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The Next Grimsby Manager

By: Richard Lord
Date: 16/09/2008

GRIMSBY Town’s Board of Directors now face the unenviable task of appointing a new manager following their decision to relieve Alan Buckley of his managerial duties after a poor start to the new season.

It is almost certain that their next appointment, like those that have come before it, will polarise the increasingly fractious Town fans.

The Board have one of three routes open to them. Firstly, they can turn to an experienced manager, someone who has tasted success at other clubs in League 2 and above. Secondly, they can look to promote from within or appoint a former player or someone that has had links with Grimsby, in the hope that it will capture the imagination of the fans. And thirdly, they can look to managers experiencing some level of success at non-league level; a manager using modern-day techniques that would relish the opportunity to work with full-time professionals in the Football League.

In these early stages, it is difficult to gauge what type of manager the Board will consider. With geographical location, budgets and reputation in mind, the number of recognised names is dramatically reduced.

Let’s take the first route: an experienced manager that has operated at this level and above. The two names that have been mentioned so far are Mike Newell and Andy Ritchie. Newell led Hartlepool to promotion from League 2 in 2002/3 but was somewhat bizarrely sacked at the end of the season and took up his post at Luton a month later, remaining there for just under four years.

Ritchie cut his managerial teeth at Oldham in 1998 but it was at Oakwell where he gained recognition, leading Barnsley to promotion from League 1 in the play-offs in 2005. However, they faced a relegation battle in the Championship the following season and Ritchie was sacked before Christmas. He took charge of 51 games at Huddersfield last season but failed to fulfil the Terriers’ desire to be in the top six and was sacked in April this year.

Neale Cooper, the manager of Hartlepool United when they hammered Town 8-1, has been out of a job since he departed Gillingham in late 2005, although he has won many more games than he’s lost as a manager and would be a workable option. Gary Peters led Shrewsbury to the League 2 play-offs in 2007 when they lost out 3-1 to a rampant Bristol Rovers. He was sacked in March after the Shrews had not pressed hard enough for a play-off spot.

The second route is to consider such names as Stuart Watkiss, Neil Woods and John McDermott. The argument that this would cause least disruption in the camp and assure an injection of passion and pride is countered by reference to Graham Rodger’s unsuccessful tenure in 2006, and the Board will be wary of taking such action again.

Touting such names as Ivano Bonetti are fanciful and rather over-romanticise the serious need for a sensible head and stability. Paul Groves would be seen as ‘going back’ and Paul Wilkinson, despite his reputation for developing youth, has no previous managerial experience.

As has become custom, the name of Nigel Clough has been banded about, and while this is most unlikely it brings us to the third route – and that is to appoint a manager that would see Grimsby Town as a step up from their current level.

After winning the Blue Square North title last season, Kettering Town have made an encouraging start to their season in the Blue Square Premier. Their manager, Steve Cooper, has brought in a number of ex-league players to blend with his younger squad members. Similarly, Steve Fallon has achieved promotion with Histon, who just missed out on the play-offs in the Blue Square Premier last season. Finally, Neil Aspin of Harrogate Town could be a viable option, having spent four years at the club, achieving top six finishes each season and being renowned for playing a brand of exciting, attacking football.

The problem with appointing a manager from non-league is that it could be seen as a gamble. However, it would bring someone to the club with knowledge of the type of players that are affordable to Grimsby and good enough to perform well in League 2. The likes of George Boyd and Aaron McLean at Peterborough are shining examples of the quality that currently exists in the non-league scene.

Grimsby require a young, fresh manager with experience and knowledge of attainable players, as well as tactical acumen that has been proven elsewhere. The Mariners cannot afford to splash the cash and for my money a Slade-like appointment would be most practical in the circumstances.

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