I was astonished, yesterday, when the manager of Hibs, Lee Johnson, had a proper go at the Ibrox club for sacking Van Bronckhorst and seemed to take a swipe at The Mooch as well. I was not astonished at the comments – they were all right on the money – but that someone had dared to say some of it. In this football climate, that took guts.
Johnson was, right away, accused of standing up for managers facing the sack, with the implication being that he is or will soon be one of them.
But of course. What else is a guy supposed to do?
I mean, I guess he could have gone the other way and actually went to visit a ground, as a fan of course, where a boss was under pressure … but most managers do feel a degree of solidarity and kinship with their compatriots at other clubs and aren’t so selfish.
Johnson realises two things that are important. The first is that directors and the higher-ups at clubs always use managers as scapegoats for their own failures and never fall on the sword themselves, and the second is that when you are facing an impossible job no-one should be surprised if you struggle to keep it together.
Van Bronckhorst overachieved with his rag-bag band of players.
That much is evident even to the dumbest person in the country.
He won a major cup competition – which they hadn’t managed in their decade long climb from the bottom tier – and got them to a European final. He kept pace with Celtic as long as he could, but in the end his team ran out of gas.
That was inevitable. In part because whatever was fuelling that side under Gerrard (everyone knows I have my own theory on that) no longer was … but mostly because we are just a little bit too good now, just a little bit too strong for them.
Johnson realises what all neutrals do when they watch us.
That we have become a formidable unit, a winning machine.
For all The Mooch may kid himself, and others may join in his delusion, that their club would have beaten us to the title last season if Van Bronckhorst never took the reins, the truth is that but for our shaky start we’d have been over the hills and far away before he even got his feet under Gerrard’s old desk. Just as we are in this campaign.
There are those who will say that Johnson is a fool for bringing this stuff up at the present time, as if he’s daring The Mooch to gut him like a fish. I wonder if that’s going to happen though, and over the long term I certainly don’t think it will.
All the warnings that have been fired at this guy – and he has shocked people in management who didn’t think they could be shocked – have come from south of the border, and that’s where Johnson hails from. That’s possibly why he wasn’t intimidated into silence, why the idea of speaking up doesn’t bother him and why he’s done it so readily.
The Mooch still has no idea that damage he has done to his reputation and career. Almost everyone in the business who watched this little charade unfold knows he stabbed a fellow manager in the back and they aren’t going to forget it.
He will pay a high price for it eventually, perhaps a higher one than he thinks.