Of all the things you are told to put on your CV in order to get a job, from being an all-powerful prefect at school to joining the ever-crucial debating society at Uni, there is one thing you need on there in the football world to guarantee you an improved career path – Manager of Portsmouth Football Club.
Amid the turbulence that has seen Pompey tumble from the heights of lifting the FA Cup in 2008,through financial crisis to end up in the lower reaches of League One, one thing has been a constant, any manager who has failed to stop the rot has been rewarded with a very attractive job elsewhere. Unfortunately for this trio of south coast failures, their lack of success followed them to the next port of call, but what was it about their time at Portsmouth that attracted chairmen around the country?
The story starts with Paul Hart in 2009 who, in fairness, kept Pompey in the Premier League when he took over as caretaker at the back end of the 08-09 season. Unfortunately he followed being offered a permanent contract with the worst start any team has ever made to any Premier League season, losing seven straight games. Understandably he didn’t last long but his reputation was fully intact and despite this record breaking failure he was almost immediately ushered in at the newly mega-rich and highly ambitious Queens Park Rangers. It didn’t go well, lasting less than a month. He then suffered similarly short spells at Crystal Palace and Swindon.
Hart’s successor at Fratton Park was the difficult to warm-to Avram Grant, who had the first ever points deduction in Premier League history to deal with, but given they finished eleven points adrift at the bottom of the table, even without the deduction it would have finished been last place for Pompey. It was clearly an incredibly difficult situation for the Israeli, but ultimately he failed nonetheless and the club went down. Grant though seemed to be held in higher regard at that point than he was when he took Chelsea to a Champions League final and second in the Premier League, and he was immediately offered the West Ham job in the top flight. Like Hart, this next move was a disaster as he took the Hammers down in his only season at Upton Park.
Steve Cotterill was the man to take the reins at Portsmouth after Grant, again in tricky circumstances but with a decent Championship level team to work with. The former Notts County manager had a half-decent season, stabilising the club to a degree and finishing a non-descript 16th. Not going down was an achievement of sorts due to the madness that was going on around the club, but as mentioned there were some good players there, 16th was nothing special and Portsmouth fans were far from enamoured with the style of football he introduced. It was enough for Nottingham Forest to come calling though after the resignation of Steve McClaren and duly Cotterill returned to Nottingham to take charge at the City Ground. Again though his move away from Fratton Park was not fruitful, he lasted less than a year at Forest after finishing 19th.
Now we find Michael Appleton in charge at Pompey in League One after they were relegated from the Championship last season. He has arguably had the most difficult job of all, having to deal with a ten point deduction, which if had not been in place would have seen Portsmouth survive, and then losing nearly his entire squad before the start of this season. The side are now in the bottom half of League One, and although you would be a fool not to recognise just how difficult the job Appleton is doing is, a relegation and encampment in the bottom half of the league below is not really working miracles. However, he is now being linked with a return to the Championship and is one of the favourites for the job at Burnley.
So what makes these men who have effectively done little to halt the demise of Portsmouth such attractive propositions for management posts? Well it seems that it has been their attitude and demeanour during what has been a torrid time for the club that has kept their profiles up. They have all been dignified, not moaned and complained about what is a shocking situation for a manager to find themselves in and just got on with it. It seems that getting on with it is what appeals to chairmen and they don’t seem too fussed that it was done with no great success.
The comparison could be drawn with a man mentioned earlier, Steve McClaren who arrived at Nottingham Forest, spent a decent amount of money for Championship level, lost a few games and was off again in no time at all. Although he got his old job back in Holland, there will have been few chairmen in England who would have been keen to offer McClaren a contract after he displayed that kind of spineless attitude. It seems that like the tenacious full-back that has no real talent but works his socks off for the team and will always be a fans favourite for it can still be a role applicable to managers.
Appleton may be the one to buck the trend – he has a lot about him, is young and is building a good reputation in the game. Let’s just hope he doesn’t become the latest in the line of much heralded but ultimately unsuccessful men to manage Portsmouth.
Written by Phil Haigh
Phil tweets at @philhaigh_