There is a popular video clip on YouTube of Brian Laws jumping over a canal. It looks impressive, but bridging the gulf he will face today when he leads Burnley out against Manchester United at Old Trafford today is an altogether different prospect. The man leaping the waterway could never have expected to be a Premier League manager today. He would have expected to be at Barnsley, where Sheffield Wednesday travel trying to avoid relegation from the Championship, the division below the Premier League. He is not going to Oakwell as he was sacked as Wednesday manager late last month. Appointed as Owen Coyle's replacement as manager at Turf Moor on Wednesday, his last nine games were win-less.
On the face of it the appointment seems crazy. Laws has a solid if unspectacular record managing in the English lower leagues, with his teams often following runs of wins with streaks of defeats, and it is hard to avoid the impression the Clarets are expecting relegation and thinking towards next season. Burnley highlighted his ability to achieve success on limited resources as a reason behind his appointment, but his only trophies in 13 years are thanks to promotions from the fourth tier of English football with Scunthorpe in 1999 and 2005.
He is at his best making the most of limited players and transfer budgets, among the players first given a break by Laws is Andy Keogh of Wolves. That is why the Clarets chose him: to mould youngsters into finished articles. They will focus on players like Keogh rather than Francis Jeffers. He was Laws's most expensive signing for Wednesday and was on the transfer list by the time the two parted.
Laws has plenty of experience of the top flight as a player. He was right-back for Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest, where he won the League Cup twice and played in an FA Cup final. He played in the 10 minutes or so of the 1989 FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough that were completed before the result of overcrowding saw Liverpool fans flow on to the pitch leaving 96 dead. Laws began his playing career at Burnley but it is his experiences at Forest that shape him as a manager.
There is an element of Clough in him: his time at Grimsby ended after he used a plate of chicken wings to fracture a cheekbone of his star player, at Scunthorpe he left a loan player almost naked in the car park when he said he did not want to stay and quit for three weeks in 2004 when challenged to avoid relegation. These are all Clough traits and, with Chelsea to follow next week, Laws will need some results similar to those "Old Big Head" oversaw at Forest to keep Burnley up.
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