Darren Ferguson was younger and less experienced than Grant McCann is now, when he was an inspirational apppointment to the post of Peterborough United manager in January, 2007.
And Ferguson, no matter what the revisionists among Posh supporters try and tell you, is the most successful manager in the club’s history. He proved that rookies can be successful bosses. Further afield Neil Harris has proved at Millwall this season that rookies, who also happen to be club legends, can also thrive.
Of course McCann is a gamble. All managerial appointments are a gamble. But if he didn’t take the job now, it’s hard to see when the time would have been right. In many ways following an intense man like Graham Westley into the Posh hotseat is ideal, although it’s also fair to say Kim Jong-Un’s presence would probably have lightened the mood around the club in March and most of April.
McCann is a hugely popular figure within the club and among the Posh supporters. More importantly he’s respected by all. His softly-spoken manner (a perfect antidote to recent predecessors), the football wisdom he has picked up in a career covering three divisions of the Football League and his knowledge of what makes Posh, and just as importantly chairman Darragh MacAnthony, tick were massive advantages in the search for manager number 32 in the club’s Football League era.
McCann is no ordinary rookie anyway. This is a man with 577 career appearances. This is a man who has won two promotions from League One as a player, one of them with Posh. This is a man who has been a class act for most of his 20 years in the game.
This is also a man who has been preparing for this moment for a decade. He’s never been one of those footballers who goes through the motions in training for two hours before jumping in the flash car and shooting off home. McCann is a student of the game, one who has studied coaches and their methods. He’s never been afraid to pick their brains for ideas.
McCann knows the current Posh squad and he will know how to get the best out of every one of them. There is no chance for instance of Marcus Maddison being taken to task for not running as far as Jon Taylor in a game.
The doubters will say he’s a cheap option (irrelevant as ability is more important than price), that he is too close to the players and that he will struggle to impose discipline as a result. Some will say he will struggle to fight his corner with a demanding chairman.
I believe McCann will prove all his critics wrong. He was not slow to stand up to Ferguson when the pair fell out early in 2015. McCann is a highly principled man who might not shout and scream from the rooftops, but he won’t suffer fools gladly either. It’s probably safe to assume that McCann had a say in the departure of his friend and former team-mate Gaby Zakuani from the ABAX Stadium last week.
Of course public player praise is not to be trusted entirely. Players, well most of them anyway, are not stupid. They play the game with the media by saluting managers and coaches in print, while thinking the opposite privately. Zakuani, one of the top blokes in my time covering the club, rushed to sign Dave Robertson’s praises at the start of this season. Only last month Jack Baldwin behaved like a captain should by backing Westley publicly when trust in that manager had all but disappeared.
But trust me, the players’ comments re McCann are genuine. The players recognise McCann’s excellent career at Posh and elsewhere. They genuinely do enjoy his coaching, not because it’s easy, but because it’s structured and enjoyable. The affection for McCann as a person is also total.
But managing Posh has become a tough gig for anyone lately. His chairman will expect promotion, he will expect lots of goals, great football and a buzz around the ABAX that hasn’t been experienced since the early days of Ferguson’s two spells in charge.
McCann will most likely need help from an experienced assistant and some better players to support the good ones he has inherited. If he gets both, at the very least I’d expect Posh to mount a play-off challenge in League One next season.
Good luck Grant. A city is behind you.