Well, I suppose the biggest surprise is that it took four months for anyone to do it, but the sacking of Iain Dowie (left) by Charlton Athletic this afternoon is the first Premiership managerial sacking of the season and, rather like newspapers with obituaries, I feel somewhat obliged to cover this story. Dowie, as his beaten-up face will attest, is from the school known as “hard knocks”. Strangely, Wiki ignores the fact that he started his playing career at St Albans, before going on to Cheshunt, and Hendon before being spotted by Luton.
As a player, he always struck me as an average Premiership striker, but this was good enough for Northern Ireland, for whom he won almost 60 caps. He never won any major trophies as a player, but seemed to keep going against all odds. As a manager, his record has been mixed. At Oldham, he was successful at a club that was financially stricken. At Crystal Palace, he took them from nineteenth place in the Championship into the Premiership. Having got there, the odds were always going to be against him keeping them up, but his team had more of a spine than many expected, and it was only on the last day of the season that they eventually slipped back through the trap-door. It’s not really necessary for me to comment here on his time at Charlton. They are bottom of the Premiership for a very good reason, and it’s difficult to see how they’re going to pull themselves out of the mire.
That said, though, it is rather sad that Charlton have done this. They were the model of the virtuous club, keeping faith in Alan Curbishley through a couple of relegations while he arranged the structure of the club to make it financially viable for them to not merely have to survive in the Premiership. It seems that they have now got ideas above their station. Those of you with a long memory will remember that I tipped them to struggle this season, but not necessarily because of Dowie’s appointment. It struck me that they hadn’t sufficiently strengthened their squad during the summer, and that the decent available players had all gone elsewhere. The question is this: what benefit do they stand to gain from sacking their manager three months into the season? Off the top of my head, there are no really good managers available at the moment. Who are they going to go for? David O’Leary? Mike Newell? No-one outstanding springs to mind.
All of this comes the week after Alex Ferguson celebrated his twentieth anniversary in charge of Manchester United. It is now generally accepted that Ferguson was, several times, one match away from the sack in his first three or four years in charge at Old Trafford. The decision that changed the course of United’s future was the decision not to fire him at one of these points – to look at the wider picture and to see the blossoming of the youth policy that would become the cornerstone of their success throughout the 1990s. Today, United are top of the Premiership, and Charlton are bottom. At the current rate, I wouldn’t mind betting that neither club will be too far from where they are now come the end of the season.