English Football

Stevenage break the habit, but there’s no such thing as a sure-fire “winner”

stevenage160-46079Great players don’t always make great managers, they say. Teddy Sheringham was not an all-time great in the mould of Bobbys Charlton and Moore, but he enjoyed an outstanding career that included an astonishing 51 England caps, 898 games, 355 goals, three Premier titles, one FA Cup and a never-to-be-forgotten UEFA Champions League win.

With credentials like that, Stevenage have secured the services of someone who knows what success is all about. He is also someone who is accustomed to taking a gamble, judging by his more recent poker career. So you could say that a man like Sheringham may have an idea of what he’s walking into at Stevenage.

The press have called Stevenage’s hiring of Sheringham an “audacious swoop”. It’s no such thing. Sheringham’s only experience in a track-suit was 12 months as “attacking coach” at West Ham United. He probably wasn’t on many people’s priority lists, so Stevenage represents just as big a move for Sheringham as it is for Stevenage. There’s only 92 jobs in Football League management, far more than there are possible applicants, so there’s no reason to claim that Stevenage are the lucky ones here – he is fortunate to have a management job. Just because he had a good playing career does not make Sheringham a shoe-in for a top role.

That is not to say he won’t do well at the Lamax Stadium. He has admitted he is walking into the unknown, but his playing experience and network will obviously benefit Stevenage. How that translates into management remains to be seen. Comments like, “I’ve got to find a winning formula to win matches…I know it’s going to be difficult”, suggest he may take time to acclimatise to that “unknown”.

But it does not seem that Stevenage are merely going down the road of being seduced by a big name, although Sheringham will probably be the biggest name to come to the club. Chairman Phil Wallace, one of the richest men in Hertfordshire according to a “rich list” compiled by Hertfordshire Life magazine, is a shrewd operator who has taken Stevenage into the Football League and kept them there. Wallace has had a habit of reverting to a “comfort zone” when he’s looking for a manager, hence Graham Westley’s three stints in the dugout and Paul Fairclough being brought back for a second spell in 2000. Sheringham’s appointment hints at a new direction for a club that has flown high very quickly, from its Ryman Division One days in the late 1980s to the top six of League One in 2012.

The former Manchester United and England striker has already started to build his backroom team, hiring former Colchester United midfielder, Kevin Watson as his assistant. While Watson comes in, around a dozen players have been released by the club. Sheringham has also made Morecambe’s Mark Hughes, a centre half, his first signing.

Stevenage will be looking to improve on 2014-15, a season which began slowly but as momentum built, they mounted a promotion bid. They lost in the play-offs to Southend. While some believe that Sheringham is inheriting a “squad on the up”, the team that begins 2015-16 is sure to look different to the side that lost to Southend. Four of that team – Andy Bond, Roarie Deacon, Simon Walton and Chris Beardsley have left, along with squad members Jon Ashton, Calvin Zola and Sam Beasant. Sheringham will want to bring his own men in.

So the jury should be out for the time being on Sheringham. As a manager, he’s got much to prove. And locally, people may recalls that other big names have been brought in down the years but failed to deliver – witness Brian Stein (Luton and England) at Baldock Town and Kerry Dixon (Chelsea and England) at Hitchin. People talk about certain football folk being “winners”, and most are not. It should be, “he wants to be a winner”. With Sheringham, you can say, he has certainly been a winner. Whether he can continue to be one in management is another matter. His arrival, however, is sure to provide a boost to enthusiasm for the club in the new town.

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