Tom English: ‘Has the SPL lost confidence in homegrown managers?’

GIVEN the Scottish Premier League’s apparent obsession with all things Irish – a conveyor belt of players and now managers arriving into the division – can it be very long before Michael O’Neill, manager of Shamrock Rovers, Paul Cook, in charge of Sligo Rovers, and Pete Mahon, of St Patrick’s Athletic, get a gig in this part of the world?

Those clubs filled three of the top four spots in last season’s League of Ireland, the fourth being third-placed Derry City, managed by Stephen Kenny. Kenny, of course, has been here before and is unlikely to return. He came and he went during a brief and unhappy spell at Dunfermline. He remains one of the most successful men ever to manage in Ireland’s domestic league, but he could do nothing in Scotland.

There appears to be a trend in managerial appointments in the SPL in recent times. In 2011, five clubs have changed their manager and four of those jobs – Ally McCoist being the exception – have gone to foreigners. Hibs replaced a Scot, Colin Calderwood, with an Irishman, Pat Fenlon. Earlier in the month, St Johnstone replaced a Scot, Derek McInnes, with a Northern Irishman, Steve Lomas. The managerial change before that one was at Hearts where Jim Jefferies, a Scot, was replaced by Paulo Sergio, of Portugal. In March, Kenny Shiels, another Northern Irishman, was appointed Kilmarnock manager.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

In the SPL right now only five of the 12 managers were born in Scotland. In comparison, in the English Premiership six of the 20 managers were born in Glasgow with a seventh, Owen Coyle, coming into the world in distant Paisley. There are another four Scots in management jobs in the Championship, one in League One and two in League Two. It shows that Scotland still has the capacity to create and export good managers. What is less clear is what is going on domestically. Has the SPL lost confidence in the homegrown boss? Are they not considered good enough anymore? And, if so, is it just?

Jimmy Calderwood has touted himself for jobs so often at this stage that it’s beginning to look a bit sad. John Hughes hasn’t worked since he left Hibs. Ian McCall is also looking for a job. It’s hard to know where Jim Jefferies sees his own future but are we supposed to believe that he, and the others, are washed-up, that they have nothing to offer, that they’re tired and past it? What about the younger element, then? Too early for an SPL club to take a chance on Steven Pressley, perhaps. And maybe the same goes for Derek Adams and Gary Bollan and Barry Smith and Colin Cameron. But where do these guys go next if they continue to progress? Where’s their next move? They’d be forgiven for thinking that their opportunities in Scotland are desperately limited given the invasion from Ireland.

Fenlon is a good manager, no doubt about it. And he’s a fascinating appointment. He achieved great success in Ireland, but then so did Kenny. The intriguing thing about Fenlon is that he won his trophies at clubs – Shelbourne and Bohemians – whose playing budget dwarfed that of their immediate rivals. Sure, Fenlon made the most of it with a succession of league championships and cups, with a little European success in 2004 with Shelbourne, but he had such a financial advantage over the chasing pack that it was almost expected of him. Not that it was his fault, but both Shelbourne and Bohemians suffered monstrous financial problems after their spell in the sun was over.

It is to Fenlon’s credit that he was operating on a reduced salary at Bohs for some time before his departure. He negotiated his contract in the good times and found that the club couldn’t pay him his due when the recesssion hit. Fenlon’s dedication didn’t lessen a jot, though. He is considered a serious football man; driven and well-organised. The Hibs job is the pinnacle of his career. To say that he is motivated to do well is to put it mildly. He is ambitious and bright enough to know that the supporters will not exactly be overwhelmed by his appointment. If Kenny gave the impression sometimes of a rabbit in the headlights, Fenlon will be more tuned in to the way of life in the SPL. He has seen where Kenny went wrong and will have learned from it. In short, he has a chance.

A chance that was not extended to a Scot. How many domestic candidates were there in Rod Petrie’s bulging file of applicants? We can only guess, but he won’t have been short of local hopefuls. He’s gone down another road, just as St Johnstone did, just as Hearts did, just as Kilmarnock did. All of this has to be pretty dispiriting for the indigenous boss, still as coveted as ever down south but something of an endangered species in their own Premier League.