When Mark Robins sat next to Dean Hoyle for a Radio Leeds special back in January, there appeared to be a real synergy and camaraderie between him and chairman Dean Hoyle, and indeed all four members of ‘The Quadrant’ of the Huddersfield Town board. Town were playing some wonderful free flowing football at the time, and things looked incredibly rosy in the garden. Just 6 months later, and implosion... What happened!?
Indiana Robins and The Trapdoor Of Doom
Simon Grayson’s care free attitude had seen apathy set in with performances on the field, and Huddersfield were heading back towards League 1 at a rapid pace. With Grayson gone Chairman Dean Hoyle had an assignment for a swash buckling manager with new ideas and opted to give ex Manchester United striker Mark Robins the chance in the Town hot-seat. In an impressive turn-around Robins steadied the ship as Town finished the season in near play off form. A very good achievement.
Short (round) Changed
No one had enjoyed the ugly, back to front football employed by former bosses Lee Clark and Grayson, and fans were starting to drift away as negative murmurings had begun with the natives.
Indiana Robins and The Last Crusade
Chairman Dean Hoyle spelled out a new vision, a holy grail if you will. Hoyle’s vision was to create a self-sufficient football club, who promoted from within in terms of players coming through the academy. Most importantly for Hoyle though, was that he wanted a new footballing philosophy based on a possession based game. With Financial Fair Play (FFP) ready to kick in, the plan was to increase the quality on the field, and decrease spending.
They can only play 442!
One of the early criticism’s that Robins levelled towards his playing staff was that they only understood 442, a generally straight lined, rigid formation that lends itself more towards direct football than one of the controlled nature that Robins and Hoyle craved. Robins waited until Town were safe at the end of the 2012/2013 season before trying to implement a new style. Early results were excellent. Spearheaded by Vaughan in attack, Robins employed a 352 formation which he referred to as “fluid” post the Bradford game. The formation got the best out of several players such as Adam Clayton, and Town were playing some of the best football seen at the new stadium since the Steve Bruce era.
The QPR game.
Despite a 2-1 reversal, this was the game where Robins’ style of play peaked. Huddersfield were genuinely excellent throughout, and took the eventual play off winners all the way. Robins’ style of play had everyone purring, including Joey Barton who afterwards took to twitter to proclaim Town as the best pass and move side that QPR had played all season.
At the aforementioned Radio Leeds special, one thing Dean mentioned is that all four of 'The Quadrant' (Hoyle, Robins, Wilson & Clibbens) are always “at it”, they never stop working and looking at ways to improve. Yet Town took their eye off of the ball in almost catastrophic circumstances from the top down. Dean Hoyle at a Q+A session proclaimed the season as “job done” and Town seemed to take a long summer break from February onwards.
Vaughan will tear his calf apart… again.
Of course losing James Vaughan started to take its toll as the forward was never genuinely fit from the end of November onwards, and other players who were previously in form went way off the boil, Norwood, Hammill and Lynch in particular. However, the attitude from the club in the last 3 and a half months of the season was alarming. Players were sent out on loan when there was little to no cover in their relevant positions (seemingly to just get them off the wage bill for a while), even the usually decent Town Twitter feed seemed to go on holiday at one point. The style of play as a result suffered, with a number of boring, carefree and monotonous displays – I haven’t witnessed as bad a display in my 30 years as a fan than that in the 2nd half at Elland Road, in an unforgivable capitulation.
The Continuous Crusade
Despite the side struggling, Robins came under heavy criticism from fans for refusing to change his style of play. At once what seemed fresh and exciting now appeared tepid and ponderous. Robins responded to criticism by repeating the same lines for 2 months. “We have to be better”, “We have to grow up”, he said, again.. and again….. and again. Robins would say that he doesn’t want to go back to direct football and chose to use an Indiana Jones analogy to explain that the players weren’t taking responsibility for their actions and instead were causing their own downfall. Ironically at no point did Robins see an analogy where there was a large boulder chasing him down the corridor of The John Smith’s Stadium, where a number of Town fans were aiming sharpened spears at him at the end.
Indeed, the spears had been starting to point since the Leeds game, and once the season finished with Town only winning 2 of their last 13 games (losing 7) many fans wanted a change. The playing staff were critical of the work of Robins’ right hand men in Darren Robinson and Steve Taylor and they paid with their jobs at the end of the season. But despite the club dressing it up as such, was this Robins’ idea?
