After the surprise General Election result, a story emerged about the Conservative Party strategist Lynton Crosby and a ‘dead cat’.
With the election drawing near, the Tories were very worried that they were losing the media battle. Some of the opposition’s messages were resonating with the public, so David Cameron urgently needed a way to stop the news outlets who weren’t ideologically loyal to him from running front page stories which favoured Labour.
Crosby told his bosses it was time to ‘throw a dead cat onto the table‘. He meant that they had to do something shocking enough to grab the media’s attention and stop them from focusing on things the government didn’t want them to focus on. A minister was duly sent out to say something provocative enough to ensure that it would lead the media agenda for the next day or so.
It had nothing to do with anything – but it bought the Conservatives time and helped them to win the election. If you don’t believe that, then Crosby’s subsequent knighthood should give you proof of how much his work was valued by his Tory paymasters.
Harry Redknapp was, in the nicest possible way, Derby County’s ‘dead cat’.
I mean, really. What the fuck? ‘Arry at Derby? Who the hell saw that coming? Nobody. And it did the job, which was to stop everyone from hammering Darren Wassall for his incompetent mismanagement of the Rotherham game, in the build up to the small matter of Forest.
The Rotherham fiasco came after an inept display at QPR, a frankly iffy home display against Huddersfield and defeat at one of the poorest Wolves sides I can remember. But suddenly, ‘Arry was the name on everybody’s lips and nobody was talking about Wassall anymore.
Questions swirled, particularly after Redknapp briefed his favourite tabloid hack pals ahead of any official announcement from Derby. Was Harry a candidate for the job next season? Would he be in the dugout? What was his job title? What influence would he have on team selection? Hang on, wasn’t he about to go to Jordan?!
And on and on. All week, in the lead up to Forest, the heat was off Wassall.
Now as ‘dead cats’ go, Redknapp is certainly a pedigree one – a Persian, you might say. His ‘advice’ will not have come cheap, which again, just shows the sheer wealth and clout of chairman Mel Morris. Mel must believe in Wassall very strongly – according to the doyen of Midlands football journalists, the BBC’s Pat Murphy, he would like to give him the job permanently – and when he needed to dig into his pockets to buy Wassall time, that is exactly what he did.
When Wassall was appointed until the end of the season, I don’t think many people believed he would really be there for more than a fortnight. Especially not when he promptly changed the formation and lost at home to Milton Keynes.
“Formations”, he later told Owen Bradley rather loftily, “are irrelevant”. Which is nonsense, especially when a team has been playing in a particular shape for a good couple of seasons (and would be news to George Thorne, who has trained all of his professional life to play the holding role in a midfield three). It is not the only media gaffe Wassall has made – his interview with Bradley after Rotherham, for example, was awful, particularly his refusal to accept responsibility for what happened after his complacent double substitution. He had no right to adopt a bullying and aggressive tone, but was clearly deeply rattled by what happened after he effectively decided to demean Neil Warnock, Rotherham and the Championship as a whole by treating a league match as if it was over after 75 minutes.
This speaks of his lack of experience, of course. Those who weren’t fussed about Clement going, I think, backed Mel’s decision on the assumption that a proven manager was on the way in to replace him.
But the initial “bookies’ favourites” list of candidates, with hindsight, was perhaps unrealistic. Would high-profile managers like David Moyes or Brendan Rodgers really drop into the Championship, even to a ‘big’, well-financed Championship club, which everybody assumes is going to get promoted… At some point?
With Forest out of the way – and huge congratulations to everyone involved for the victory, by the way – we can maybe try to reassess where we are at.
I still believe, despite the old chestnut about the Championship being a league where anybody can beat anybody – that the dropped points against Milton Keynes, Wolves and Rotherham were incredibly costly. I still hear people talking about automatic promotion, but I think that we would actually have to win all of the last eight games to have a realistic chance of that. That would be amazing, but it is pretty unlikely, let’s be honest. The form under Wassall so far is 1.625 points per game, which is in the lower bracket of ‘play-off form’ (the average PPG for sixth place over the past ten seasons has been 1.59). So the probability is that we will end up fifth or sixth and have to go up the hard way, if we’re going up this year.
And the frustrating thing is – it’s all there. Everything is ready for the club to be successful and get promoted. Given Morris’s resources, there is no reason why we couldn’t have a tilt at doing well in the Premier League too – assuming that the recruitment is better than it has been over the past two seasons. Nigel Clough once said that somebody would eventually come in, take this club on, get it right and it would soar. It feels so close, but also so maddeningly far away.
The BBC’s Natalie Jackson was given a tour of the club’s incredible training and analysis facilities by Wassall this week. It seemed more like a job for a suit like Sam Rush than the first-team manager, if I’m honest – and the bit where Wassall enthused about the black-and-white five-a-side court being painted “in our corporate colours” said a lot about his role within the organisation. Can you imagine Clough senior saying something like that? “Young man, I want you to go out there in our corporate colours and make the value of this club rise considerably going forward!” I know, I know, the game has changed out of sight since his days. I just mean that Wassall is not just a football man – he is fluent in business-speak, too.
Promotion, after everything that has happened, would be little short of a miracle and if it was achieved, clearly Wassall would have to be given the job full-time. But wouldn’t he also need a senior coaching ‘advisor’ in the Premier League, given that he needs one in the Championship?
When I told a non-Derby supporting pal about the appointment of Redknapp to mentor Wassall, he looked at me puzzled and said: “That makes no sense. Why not just get somebody who knows how to do the job?”