Mark Douglas: British bosses deserve a fair crack of the whip

Craig Hignett appointment proves there's life in coaching outside the Premier League reckons Chief Sports Writer Mark Douglas

Middlesbrough FC Under 18's took on Aston Villa at the Riverside on Monday night. Action from the match. New man Craig Hignett (left) at the match with Aitor Karanka (right) and Dave Parnaby |(centre)

On Monday night, Craig Hignett will be the guest of honour at the Riverside for the latest meeting of Middlesbrough’s official supporters club.

It promises to be a terrific evening. Hignett is excellent company: funny, knowledgeable, steeped in red and white history and capable of speaking the language of the die-hard Boro supporter.

For a club again looking to claw back credit with a fanbase feeling brassed off over another season of mediocrity, Hignett’s presence in a senior role is something of a slam dunk.

It helps Boro’s assistant manager has proved himself a pretty useful number two, of course.

Hartlepool United were peddling against a tide of negativity when Hignett started work at Victoria Park alongside Colin Cooper but at the last check Pool were just outside the play-offs in League Two, having been given buttons as a transfer budget over the close season.

Aitor Karanka is sold on him too.

The Portugeuse said: “The best way to know about the culture of the league, the referees, the players, the people, is to have lived there in the past.

“Higgy worked here at the club, the supporters know him and he’s an important player in the history of the club because he scored the first goal at the Riverside.”

Funny that. Surely, on reflection, the best way for Boro’s management team to know about the culture of England would be to actually appoint someone with all of that knowledge in the first place?

They could have done that: Hignett and Cooper could have been smuggled out of Victoria Park when Tony Mowbray was dispensed with.

Yet they never got a look-in as Boro’s bosses went for the man with Jose Mourinho’s number on speed dial.

This isn’t a knocking piece on Karanka. Boro were 16th when Mowbray was sacked, having won just three games out of 12. They’re now 13th, having won just three of their previous 12 games.

Essentially, since January it’s all been about the summer for Boro, and the hope Karanka can do better with a rebuilding job and a budget smaller than any of his predecessors.

Why does English football always entrust a more exotic coach with these rebuilding jobs, though?

Surely Hignett would have been just as good alongside Cooper at the helm at Riverside? Or does a solid track record in a tough lower-league job not satisfy the stardust quota?

With the Premier League increasingly difficult to get into, the Championship has become the new battleground for the British boss.

First Boro went for Karanka then Watford’s Italian owners plumped for Giuseppe Sannino, whose last job was for Chievo. They were 13th when Gianfranco Zola resigned, they’re 11th now. Some improvement.

This week Charlton moved quickly to replace Chris Powell (pictured left), the man who had seen them promoted from League One last season and ushered them into the FA Cup’s last eight.

The man in question was Jose Riga, the current technical director of AC Milan’s Academy and close friend of Addicks’ owner Roland Duchatelet.

Presumably Riga, like Karanka, will need time to know about “the culture of the league”. Which makes his appointment all the more mystifying to any of us who witness the sterling work done by the likes of Cooper and Hignett in the lower leagues and wonder why no one ever seems to take notice.

One breathless article this week waxed lyrical about Riga “using the CogiTraining system which encourages players to train their minds as well as their bodies and has helped develop 20 per cent of the current Belgium squad.” Yet for all that super scientific stuff his win record, even in Belgium, is 37%. Powell’s was 41%.

No one is asking for quota systems to get British coaching back on track, just a fair crack of the whip for decent and qualified candidates who put in the time at the lower levels. I can’t help but think the fact Hignett is now such an important part of Boro’s all-new management team speaks volumes. Is anyone listening, though?


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer