Can appointing managers more often than Theresa May tries to reopen a negotiation be a good thing? It certainly doesn’t look good, and doesn’t reflect well on our long-term planning, something which we appeared to be getting right since the departure of Gary Mills. However, there’s also a possibility that this latest drama could be a good thing. Like the discovery of penicillin, we might accidentally have caught a break.
Just a couple of days ago I was thinking that we’d landed ourselves in a bit of a mess with the appointment of a new management team on long term contracts. Results have deteriorated after a promising start, and the profile of Graham Barrow and Mike Newell didn’t seem to quite fit with that long-term plan I mentioned earlier.
The problem was how do you get out of that situation? With a combined five years of contract between them, Barrow and Newell were essentially unsackable for a team of our means. Perhaps this week’s events have freed us up to make the change which is required.
The thing is, we’ve got to get the next appointment right for this to turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Bryan with a Y arrives with a why, a how and a what? I’m not saying that appointing a manager with no first team experience is reckless. After all, the last two times we did that, they were poached by higher division teams.
In fact, ten of our last sixteen managers were first-time appointments, and they have tended to fare better than more experienced bosses. The only managers to lead us into the play-offs are Andy Morrell, Dean Saunders and Dixie McNeil; Brian Flynn and John Neal are our two longest-serving managers and, along with Arfon Griffiths, earned us promotion. Admittedly Mel Sutton was boss when we were relegated to the Third Division, but he was operating under difficult financial conditions, and even Brian Carey, whose time in charge was obviously unhappy, saved us from the drop to the National League. That’s better than you can say about Brian Little, we were relegated under Bobby Roberts too, and you could hardly argue that Gary Mills or Kevin Wilkin were able to draw on previous success to make their time in North Wales a success.
However, Hughes has less direct connection with the professional game than our previous first-time appointments. Morrell was still playing, Saunders and Ricketts had accumulated impressive coaching CVs at big clubs, and Dean Keates was accumulating his coaching badges while gaining professional experience and keeping close tabs on the situation at The Racecourse.
Hughes’ credentials, beyond working at an academy, are less clearly defined. He has management experience, albeit at a lower level, but was dismissed as joint-coach of Scarborough AFC following a run of five consecutive defeats. Sounds uncomfortably familiar, although to be fair he was operating against a background of budget cuts. At least that ought to be better preparation than his previous stint as academy manager at the UK FootGolf Association.
His most recent experience was as Head of Coaching at the i2i International Soccer Academy, which looks to be a very similar set-up to the scheme Wrexham developed with Glyndwr University to offer released players an opportunity to acquire a degree while continuing to play. Whether that’s a preparation for coaching a professional team remains to be seen: the Glyndwr Academy certainly had very limited success in terms of the number of graduates who made that transition. It should be pointed out, though, that the academy has had greater success finding players opportunities, most notably Ronaldo Viera, who is currently at Sampdoria.
Still, his lack of experience makes the length of his contract a massive statement. Perhaps this bold gesture is a reaction to the error of handing Barrow long term contract, an attempt to re-establish control by confidently asserting that this reversion to the policy of backing young managerial talent is the right move. Depending on the nature of any release clause, a long contract could also deter offers from clubs from higher up the food chain. It’s a gamble which will look brilliant if it’s vindicated; the alternative is not worth thinking about.
Hughes has the advantage of a fresh pair of eyes as he looks at a squad which is not too far off being what’s required to push at the top end of the table. He’s also remarkably fortunate to inherit as his first big job a club in this position: usually mid-season crisis appointments throw a coach into a disastrous campaign, but despite our recent run of defeats, the top of the table is still within our reach. He also enjoys the loyalty of fans who can remember his smooth gliding through midfield in Brian Flynn’s side of the 1990s. He’s been offering academy players their big opportunity; now he needs to take his.