Myself and a mate were at a gig a couple of weeks ago, and enjoying a pint in the pub beforehand.
The discussion turned to the Sevco slide and where it’s gone wrong with them. We discussed Gerrard, and my mate said something that I found fascinating and I wanted to expand on it a little bit. He said “What Sevco needed here was a Michael Howard.”
I got his meaning instantly. “They’re not remotely ready for that yet,” I told him, which he agreed with. Instead they hired an Ian Duncan Smith. These are the kind of decisions that cost organisations years. The point is worth exploring in some detail.
Way back in the sands of time, when Tony Blair was Prime Minister, the Tories struggled to find someone to match him. People forget how chaotic their party was at the time, perhaps even more so than it is now. When John Major resigned in the aftermath of the 1997 electoral hammering they appointed William Hague, best known at that time for the footage of him, as a youngster, giving a speech at the Tory Party conference when he was just 16.
He was a dreadfully ineffective leader, although a fantastic public speaker with a razor sharp sense of humour. (Watch his speech on the office of the EU President on YouTube for a searing example of how witty, engaging and occasionally brilliant he can still be.) When they jettisoned him they had several excellent options – Ken Clarke and Michael Portillo were amongst the favourites – but the membership opted for someone else; Ian Duncan Smith.
I read the Jeffery Archer prison diaries recently, and one of the threads running through the first book is his utter disbelief that the Tories might be ready to elect Duncan Smith as leader. He knew it would be a disaster, because although the party faithful loved him and his right-wing policies the public – at the time – despised everything he stood for.
Many of their MP’s weren’t terribly impressed either; when his allies started referring to him as IDS his enemies put it about that the letters stood for In Deep Shit. He wasn’t as good a speaker as Hague either; he would often have to clear his throat before talking at the dispatch box, and for a few seconds would sound like someone with a bad cold; a Tory MP who couldn’t stand him brutally referred to it as “the croak of doom.”
Tory members, and a handful of their MP’s, believed they had an election winner.
It was a ludicrous notion, but they did believe it. Others believed that chasing that dream was the last thing they needed. They thought what the party required was a firm and steady hand, someone who knew they’d never be Prime Minister, who’s role was simply to bring stability until the next generation of MP’s was ready to take charge.
And so when Ian Duncan Smith was dispatched to the back benches they elected Michael Howard. He did exactly what was required of him. Under his leadership, he promoted a lot of the party’s most promising young MP’s and out of that group David Cameron and George Osborne came. The results of that have been pretty horrific for the country, but the decision to elect Howard did exactly what it was supposed to do, even if it handed Labour a third successive triumph.
Smart organisations do that; they sacrifice short-term gains for long-term results. When Apple ran into trouble in the nineties, because its geeky tech leaders lacked the business acumen to take them forward, they appointed John Sculley from Pepsi to become their CEO. Jobs and Wosniak had all sorts of grandiose visions; he got them to focus on one thing at a time and consolidate rather than taking enormous short-term risks.
He transformed the fledgling company into a real business and although his tenure became known for the office politics – he ousted Steve Jobs from the board amongst other things – their gains were enormous and he left them sitting on the $2 billion cash surplus that allowed the returning Jobs the chance to develop products like nobody had ever seen.
And this is what Sevco needed as a manager, and what we got with Fergus in the boardroom.
A leader who realised that there might not be trophies and titles for a while, but who could see across the horizon. Someone capable of building something in the full knowledge that it would be another person who came along and got the glory for it.
They needed someone selfless, someone who put the institution first, someone who was honest enough to admit that winning was probably an unrealistic goal … who would face the fans and tell them that plain and simple truth that catching Celtic should no longer be the primary concern, not for a while, not until there was something to build on.
They are not building over there. Gerrard cleared out one squad and brought in another, and just months into the job he’s threatening to do the same thing all over again. The board indulges this lunacy because they still believe they can beat us to a title before we hit ten; in fact, they believe they can win this one, as insane as that is.
They haven’t even realised that ten is not what they have to worry about; those who talk about that number as if it’s some kind of stopping point are dreaming.
Someone asked me once when I would worry about what was going on at Ibrox. The word “worry” is erroneous; I will never worry. But I will develop a kind of respect for them when they stop trying to chase us and concentrate, first, on being all they can be.
That will start in the manager’s office. Derek McInnes would have performed that function, but he wouldn’t go. Steve Clarke is one they talk about a lot on their forums, and he’d be a genuine contender, but of course their supporters have issues with him which have nothing to do with his ability as a manager.
I don’t think he’d go there either.
Eventually they have to get serious, and that means explaining some simple truths to their fans and when I said that they are not remotely ready for a Michael Howard type consolidator that’s what I meant. Imagine the reaction they would get if they went in front of their own supporters and told them that the club would have to live with its current status for a while, perhaps even for years, whilst a manager started a job he probably wouldn’t ever get to complete?
In truth, the time for that was six years ago, when Sevco was born in the bottom tier of Scottish football. Had they fired the ineffectual joker McCoist instead of letting him sign SPL rejects to play in the Third Division, had they brought in some young up and comer who had the right ideas, and told their fans that the job would take years, nobody would have had the slightest objection to it. They would have supported it without complaint.
Because back then, they had years.
Now their whole club is consumed with the sound of the big ticking clock in the background, the one towards ten.
And perhaps that’s the real blessing for them, the one they’ve yet to realise. Once we hit ten that particular nightmare is at an end because when the worst thing you can imagine happens there’s really nothing to fear any longer. Perhaps then, with the damage done, their club will be in a place where they can go out and bring in the sort of person who will develop players and build something that can last instead of chasing short-term glory.
And then again, perhaps not.
With the way things are right now, and with the man currently in charge in the boardroom, it’s not even clear if the club can last that long.
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