After the summer break the bad form continued as Town kicked off the 2014-15 campaign with a devastating 4-0 home defeat at the hands of Bournemouth. Following that poor performance it was announced that Mark Robins had decided to leave his role as Huddersfield Town manager.
Why did Robins walk?
Robins has cited that “he felt that he couldn't bring success within the vision of the club”. Now this was a vision which he signed up to and championed – he knew the score, so what changed? Well the backroom staff were one thing. Despite information to the contrary, I understand that Robins was reluctant to part with Taylor and Robinson, and was unhappy at having to give them the news. Secondly, he was promised, in another interview with Hoyle, that we would sign 3 quality Championship players this summer including a centre half – this has yet to really materialise. I do know that he was disappointed to miss out on Cyrus Christie though. Hoyle and Robins have both reiterated that they want Town to be fighting at the top end of the table this season, yet incomings were minimal and didn’t address the leadership issue through the spine of the side that Ross Wilson alluded to in a Q+A prior to the Watford game. The final skeleton in the archaeologist’s closet seems to have come during a meeting with the board where Robins’ frustration with the above has boiled over.
Well going from a quadrant to a trident, it doesn’t take a member of mensa to work out that the board need to get the next appointment right. The wrong appointment could potentially set Town back several years.
Calm yer skins!
I’ve seen some of the names being bandied around on Social Media and some are very unrealistic with Town’s current structure. Casting our minds back to when Robins was interviewed, the other people at that time who were interviewed were; Graeme Jones, Nicky Butt, Richie Barker and Steven Pressley. An uninspiring list back then, and with Town pushing for FFP I think you can scratch off names such as Malky Mackay, Steve Clarke and Glenn Hoddle. Indeed, if certain journalists are to be believed, Graeme Jones was the no1 choice 16 months ago, but his wage demands were too high – and he was a no2 at Wigan at the time. I think this shows what is perhaps within Town’s reach?
The likely approach
Chairman Dean Hoyle is unlikely to deviate from the model he has used since appointing Lee Clark. Dean has said on many occasions that he wants a young, hungry and hardworking manager with a modern approach and a track record of promoting youth players.
Mark Robins walking has both surprised and disappointed me. Around 6 months ago, Town looked to be set for a very promising future whilst playing a very good brand of football. Robins, whilst being a pensive and thoughtful thinker with a good philosophy on the game, seems to have failed where his predecessor also failed. When you make a difficult situation of your own doing, do you have the wherewithal and the personality to change things and lift those around you? Whilst Robins talked a great game at times, I wouldn’t call him inspirational or a natural leader. The team also mirrored this and without any leaders on the field Robins was unable to halt the slide that started several months ago.
Using the formula of a young and hungry manager, who has experience of working within a budget and integrating academy players, and who would be relatively cheap (by Championship standards), I have come up with the following potential short list. I would also throw in the caveat that the board may now be looking for a Mark Robins style clone, but with more leadership qualities about them.
Towns Potential Short List:
The 43 year old quit Celtic in the summer and has set his sights on a job in the Championship. It’s difficult to gauge Lennon’s success at Celtic in what was essentially a one team league, but he fared well in The Champions League. Lennon’s sides were organised, passed the ball well, but had a little bit of steel in them – something which Town currently lack. Lennon is a leader and is a former Celtic captain. Young players have also developed under his watch, but would Lennon be hungry for Huddersfield, or will he bide his time?
With his stock reasonably high, the Town job could be career suicide for Lennon. With a backroom staff he hasn’t picked already in place, no money to spend on players and the pending sale of Player of the Year Adam Clayton, Lennon will probably sidestep the job, unless he has a massive pair. But if he took it and got it wrong, it could be a huge roadblock in his career to the top.
Another former Celtic captain, Jackie McNamara has made a good start to his managerial life. After engineering a cup final and successful promotion surge at Partick, McNamara left for Dundee Utd. The Arabs are currently winning a lot of plaudits for their attractive style of football where McNamara is currently getting the best out of a talented young bunch of players. With a win ratio of 45% at both clubs, he may raise a few eyebrows in the Town boardroom.
