 16th in the Skrill Premier, but with more financial clout than many teams in League 2 and League 1 didn’t sit comfortably with either Vince or Hockaday. Ultimately, the manager paid the price for a dreadful sequence of results.
There are certain parallels you could draw between Rovers and MK Dons. There, Pete Winkelman is Dale Vince. Both have taken on clubs in areas without a strong football heritage, and have had to build a fan base from little or nothing.
Both have backed managers with a belief in a certain style of play, the Dons also putting their trust in youth in the dug out, Karl Robinson taking charge at 29. Hockaday might have been old enough to be Robinson’s father, but it was his first managerial post too. Will it be his last ? He’ll certainly get another job, but you wonder if that experience at Academy level might be where he re-enters the game.
What happens next will be fascinating. Dale Vince has very clear principles, and I would expect him to only appoint someone who either already shares them or is prepared to buy into them. He is also fortunate in that amongst his connections is former Manchester United defender Gary Neville, surely a man whose football knowledge begs to be used in the appointment process.
The big question is whether the Hockaday style of football will remain under the new manager. Whether it does or not, given the infrastructure you would expect there to be no shortage of applicants who think they can put a promotion at The New Lawn on their CV.
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