By John Morgan
Sheffield United made a massive mistake in not trying to move heaven and earth to secure the services of Sean O'Driscoll.
Timing and availability are so very important when you appoint a manager, with the right person being around at the right time to take the job. This was certainly the case when Dave Bassett and Neil Warnock were appointed.
Warnock had and always will have his critics but even they cannot deny that the club has gone downhill since he departed, with the exception of a couple of high points under Kevin Blackwell.
Watford stupidly sacked Bassett and most of us felt that he would never come to Bramall Lane as he wouldn’t stray from his Cockney roots. But he came, he saw and he conquered and even saw off Reg Brealey, but had had enough when Mike McDonald took over. Who could blame him?
In both instances (Bassett and Warnock) it was a case of the right manager being available at the right time. But these two examples pale into insignificance when you go back to the early ‘60s when the club made John Harris manager.
Harris was player-manager and then manager at Chester, where in over three years he took them from the bottom of the old fourth division to promotion before he left for the Lane with Chester high up in Division Three. He was ready to prove himself at a higher level and he became United’s most successful post-war manager, staying for 13 years.
Someone like John Harris comes along maybe once or twice in a lifetime but there was such a man available at Christmas 2010 when United made the decision to appoint Adams, no doubt thinking about the last time they appointed a manager who was also a Blade, and the success that followed.
The person I’m referring to is the Doncaster Rovers manager Sean O’Driscoll. I was born in Doncaster and lived for many years at Denaby and have always had a soft spot for the club.
O’Driscoll has them fighting way, way above their weight and they are very attractive to watch. He has worked a miracle at Donny and, with the exception of Billy Sharp, has brought in a large number of players from the lower leagues or non-league, with very little cash outlay. Woods, Stock and Coppinger are the best known of the bunch and he has also got John Oster, who had skill but never used it to the best of his ability at other clubs, playing the best football of his life.
When we played them at the Keepmoat in October I made full back Mustapha Dumbaya the best player on the pitch. O’Driscoll spotted his potential and took him from non-league football and he cost peanuts.
There are some amazing similarities between Sean O’Driscoll and John Harris. Just like O’Driscoll, Harris liked to play attractive football, he could spot talent ahead of the pack and he was a very quiet, almost shy individual. But I believe O’Driscoll has taken Doncaster as high as they will go and in this respect he made a rare error of judgement in not moving on and United made an even more massive mistake in not trying to move heaven and earth to try to capture his services.
So why did he not get him? On local radio, chief executive Trevor Birch virtually stated that he wanted O’Driscoll and did everything but mention his name. He said that he had somebody in mind that “he might be difficult to get”.
The following day John Ryan, the Doncaster chairman, said that he had heard the Birch interview and it was obvious that O’Driscoll was the man he wanted. Ryan even went on to say that he was considering options for a new manager for if Sean departed. O’Driscoll appeared receptive to the thought of coming to Bramall Lane but took some heat out of it as he presumably didn’t want to put himself in an impossible situation with the clubs playing each other on January 3rd.
Most supporters I have spoken to, even those who did not have O’Driscoll as first choice, were very surprised that he did not get the nod.
In the fullness of time we may discover why it never happened and there are one or two rumours doing the rounds, with the most credible being that United were not prepared to pay Doncaster compensation for O’Driscoll’s backroom staff. I know we are in recessional times but if we have missed out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to really take the club forward I will be extremely disappointed.
I have always been a staunch supporter of Kevin McCabe and can see he was going down the Warnock road with the appointment of Adams but I wish instead he had taken the M1 and M18 roads to Donny and come back with O’Driscoll.
I know it is all very hypothetical but if he had come it would have taken him at least 12, probably 18, months to turn it round.
It took him that long at Donny and at one time some of their supporters were calling him Sean O’Dreadful. He may have taken us down before the new beginning kicked in with an influx of players and numerous exits from the club.
This would have given him a problem as time is not a commodity that some United supporters will give to any manager. The fact that he is basically shy would have irked some fans as well. Two or three Christmases ago, to avoid attending the club’s Christmas party, he journeyed half way round the country to watch a player in a reserve game!
He once famously remarked, when asked by a reporter what advice he would offer to anyone coming into football management for the first time; “Totally ignore every bit of advice given to you by your supporters.” That would have served him well if he had come here as we have quite a few who think they can do a far better job than the manager.
One Blade said to me that O’Driscoll can’t be that good as his team threw away a 2-0 lead when we played them and got in their faces and stopped them playing the fast, attractive football they are good at. I would retort that they were down to 10 men and were missing some big players in Woods, Stock and Dumbaya.
But the bigger picture is that with O’Driscoll in charge we would not have to get in teams’ faces to stop them playing as the boot would be on the other foot, with teams trying to stop us playing.
A lot of our supporters moaned about Kevin Blackwell’s long-ball game and I suppose the same people would have moaned about us playing too much football.
But we move on and while it is abundantly clear who I would have liked as manager, I genuinely wish Micky Adams and Alan Cork every success. My son and me will be there, every game, home and away. Micky will be well suited to take on the fire-fighting element of the job and will be judged longer term after he has, hopefully, put the fire out.
It will be interesting to see what type of game we play. I have seen Port Vale play a couple of times on my travels and they certainly got the ball forward early and they won both games I saw. Blackwell was castigated for playing long ball and even received flak when we were winning matches using this tactic.
If Micky’s team gets the ball to the business end of the pitch at the earliest opportunity how will the Lane faithful react?