The Michael Wood Column

Division One 2001-2002 Preview

August 2001

The year of the hard man manager

Last season was about Geoffrey Richmond, at times it was a siege against the man. This year he takes a breather.

Not that our Chairman will be doing less work this term, GR will be working away setting up Up Front across Yorkshire and getting the new stadium facilities up and running, but rather there will be less emphasis on the man and his role this year. This year will be about Jim Jefferies.

This season Division one is littered with good teams and good managers. Keegan at Man City, Vialli at Watford, Moyes at Preston spring to mind. Star name players are harder to find. Beni Carbone is the biggest, Stuart Pearce at Maine Road and the odd man at Coventry perhaps the only one's who can hold a candle to City's Italian. The majority of the squads battling out promotion are level, not much to choose between them. It is a manger's division this year because the managers are the big differences.

Just as in 1999 when City's squad was peer powered to promotion over Ipswich the difference between the squads was negligible. The triumphant teams were the ones that got the most out of the squads they did have.

Example one, Fulham, who did modestly despite near limitless resources until a quality coach, Jean Tigana, was appointed. Tigana got the best out of the squad and the championship was sown up by February.

On the other side of the coin Birmingham have the wealth and resources to go into the Premiership but the coach lets them down. Trevor Francis is unable to get 100% out of the St Andrews resources and so a team that should be on a par with Bolton and Blackburn are more of a Barnsley.

City can not match the resources of either of these clubs, we can not get the depth of squad or sign one or two £2m plus players, but we do have the opportunity to out perform. The key to that opportunity is Jim Jefferies.

The SPL in Scotland is much like Division One when you take the Glasgow two out of the reckoning, much of a muchness in terms of personnel, no team with too much of an advantage. The key to lifting your team from ninth or tenth to third or forth challenging for second is not getting a better class of player in but rather putting a better class of performance out.

Jim Jefferies could point to his Hearts team that won the Scottish cup and made the league a three horse race for most of the season as a fine example of this. A bunch of players that lack boundless talent but achieve more than they should. Colin Cameron excepted International class talent was thin on the ground. But the team of Darren Jacksons and Gary Lockes challenged Rangers and Celtic.

At City Jim has some real quality, Benito Carbone suggests himself, as does David Wetherall, but the real key to promotion to matching a less talented player to the levels of the more illustrious performers.

Robbie Blake is no slouch, but Jim Jefferies must get his performance to approaching Carbone levels. Andy Myers has shown ability, Jim Jefferies job is to get his constancy up to David Wetherall standards. This is the measure of Jim's success this year. Not getting promoted would be failure, not getting Robbie Blake back to 1999 levels would be.

Geoffrey Richmond's pockets could be as deep as a well, but in this division very few players who are genuinely a class apart will join you. The challenge is about marshalling your squad, about getting the most out of players.

In this way the season is about Jim Jefferies.

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