There are still six months of the season to go but it is hard to imagine there will be a stranger quote. “I’m not going to traipse around the country for two dead frogs and a conker each week,” said Gary Megson on Saturday. Well, who would?
Good luck to the British players in West Bromwich Albion's squad in deciphering that, let alone their foreign counterparts. Megson's reign as caretaker manager began with a 1-1 draw against Tottenham Hotspur at the weekend. It should conclude after Tuesday's match with Newcastle United, with Alan Pardew likely to be appointed.
It feels a strange interregnum, like when a forgotten and not overly popular character from a long-running television show makes an unexpected reappearance, but it is a revealing one nonetheless.
It highlighted the enduring influence of the sacked Tony Pulis, with whom Megson spoke 40 minutes before kick off. The interim manager was his assistant, is cut from the same pragmatic cloth and, while he changed tactics, was never going to rip up a blueprint. Tottenham complained that goalkeeper Ben Foster was time-wasting; such accusations have long been levelled at Pulis' teams.
It was also an indictment of Pulis, who won just two of his last 21 league games. Albion’s display at Wembley showed they underachieved before his dismissal. Pardew’s inheritance will be better than results suggest.
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And it was an endorsement of Megson, a curiously forgotten figure. He changed tactics before and during the game to counter Mauricio Pochettino’s approach. He remarked that the gameplan that worked so well for Spurs against Real Madrid did not succeed against Albion. It felt a vain, if understandable, quest to get credit.
Megson is only 58. He had nine managerial jobs before he was 53 and none since. A gum-chewing, angry presence on the touchline, associated with aesthetically unappealing football, Megson has seemed a footballing anachronism, dismissed as yesterday’s man even though there are similarities in his record and ethos with Pulis and Sam Allardyce, who are both older than him and have remained in regular demand as relegation Red Adairs.
Megson ended Albion’s 16-year absence from the top flight in 2002. He has always been appreciated at The Hawthorns, though not necessarily elsewhere. He was particularly unpopular with Bolton Wanderers fans. He won’t be receiving Christmas cards from some of his former players. Yet, as the Spurs game showed, he has an enduring astuteness.
Managers not always picked on their records; image counts and Megson would present a challenge for the most accomplished of PR operatives. Everton’s increasing inept attempts to appoint a manager show that glitz, glamour, charisma and fame can be overrated and unflashy competence underrated.
Megson’s lost years highlight how some fall off football’s managerial merry-go-round and never contrive to clamber back on. It was tempting to wonder if Pardew, who had become a pundit, was going to be a newer case in point.
He touted himself for the Rangers and Leicester City jobs. That he did not seem to get close to them suggested he was losing his appeal. That he has emerged as the likely appointment at Albion owes something to a convergence of factors: his availability at a point when more glamorous managers are already employed, Premier League experience, which seems a pre-requisite, and a relationship with director of football Nicky Hammond that dates back to their Reading days.
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His managerial record has shown more boom and bust than Pulis’: the highs have been higher, the lows lower. He has been relegated. He has also taken teams into the higher reaches of the Premier League. He tends to play better football. That element ought to suit Albion, whether the dissenting fans who disliked Pulis or the board who were entitled to ask why high-calibre signings such as Grzegorz Krychowiak were not replicating their performances elsewhere.
Perhaps Pardew is fortunate to secure another Premier League post after winning six of his last 36 top-flight games with Crystal Palace. But as Megson can testify, managers can be written off too soon.
Maybe Newcastle’s visit will be an unwanted figure’s last game in the dugout. Any dugout.