Joint managers: A hiding to nothing

Daniel Storey

It must be weird being Alan Curtis at the moment. By all accounts the goodest of good eggs, Curtis has been at Swansea since God was a lad, dutifully performing assorted roles on the coaching staff having had three spells there as a player.

“The number of roles I’ve had here is probrably in double figures,” Curtis told the South Wales Post recently. “It’s been just about everything I suppose.”

Everything he has been, but he also appears to be a rather reluctant manager. Curtis admitted a few weeks ago that he never really wanted the top job at the Liberty, and joked that they kept him around because he’s the only one who knows where the kettle is. Despite this, he was given the gig until the end of the season when football’s finest Thomas Turgoose impersonator Garry Monk was given an invitation to ‘Dumpsville – Population: You’, a process that ended up being sticky, to say the least.

Chairman Huw Jenkins admitted that they binned Monk without having a new man in mind, and subsequently scrabbled around when looking for one. “Finding a replacement hasn’t been easy,” said Jenkins, which – when you consider that even Aston Villa managed to convince a young(ish) manager with a fine reputation to take over that basket case – makes you wonder exactly what heinous vibes they’re giving off in South Wales.

“We didn’t want to make a short-term decision that would be detrimental to the club long term,” said Jenkins last week, when Curtis was confirmed as their interim boss, news which at least gave the club a modicum of certainty in an uncertain world, and allowed everyone to settle down a bit.

Until, that is, the announcement this week that Francesco Guidolin would be arriving at the Liberty Stadium to work alongside Curtis but not, despite some reports, as joint manager. “You couldn’t have a joint managership. It’s got to be one or the other and I am quite happy for Francesco to have that,” said Curtis, confirming his good eggness, his desire to remain in the background a little and also toe the party line.

The Italian will be head coach, while Curtis remains interim manager, a juggling of titles that sounds a bit like one of those American corporations where they make everyone a vice-president to make them feel important. Or that story about the film ‘Towering Inferno’, in which an argument over billing lead to Steve McQueen’s name being placed first but lower, and Paul Newman second but higher on the poster, so that the former could say he was first-billed, and the latter top.

Even putting aside the joint manager thing, it’s a rather confusing business. Swansea sacked a man while having no earthly idea who his replacement would be, then claimed they could find no replacement so asked the bloke who’s there anyway to do it. Magically a week later they found a replacement, thus making themselves look like bumbling boobs of the first water. It does deliver a kick in the pants to their reputation as one of the more sensible, well-run clubs in the Premier League.

Still, it’s a good job they didn’t go in for the co-managers hoo-ha, because such an idea doesn’t exactly have an outstanding history of success. The most obvious (relatively) recent example is Roy Evans and Gerard Houllier at Liverpool, an experiment that lasted a few months in 1998 until everyone realised it was a terrible idea. “It was the joint management situation which was more of a problem for the players, the staff and the media,” said Houllier when Evans left, in seemingly one of football’s few accurate uses of the term ‘mutual consent’, 12 games into the season. Brad Friedel later claimed that the press conference announcing Houllier’s appointment was the first Evans heard of the arrangement, the poor old boy assuming Houllier would be the club’s technical director. You can understand why that didn’t go spectacularly well.

Bolton tried it with Roy McFarland and Colin Todd in 1995, but 28 games and two wins later McFarland was binned, admitting recently: “There were certain decisions that were difficult to make with two people in charge.” Alan Curbishley’s early days at Charlton were shared with Steve Gritt (a man with a name that sounds like it comes from a Steve Bruce novel), who was there for four relatively mediocre but by no means bad seasons in the early 1990s, before the club decided they’d be better off with just one manager. “I couldn’t do anything about it,” he said in the book ’90 Minute Manager’ written, appropriately enough, by two people. “It was just a change of club policy when Charlton decided to go with one manager out of the two of us…and they chose Curbs.”

Probably the most successful example of this slightly curious arrangement came at Coventry in 1987, when they won the FA Cup under the dual control of John Sillett and George Curtis, appointed at the end of the previous season when they just kept City in the First Division. But even that arrangement didn’t last, as Curtis left in the summer to give Sillett sole charge. There have been other examples, notably Attilio Lombardo and Thomas Brolin at Crystal Palace and Doug Livermore and Ray Clemence at Spurs, but none have lasted particularly long.

That said, the success or otherwise of ‘joint/co-managers’ might be more a semantic issue than anything else. There have been great managerial partnerships in the past, but usually when one of the team has been secure enough in their ego to be called ‘assistant’. And, most of the time when those assistants have gone on to be the top man, they haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory.

The situation at Swansea is still something of a mess, and they doubled down on their gambles by bringing in a man who has only worked outside Italy once (a forgettable season with Monaco), but at least they’ve avoided something really calamitous.

Nick Miller