WESTLEY SACKED: A '˜Hokey-Cokey' manager who fans had started calling David Brent
To use a Graham Westley buzzword Peterborough United chairman Darragh MacAnthony dismissed his manager with impressive clinicality tonight (April 23).
The owner had seen enough. He’d had enough. He decided to act decisively after watching the latest witless, lifeless display, and maybe having heard the latest in a long line of baffling post-match interviews by a man who seemed to think he was a cross between Sir Alex Ferguson and Winston Churchill in terms of motivation and oratory.
Westley is far from a stupid man, but he couldn’t relate to football fans any more successfully than he was relating to his playing squad. He might as well have been speaking in Swahili when answering direct questions rather indirectly.
Today’s post-match phrases included ‘falling off a bike, to be able to ride a bike successfully’ and ‘big picture management, rather than game day management’. Last weekend’s was ‘I live in a house not in the sky,’ which caused puzzled bemusement among reporters and led to one popular fans’ forum labelling him ‘David Brent,’ a delusional, idio-syncratic manager in Ricky Gervias’ comedy-vehicle ‘The Office’.
I’ll miss Westley as a journalist because he was very quotable (once you’d worked out what the quotes meant), very approachable and very available, but as a life-long Posh fan I won’t miss him at all. The copy he provided was often good (even if the sermons didn’t always stand up to scrutiny), but the performance his players have provided since going out of the FA Cup to West Brom were not very good at all.
And was it likely to get any better any time soon? Or even next season? I doubt it and more importantly MacAnthony doubted it as well. Second-half tactics today seemed to consist of long balls down the channels, a tactic Westley has employed with success at smaller clubs, but a tactic that MacAnthony will not contemplate at his club.
And yet it had all started so well. To be honest Brent could have followed Dave Robertson into the Posh manager’s job last September and been confident of delivering improvement. Robertson had quickly sucked the joy out of watching Posh, but Westley was a left-field appointment by MacAnthony who ignored fans’ concerns (and warnings from Preston supporters who still have panic attacks over Westley’s spell at Deepdale) in appointing a man who had paid his own air fare to the United States to tout for the job.
Posh were perhaps lucky Grant McCann was in charge for two games. He introduced a midfield diamond, a passing game and players who were better than the ones Robertson had been using. A 5-1 win at Oldham was followed by a creditable home draw with Walsall and Westley was smart enough not to change a winning formula, one that he led to a fifth place position in League One before Christmas.
Posh were scintillating at Scunthorpe in November and dynamic at Sheffield United in January, but the wheels started to wobble when injuries, suspensions and the sale of top scorer Conor Washington forced Westley to make key selection, tactical and signing decisions. The’ve since fallen off.
Westley won great credit for Washington’s improvement, but his skills back-fired on him. Few regular watchers of the new Northern Ireland striker would have denied £2.5 million was great business for Posh, but recruiting a suitable replacement failed and presumably the manager had the final say on signings.
Westley didn’t name an unchanged side once from January 16 onwards. Players became confused, especially new signings like Adil Nabi and Harry Toffolo who were quickly deemed unfit for purpose. Straight after an honourable FA Cup exit, Westley made over 50 changes in the following eight matches as players came in, went out and came back in again. Westley was a ‘Hokey-Cokey’ manager with the inevitable losses of form, matches and league position.
To be honest it’s a shock to see Westley depart now and not in the summer, but then MacAnthony has face-to-face meetings with wavering season ticket holders tomorrow (April 24) and his decision might just have dis-armed most of them. There is one fewer reason not to renew now.
The braver fans might like to question MacAnthony’s own record in appointing Posh managers and point out what a huge decision he now faces. His stated intention is to win promotion next season so this next appointment just has to work, which I seem to remember saying after the previous two departures.
MacAnthony has made seven permanent managerial appointments in his nine-and-a-half years at London Road and only Darren Ferguson has been a success, albeit twice. Mark Cooper, Jim Gannon, Gary Johnson, Dave Robertson and now Graham Westley have been disappointments.
Maybe McCann, who is in charge for the final two games of the season, hasn’t been too tainted by association with the Robertson and Westley regimes and stands a chance. He is popular among players and supporters, but appointing a rookie might be seen as a risk.
Steve Evans has enjoyed a taste of the big (ish) time at Leeds United and has been linked with Celtic so rule him out for now. Ferguson won’t be appointed for a third time either.
Naturally the bookies have been quick off the mark in compiling odds on the next Posh manager. McCann is 7/4 favourite, followed by Steve Cotterill, who won the League One title with Bristol City last season, at 4/1
WESTLEY’S POSH RECORD
P41 W18 D7 L16 F71 A56