FROM a pariah to a role model, Newcastle United and Mike Ashley can set an example for other clubs when it comes to backing their managers, as League Manager’s Association chief Richard Bevan tells Mark Douglas in an exclusive interview.
HE may not be a household name, but Richard Bevan is one of the most influential men in English football.
As the chief executive of the League Managers Association, he heads up the trade union that represents every single boss in the professional game. It gives him a substantial and powerful role in the sport and Bevan hasn’t been afraid to take on some of the biggest figures in the sport on behalf of his members.
He also happens to have been an outspoken critic of Mike Ashley’s ownership of Newcastle United on more than one occasion. First, when Sam Allardyce was sacked he gently chided the United owner for jettisoning a manager who was talked about as a future England boss.
Then when Kevin Keegan left the St James’ Park hotseat, he supported the former Newcastle manager in his claim for wrongful dismissal – saying that the boss had transfers forced on him against his will.
So it will no doubt be of interest in the boardroom at St James’ Park that Bevan has now delivered an endorsement of the system in place at Newcastle for the past four years.
For both Chris Hughton and now Alan Pardew (pictured right) – the LMA’s manager of the year – the transfer process has been a collaborative effort. Graham Carr, given a new eight-year contract on Thursday, has a big say while Derek Llambias, the managing director, is also know to be influential and to have input.
Pardew’s influence remains strong and he has the final say but it is a far cry from the days when Brian Clough used to sign a player without his chairman’s prior knowledge. Under Ashley, managers at Newcastle will never have complete and total control over recruitment.
The Journal can now reveal that Bevan has thrown his support behind that system of having a “transfer brains trust”, just so long as the manager retains a final veto.
“Obviously this approach has worked for Newcastle and the role of the manager is now so vast that he simply cannot do everything,” he said.
“The power to determine which players a club buys and sells is as fundamental as team selection to the authority of the modern football manager. Therefore, providing the manager has the final say and the process is clear on the appointment of a new manager then it can certainly work.”
Perhaps Bevan’s stance on Ashley softened when he recognised the talents of one of the LMA’s out of work members back in December 2010.
Pardew had just been sacked by Southampton but the Newcastle owner recognised there was a dormant talent and ignored public opinion to take the plunge. When Bevan’s organisation voted Pardew the manager of the year, it backed up one of the LMA’s central contentions – that there are managers out there worthy of another change. Bosses, Bevan says, who are worth persevering with.
“I think LMA chairman Howard Wilkinson put it best after commenting on Alan receiving the award,” he said.
“Howard said: ‘I’m often asked, where are all the English coaches? My answer is, we have plenty of them, they just need an opportunity.’ I am delighted for Alan that he has taken his opportunity.
“Alan Pardew’s achievements at Newcastle this season are there for all to see. Alan was fully deserving of this recognition and what he has achieved in such a short space of time with Newcastle is very impressive.
“He did not just earn the award as recognition for Newcastle United’s excellent campaign by finishing fifth in the Barclays Premier League, as other notable feats included his side earning 19 wins in their 38 league games, and they also recorded 15 clean sheets while playing entertaining and attacking football. They also showed great consistency by remaining in the top ten throughout the entire season.
“In addition, Alan and the Newcastle backroom team have also been highly commended on their recruitment of players including Papiss Cissé, Demba Ba, Yohan Cabaye, Gabriel Obertan and Davide Santon, who have made such a significant impact in their first season with the Magpies.
“Clearly Alan has made outstanding use of the resources at his disposal.”
Now the LMA wants others to follow Newcastle’s lead and look at continuity. Failing to do that will “damage” the game, according to Bevan.
He said: “Time, sadly, is not a commodity afforded to the football manager but stability is imperative to deliver results. Instability at clubs can cause real damage to the wider good of the game. It cannot help attract investment or to portray football as a sound business and constant changes erode the community values on which all clubs are founded.
“The LMA are constantly highlighting the importance of continuity in the long term success of a football club. At the start of this season I am sure a manager is set clear, mutually agreed objectives but what is key is that in turn they are communicated to the fans and media as a key part of managing expectations. It is essential that managers have the confidence that they will be given sufficient time to succeed in the role, allowing them the opportunity to have an impact at the club and build towards a vision of success.
“Simply dismissing a manager after a poor run is detrimental not only to the club but to the game itself. The LMA is working hard to change football’s mindset, working on the recruitment process of managers and ensuring that the clubs and managers set realistic goals and aspirations.
“The success of a club depends not only on the nature and quality of the owner and manager, but on the relationship between them.
“Clarity and realism about objectives, understanding the business model and financial position, recognising where the power and influence lie and working with the club culture.
“The balance between short term performance requirement and a coherent plan for building a viable future.
“Managers are endeavouring to build a winning culture – shared beliefs and where possible goals coupled with a long-term vision.”
That, Bevan says, is where Newcastle have succeeded while others have failed. He said: “I think it is important to note that, when receiving his award, Alan thanked his predecessor, Chris Hughton, for his work at the LMA dinner by stating that he ‘inherited a winning spirit’ when he joined in December 2010.
“Therefore, following their promotion after winning the npower Championship, Newcastle have certainly excelled over the past three seasons.”