Managing for Survival

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‘The buck stops here’, a rare case of a politician telling the truth, but also a statement that has resonance in many walks of life.  More than anything it is a phrase that Paul Jewell should spend some time pondering on as he plans the next phase of his managerial career.  It may well do him some good.

This season has seen Jewell in new territory.  He had brought a team into the top flight before, and kept them there, but he wasn’t around to help them take the next steps.  For whatever reason, those next steps have proved faltering ones at Latics.

The easy response is to say that Jewell has reached his natural limit.   The opinion that Jewell does not have the nous, or the wherewithal, to manage a top flight team has been spreading around both the stands and message boards for a while now and there may be something in it.

As always, it’s likely that the truth is more complex.  For the first time in his Latics career, Jewell’s decisions have come back to bite him.  Yes, the biggest one may have been tactical (we have to assume that the decision to model our play on Bolton’s was deliberate, especially with the employment of Mark Seagraves) but the smaller ones have arguably been more destructive.

Whether it be the signings of Hall and Kilbane, the reluctance to blood new players (what was the point in bringing in Haestad, Granqvist and Aghahowa?), letting good, honest players leave or relying on a fourth division striker and a kid from Wales to save us from relegation the season has been littered with wrong turns and bad decisions.

Of course not everything has gone Jewell’s way.  Major injury to key players combined with niggles and suspensions have seen him unable to pick his best team, and quite often the same team, from week to week.  Refereeing decisions have rarely gone our way and luck has almost never been with us.

Ultimately, the responsibility for these things also falls at Jewell’s door.   Unless he tells us otherwise, he has made the decision to keep his squad small.   He may have had little say in the departure of Chimbonda, Bullard and Roberts but he surely could have done more to keep other players at the club. 

Hindsight is a privilege that only fans can call on, but surely Kavanagh, Henchoz and even David Connolly would have played their part if they had stayed at the club.  What price for someone with Gary Teale’s pace over the last few weeks of the season?
There has been an increasing feeling in recent weeks that Jewell has lost the dressing room, if that’s true then it’s not because of anything he has done or said to the players, it’s because he has seen both the glue and backbone of last season’s squad disappear and replaced it, in the main, with players that find his approach alien. 

Could you see any of this year’s class show the same faith in the manager that Leighton Baines did when signing his latest contract?

Jewell’s persistence with the weary legs and weak hearts that he has made his squad from has gone a long way to help him lose the goodwill of the fans.  Until this season Jewell has enjoyed the backing of the majority.  Even those with doubts have accepted him as the ‘best we could get’.  Slowly but surely that has been eroded. 

Of course events on the pitch have taken their toll but even if results had been better Jewell has done his best to push us away.  The perceived courting of a ‘bigger’ job and disparaging comments about the standard and volume of Latics are a dangerous mix.  From being one of us Jewell has been transformed into a man who, just like his players, is in it for his own end.

Equally, but perhaps most hurtfully, Jewell has held his hands up just the once (after the Liverpool game) and took the blame.  His previously honest demeanour masked under a slew of it ‘were him, not me’ style excuses and bizarre claims of good performance/bad result.

This has seen a previously unthinkable situation where dodgy decisions and the Premier League’s cop out over West Ham have been met not only with widespread indignation but with calls for the manager to ‘stop whinging and get on with it’.
Even if Jewell manages the job at hand and keeps Latics up the situation has an end of the road feel to it.  The chairman seems reluctant to wield his well worn axe so it’s up to Jewell to walk.  The fans have given him plenty of excuses and you suspect that it won’t take much of an opportunity to prise him away. 

If it’s not the end of the road them it’s certainly the end of a chapter.  If Jewell stays then he’s got a big job on his hands just to get the fans onboard.  Success on the pitch might do him some favours in that regard but the situation will take a long time to repair.  If this relationship is going to make its seventh year, then it will be an itchy road.

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