I don’t claim to be a press room veteran, but if ever there was a manager who feared his own dismissal, this was it. Gary Waddock looked beleaguered, exhausted, and resigned. You couldn’t help through human instinct but feel for the man. But despite some considerable achievements at Wycombe Wanderers the boss seemingly knew his time was up.
Waddock’s sacking, confirmed just over an hour after Wycombe’s dismal home defeat to lowly, managerless AFC Wimbledon signalled the end to the Adams Park career of a genuinely affable man. Ultimately, despite a sizeable turnover in players and countless promises of improvement, the Supporters’ Trust board at Wycombe decided that four points from the opening seven League Two games wasn’t acceptable. I wrote a defence of Waddock just over two weeks ago, arguing that he be given 15 league games before a judgment on his future was made, but results, and particularly performances since then have inevitably dictated matters. Saturday’s defeat to the Dons was not merely hugely disappointing on Wanderers‘ 125th anniversary celebration day, but it was also ugly, lugubrious, and extremely worrying. With the blues lying in their lowest ever Football League position, the board had no option but to make the painful but necessary decision to ‘relieve the manager of his duties‘. The sense of finality brought by the defeat (and later, the sacking) couldn’t help but spur memories of a traumatic 15 months of on pitch woes for Wycombe, and the statistics speak for themselves. The Chairboys’ record since May 2011 (and League Two promotion) reads played 59, won 13, drew 13, lost 33. In that time they have conceded 99 league goals. They have kept just four clean sheets in the last 61 matches and won one of the last 16 games. If a manager is to be judged by facts alone then that record is indefensible. As an aspiring journalist Waddock has never been anything but pleasant and accommodating in my exchanges with him. I wish him every success in the future but the AFC Wimbledon capitulation palpably demonstrated that he had taken the club as far as he could.
Naturally, conversation since the news broke has shifted to the following question: “where, and who next for Wycombe Wanderers?”. A number of the usual suspects have already had their names circulated, although Harry Redknapp at 25/1 seems a rather optimistic bet!
One more realistic proposition is the 40 year old ex Brentford manager Andy Scott. Scott worked wonders in his first full season in charge of the club, winning the League 2 championship in 2009 and was also the runner up in the LMA Manager of the Year Award in League 2 for that season. But he was fired just under two years later with the club hovering just above the relegation zone. His next move was to Rotherham, where he lasted less than a year. Despite his initial success at Brentford Scott still has much to prove after his disappointing time in Yorkshire.
Brian Laws (chicken wings at Grimsby notwithstanding) enjoyed success in the early stages of his managerial career at Scunthorpe. However, relegation at Sheffield Wednesday and then Burnley (in the same season) left his reputation tainted. Judge for yourself.
Meanwhile, Paul Ince appears too volatile and as liable to jump ship as he would be to work wonders at Adams Park, and Gary Megson’s style of football and demeanour is not the type to appease blues followers.
Of the three most likely candidates, two have a strong connection with the club. A recent Twitter poll by local newspaper Bucks Advertiser seems to suggest a preference amongst blues fans for any one of Gareth Ainsworth, Sean Dyche, and Keith Scott.
Ainsworth is a much admired figure at Wycombe Wanderers for his strife and persona, on and off the pitch. He has led by example through the good times and bad, with a standing ovation against Southend in May 2011 confirming his ‘cult hero’ status at Adams Park. A Gary Waddock signing, 39-year-old Ainsworth has recently assumed a player/coach role at the club. Previous impressive (albeit brief) caretaker spells at QPR (including shutting out Manchester United until the 76th minute in a narrow defeat in a League Cup tie at Old Trafford), and numerous appearances and cajoling on the touchline whilst at Wycombe would suggest a natural inclination towards management, and Ainsworth certainly commands the respect of supporters and players alike. His 500 career appearances also allow him a wealth of contacts at Football League level, whilst instant familiarity of the inner workings of the club would mean he wouldn’t require a ‘settling in’ period. But there are serious doubts. Namely, his ability to transfer from the position of player/coach to the far more formal figurehead role of manager. It’s also credible to suggest that his involvement with the previous management regime means his appointment wouldn’t constitute anything fresh or different, something Wycombe so desperately need. His still considerable skill could be of use to the Chairboys too!
41-year-old Dyche is a manager with undoubted potential. After 460 appearances as a player and three promotions, he began his foray into coaching as youth team manager with Watford in 2007. He was assistant to Malky Mackay and was appointed manager in 2011 after the latter’s departure to Cardiff City. Dyche recovered from a tough start to work wonders at Vicarage Road. Despite the departure of a host of key players and with many tipping the Hornets for relegation, Dyche led the club to an 11th placed finish in the Championship. This was their highest finish since the 2007-2008 campaign and their total of 64 points was more than the club had ever achieved under Mackay. He was very harshly dismissed after the arrival of the club’s new owners the Pozzo family, who duly appointed Italian Gianfranco Zola (Watford lie 20th in the Championship after a poor start to the season under Zola). Dyche’s prowess as a manager and coach was highlighted by his appointment as a member of the backroom staff at England U-21 level this September. His spell as an apprentice under the management of Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest won’t have hindered his ability either. Ambitious Dyche would be an impressive coup for Wycombe, and with a his experience in the game and his numerous contacts, he represents potentially both the lowest risk and highest potential reward option for the position of new manager.
Scott is the popular choice for a large section of the Wanderers’ support, and it’s not hard to see why. A club legend, heroic goalscorer Scott, who won the Conference title and the FA Trophy twice with Wycombe, and played as high as the Premier League with Swindon, is the purists choice. In many ways he was the on field epitome of the club as they enjoyed their meteoric rise under Martin O’Neill in the early 90’s. His win percentage as a manager is undeniably impressive (59% overall) and his obvious love for the club (“it’s no secret that I want to manage Wycombe Wanderers” were his words to the Bucks Free Press after Waddock’s dismissal) is clear. Yet it would be a huge gamble. Scott’s managerial experience extends only to the rather agricultural world of Leighton Town, and Windsor and Eton. In the context of their current position, can Wycombe really afford to appoint a manager with no Football League experience whatsoever? Some point to Martin O’Neill’s similar status when he first arrived at Wycombe in 1990, but the club’s position is now almost entirely different. Then, Wanderers were a modest Conference side chasing a Football League dream. When the club did achieve great things, they had a naturally upward momentum. Now, after 20 largely successful years and 2 major cup semi finals, the club is spiralling and in danger of losing that so coveted Football League status. The contrast in contexts is marked and clear. The difference in pressure is huge and the stakes have rarely, if ever, been higher should Scott be appointed. The Football League is unforgiving and any weaknesses and inexperience could be ruthlessly exposed. Or, of course, it could all end in style – a la, O’Neill. Stick or Twist.
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