Saturday 12 November 2022

Wrecked Ralph bows out

 So Ralph Hassenhuttl, played by David Morrissey, becomes the third Premier League manager to be sacked by November. Different season, same old shit. 

There will have been other sackings in other leagues - one at Watford obviously and probably another in the post - but I’m too ignorant to know the numbers, seeing as ITV’s highlights coverage of The Championship and beyond has interminable advert breaks that require a clear week to get to the end of. 

There have been several dismissals abroad too, notably a flurry of them in Ligue 1, but as far as the official greatest comp in the world is concerned, Hassenhuttl/Morrissey (H&M) joins Bruno Lage (Wolves) and Tommy Tuchel (Chelsea) as those not surprisingly dismissed, with that lack of surprise based on history and director-panic, rather than untenable situations. 

Yes, admittedly, the Wolves players under Lage seemed to be hit with a deadly drunk potion whenever they entered the penalty area, and Tommy T’s volcanic eruptions clearly lost their magic on his fancy-Dan millionaires, but the Midlands club were hovering about the top six for a lage part of last season (boom!) and it’s still only two years since TT won the CL after just six months in the job. That said, even Roberto Di Matteo did that. 

In fairness to Southampton, H&M was at least their longest serving manager for 30 years, since Chris Nicholls in 1991, even before Geoff Shreeves was invented. A mammoth four years he lasted, a lifetime by today’s standards, the equivalent of Guy Roux at Auxerre, a relationship that spanned two decades. Dario Grady-esque.

Have to say my initial reaction to H&M’s plight was of the eye-rolling nature. I then read that there had only been one win in nine, and of course the number nine plays a menacing role in the now ex Soton manager’s history, worthy of anything conjured up by Pemberton and Shearsmith (apologies to Shearsmith if I’ve got that in the wrong order). 

And yet it is a positive of H&M’s tenure that he was able to supervise impressive mental recoveries from those two red-card inflicted 9-0 record-equalling humiliations at home to Leicester City and at Manchester United - his players even beating their original torturers at the King Power that same season. 

The fact H&M kept the team up is probably an achievement too, as well as guiding them to the FA Cup semi-finals in 2021, their first since Laurie McMenemy lead the Shilton’s and the Wright’s and the Wallace’s and the Armstrong’s to get there in 1984-85. There was also a 1-0 win over Manchester City, televised live on BBC during the pandemic, breaking the channel’s viewing figures. So stuff you going on about your 9-0 bollocks!

H&M brought both a hard-pressing game and that bowing to the crowd thing they do in the Bundersliga. Or at least he did at first. Perhaps, like the accusations that followed his team, it ran out of steam before the end. There were, of course, other issues along the way in addition to the duo of heavy disasters and the dips in energy during the latter stages of games; there was, for example, a backlash from the fanbase when he’d expressed annoyance at having to play an FA Cup game - though the 2020-21 semi-final went some way to appeasing supporters whose like hadn’t been to Wembley since 1976. 

Nathan Jones of Luton Town is replacing H&M, which you’d think I’d be pleased about, given how annoyed I was when Southampton replaced Good old Englishman Nigel Adkins in 2013 for some fly-by-night Argentinian from La Liga played by Danny Dyer.  

Adkins’ team were holding their own in their first season back in the Prem, 12th or something, and had just rescued a draw at good-then Chelsea after being 2-0 down (anyone can win at Stamford Bridge now, indeed H&M’s side won there against TT’s iteration this season) when Poch/Dyer swanned in with no trophies to his names. 

Of course Poch/Dyer turned out to be a coup, so much so that within six years he was leading Tottenham Hotspur to a Champions League Final (though to be fair, even Tommy T has done that), while Adkins has never returned to the Prem, not even for Watford, unless I blinked and missed that one. 

Southampton dusted themselves down from being a club not good enough for the manager to speak without an interpreter, and went after Euro 88 and European Cup ‘92 hero Ronald Koeman of Holland and Barcelona. When he too impressed and fucked off (to Everton - what-a-mistake-a-to-make-a), the former Dell Boys put Mauricio Pellegrino in charge, on the admirable but flawed grounds that his name sounded just like Mauricio Pochettino and might be as good. His failed term led Soton back to the thespian route, appointing Claude Puel, played by Ben Stiller, but despite the new man’s extensive research of the role and a mid-table finish, audiences were numbed by the stilted creative process. 

The return of former player Mark Hughes as Puel/Stiller’s replacement heralded renewed faith in British beef but Jesus didn’t he moan on? So in came Ralph, immediately inspiring a 3-2 home win over Unai Emery’s Arsenal, who’d been unbeaten in 22 games over four months. Four years on, he leaves following a home 4-1 defeat to Newcastoil United but with reputation in tact, if not enhanced and definitely on Watford’s radar. 

But what awaits Ralph now? Well, short-term, he sought solace in an evening at The Southampton Civic Centre watching a performance by the Blue tribute act, Untrue Blue, as he set his stall out to no longer feeling Guilty about a Premier League football team being in a rut. My sources say that a nevertheless fatigued Ralph/David discreetly left before the end of the gig, choosing his moment to go just as the impopstars were encouraging the 1500-strong crowd to get to their feet as the opening tease of All Rise geared up. His detractors might say that this was yet another example of his failure to see the job through to the end, but you really are only as good as the artists on stage. 

Exit stage left, Ralph/David. The Doctor Who job went again during your St Mary’s tenure, but there will always be another team to rescue before the inevitable regeneration. 

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