Stepping up or stabbing up: when a number two becomes the number one (part one)

stepping up part two

An aspect of football that is sometimes interesting to explore is the difference or differences between being a coach and being a manager. Of those who stay in the game upon their retirement from playing, some are clearly more suited to management, while others do better in a tracksuit on the training field.

There are those, of course, who make the transition from coaching to management, and even a rare number that make the journey in the opposite direction for whom a spell in management invariably leads to the realisation that the coaching and improvement of players rather than being the ‘Number One’ is where their talents lie.

Embed from Getty Images

If one takes a brief look at Aston Villa, for example, one will see that the most recent Assistant Head Coach was Neil Critchley, who, before taking up his role as part of Steven Gerrard’s backroom staff, was the manager of the Championship side Blackpool for more than two years. Joining the Villans in June of this year, Critchley replaced the incumbent Michael Beale who left his position in order to have a crack at management in his own right. Also amongst Gerrard’s backroom staff was Gary McAllister who has previous management experience at both Coventry City and Leeds United.

Whilst most ‘Number Twos’ who make the transition into management take the traditional route that Beale did – moving to another club in order to satisfy their ambitions – there are those that find themselves thrust into the limelight when ‘the boss’ at their current club leaves, whether with or without their agreement.

Going back into the droves of history, Liverpool are of course a good advertisement for making this work (in certain, but not all, cases as we shall see). Bill Shankly famously came to the club in 1959 and inherited a backroom staff that included the likes of Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan, and when Shankly decided to retire some fifteen years later, Paisley stepped seamlessly into the breech, albeit after a bit of gentle persuasion and kept things ticking over more than adequately with thirteen major trophies in the next nine seasons.

History then repeated itself when Paisley eventually retired, with Joe Fagan moving up the line and promptly winning three trophies in his first season.

Embed from Getty Images

Other successful clubs have seen a long-term manager voluntarily move on and so naturally turn to their number two to take their place. This has resulted in more mixed results. When Ipswich Town manager, Sir Bobby Robson, departed Portman Road for Lancaster Gate and the England manager’s job in 1982, he left behind his assistant, Bobby Ferguson. Ferguson, alas, was unable to replicate either the Liverpool model or his predecessor’s sterling achievements, and after five seasons he was unceremoniously sacked, with the club down in the Second Division.

A similar, if less dramatic, fall from grace occurred at Goodison Park when Howard Kendall decamped (the first time) in 1987 for pastures new. Having written himself into Goodison history with two league titles in three seasons, Kendall moved into Spanish football with Athletico Bilbao, handing over the Everton reins to his Number Two, Colin Harvey.

Despite top-four finishes and Wembley appearances, the change was far from being an unqualified success and Harvey lasted just over three years before being sacked and, rather bizarrely, rehired as Number 2 to the returning Kendall.

Whilst these ‘succession plans’ have either succeeded or haven’t in football over the years, the proverbial handover of the hot seat has, in the main, been amicable and mutually agreed. Ironically, perhaps the only slight exception to this rule in the cases thus outlined concerns that of Shankly handing the baton to Paisley. Legend has it that within a few weeks of retiring Shanks felt he had made a mistake and wanted to come back as manager. When this suggestion was dismissed by the Liverpool board, relations between the two men were said to have cooled somewhat.

Embed from Getty Images

However, there have been many a case in the annals of time in which a manager has been unceremoniously fired from his position only to find his immediate successor to be none other than his previous assistant and right-hand man. While the majority of these cases have been on a short-term basis as a permanent successor was either sought or locked down, there have been several high-profile cases when this has not been the case and such appointments have been permanent.

When this happens, it’s perhaps not hard to fathom the wide range of emotions the departed manager might be going through.

There might be many reasons for a Number 2 to stay on after his immediate boss has had his services dispensed with, of course, and the shout of ‘disloyalty’ and ‘betrayal’ may be both premature and disloyal.

For example, contractual obligations may play a part in as much that although the ‘Number One’ has been dismissed – with compensation – the Number Two has not. This means that if he were to ‘walk out in sympathy’ with his former colleague, he would be in breach of contract and so not entitled to any sort of compensation. This was notably the case when Terry Connor controversially stepped up and into the breach at Wolverhampton Wanderers after Mick McCarthy had been sacked a few years ago.

Other cases, however, are less clear-cut.

One of the most infamous cases involves that of former West Ham playing colleagues and one-time close friends: Billy Bonds and Harry Redknapp. Both served the club as players – In Bonds’ case from the 1960’s up to the late 1980s – and in 1990 Bonds was given the opportunity to succeed Lou Macari in the Upton Park hot seat. In the meantime. Redknapp was beginning to carve out a name for himself and a career in management at Bournemouth.

In the summer of 1992, following relegation, Bonds approached Redknapp with a view to him being appointed West Ham Number 2. Redknapp was given a special remit concerning training and so it was an option he was keen to explore. After some deliberation, he signed on the dotted line and the two men worked together to secure promotion at the first time of asking, and to ensure safety and survival in the fledging Premier League the next season.

That’s when things started to go wrong. Redknapp tells one version of events as to what happened next, while Bonds tells another, but the long and the short of it is Bonds ultimately left the club after refusing a ‘move upstairs’ and ‘Arry got the main gig. The falling out from the affair was such that the two men have not spoken since.

Bonds undoubtedly feels he was ‘betrayed’ by his former friend, who he went as far as to accuse of going behind his back, while Redknapp maintains that the opposite was true and that he was ready to leave the club and return to Bournemouth, only to be persuaded by the West Ham board – and Bonds himself – to hold fire and instead accept the manager’s post at Upton Park. Whatever the truth of the matter, it was a sad end to the two men’s partnership and friendship.

Embed from Getty Images

Going back two decades, there was an earlier acrimonious parting of the ways seen as equally controversial at the time and since. Joe Mercer was appointed Manchester City manager in 1965 and promptly appointed the 38-year-old Malcolm Allison as his assistant. Over the next six years, the two men worked together and enjoyed bountiful success. Once promotion from the Second Division had been secured, the Maine Road side tasted success in all three major domestic trophies as well as the European Cup Winners’ Cup and the Charity Shield.

All of this success meant that what happened next was all the more galling and disappointing, and, again, as with the case of Bonds and Redknapp, there were conflicting stories as to exactly what occurred to cause the split.

According to Allison, he turned down an opportunity to manage Juventus because Mercer had promised him he would step down as City boss by an agreed date, to allow Allison his chance to move into the hot seat. Allison contended that this was an agreement that Mercer later reneged on in an attempt to cling to power.

For his part, Mercer contended that Allison went behind his back and sided with new City owner, Peter Swales, who then installed his former assistant as manager while sidelining Mercer to little more than an honorary position ‘upstairs’. Whatever the truth of the matter was, Allison’s ascension into the manager’s chair was not a success, and after less than eighteen months in sole charge, he suddenly resigned to take over at Crystal Palace where he promptly suffered back-to-back relegations.

In the second and final part of this short series, we will look at the cases of Ron Atkinson and his assistants, as well as peculiar goings on at Highbury before finishing up back at Anfield and looking at the mess Liverpool made post- Dalglish with the appointments of first Graeme Souness and then Roy Evans.