Thursday, April 02, 2020
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It’s the game that a certain group of men aged 25-40 have wiled away a worryingly large proportion their lives playing. A precursor to the World of Warcraft phenomenon for people with some social poise, at least a few friends and an interest in football as opposed to goblins. Championship Manager was - and still is - king.  


However, we’re not here to talk about computer games. Instead, let’s turn our attention to the non-fictional Championship manager. The man who earns his crust managing a team in the second tier of English football.  


Being a successful manager in the Championship is an entirely different proposition to succeeding in any other league in the world. And what with the unparalleled pot of riches at the end of the rainbow, the importance of the role cannot be understated.  


Most importantly, successful Championship managers understand the players at that level. On the whole these are not foreign prima-donnas, but home-grown ‘talent’. Men whose determination and commitment is primarily to thank for where they are today; or, conversely, players whose lack of it has prevented them from succeeding at the highest level.   


Neil Warnock and Mick McCarthy, have both been successful in the second tier without ever being the shrewdest of tactical of thinkers. Instead, they are no-nonsense leaders who can get the best out of a motley cast of home-nation pros. They can relate to the squad and motivate them, and understand which players will do a job for them.        


Flavio Briatore and Bernie Ecclestone clearly didn’t consult the history books when they appointed Paolo Sousa at QPR. The closest precedent is Gianluca Vialli’s torrid time at Watford. The former Chelsea manager was parachuted in to the second tier and ended up tarnishing the good reputation he had built up at Chelsea, leaving Watford floundering in the bottom-half of the table with crippling debts.   


What do Warnock and McCarthy have that Vialli and Sousa don’t? Well, the biggest clue’s in the title. And whereas Vialli saw former AC Milan defender, Filippo Galli, and Patrick Blondeau as ideal players for Watford’s promotion push, Warnock got Sheffield United up by banning his players from the pub.    


Life in the Championship can also swiftly ruin a good reputation built up in the Premier League. Just ask Paul Jewell and Aidy Boothroid. Two years ago both were seen as the bright young hopes of English management. Now, having recently left their jobs at Derby and Watford respectively, their stock is considerably lessened. 


The difficulties of managing in the Championship have not gone unnoticed. Sam Allardyce neglected taking the reigns at a lower league club during his one-year exile, Alan Curbishley was not to be tempted back to Charlton, and Steve Maclaren has looked further afield to rebuild his reputation.     


Mastering the vagrancies of a 46-game season that takes you from Plymouth to Doncaster is no mean feat. At least in the Premier League teams know their station and generally don’t get ideas too far above or below it. Ultimately, in terms of longevity and satisfaction, you’d be better off booting up the fictional version of the game.

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