McNamara may prove to be an interesting choice should Hoyle et al start to dig beneath the surface. A natural leader who exhibits the core values of the philosophy set down by The Town board I can see them wanting to speak to the former Scottish International. With McNamara on a 12 month rolling contract at Dundee Utd, the compensation may not be as big as their chairman may initially demand.
A nice bloke who maybe unfairly found himself out of a job at Charlton when under financial restrictions. Powell did an excellent job in getting Charlton promoted and then just missed out on the playoffs the next season in The Championship. One thing that may put the Town hierarchy off is that Powell struggled like Robins did last season when things went stale. Charlton were safe in the end but the new board chose to go in a more foreign direction.
Powell could be a genuine candidate, but his inability to halt a slump last season, along with just a niggle that we’re probably too far north for him might make this one unlikely. Would he move from London to Huddersfield whilst still on a pay-off from Charlton? Only he can answer that…
Falkirk fans were delighted when Pressley was interviewed for the job last time, but disappointed when he lost out to Mark Robins. ‘Elvis’ talks a good game, but so far has had little to no success in the positions that he’s held. In fairness Falkirk and Coventry have had financial issues and he’s had to play the kids in both jobs. Pressley is strongly linked due to his friendship with Ross Wilson, who is likely to champion his buddy and perhaps give him the stable platform that he craves.
It sounds likely that Pressley will once again speak to the Town board. Renowned at both Coventry and Falkirk for boring and laborious football with little to no result, I personally think that Pressley would be an incredibly uninspiring choice and one the Town fans are unlikely to get behind.
The James Cordon lookalike used to get linked with a load of jobs, but turned them down to stay at MK Dons. The truth is that Robinson fits the mould that the club are looking at, and with his budget being reduced by quite a bit at MK Dons, he may look to further his career elsewhere.
Despite fitting the mould, there is apparently a large compensation figure built into Robinson’s contract which may make the Town board look at cheaper options.
Perhaps a dark horse for the job, Gary Rowett has done a very good job at unfashionable Burton Albion. Against the odds, Rowett has built a side with a mixture of experience and youth and got The Brewers close to promotion in the last 2 seasons.
Rowett has proved a capable manager at League 2 level, but can he jump up 2 divisions and imprint a passing style of football which is perhaps foreign to those who watch a lot of League 2?
Perhaps treated a little bit unfairly at Spurs, Sherwood is another manager who has said that he wouldn’t hesitate in dropping into The Championship in search of a manager’s job. Having played and captained Blackburn, the southerner is no stranger to the north, but would The Town job appeal? Having worked with the highly rated Spurs academy for 6 years, Sherwood is no stranger to the ideals and philosophies held by HTFC.
For the same reasons as Neil Lennon, I think Sherwood will play safe and wait for a more tempting job to come along such as Norwich City, where he has been linked in the past.
Another wild card could be Walsall manager Dean Smith. The 43 year old Midlander has done an eye catching job at Walsall and has implemented a neat style of play whilst being able to bring through a number of young players into the first team and sell for a heavy profit. Jamie Patterson, Sam Mantom, Will Grigg and Emmanuel Ledesma have all flourished under his guidance.
Verdict; Dark Horse.
I could see Dean Smith’s name being mentioned in conversation by the board, but has he done enough in his managerial career to prove that he could sustain the quality at Championship level?
Another like Robinson who used to get linked with every job under the sun. Once highly regarded by Swansea chairman Huw Jenkins (who always picks a decent manager), Tisdale has done a decent and steady job at Exeter. A couple of unlikely back to back promotions couldn’t really be built upon and the wannabe style icon has struggled to get Exeter back up on a measly budget.
Tisdale seems to love it down there on The South Coast, and I can’t see him uprooting anytime soon.
Another dark horse, Nigel Worthington has quietly done a very good job at York City. He has actually done a pretty good job wherever he has been and it seemed odd that no one apart from York (2 years later) made him an offer after he left his post as Northern Ireland manager in 2011. Worthington has tightened the York defence up considerably into one of the most miserly in the league whilst still playing the good football that predecessor Gary Mills had them doing.
Verdict; Dark Horse.
Worthington whilst not overly exciting, could be a very steady pair of hands to help keep Town away from the bottom 3. Whilst there may be a question mark over his ability to bring through young players.
By The Red Terrier