Tag Archives: Scotland

The Managers: George Burley

Premier League Clubs Managed: Ipswich Town (1994-1995, 2000-2002)

George Burley’s club is most definitely Ipswich Town. A full-back during Sir Bobby Robson’s heyday at the club, Burley made nearly 400 league appearances for the Tractor Boys over 12 successful years which saw glory on both the domestic and European stage.

He then became the club’s manager in late 1994 and spearheaded them to their best-ever Premier League finish of fifth place in 2000-2001. Burley has managed several other clubs and also had a largely unsuccessful year as manager of the Scottish national side.

An FA Cup winner

Ipswich was not only Burley’s main club, it was his first team. Joining as an apprentice in 1972, his first job in his first senior game was to man-mark the great George Best at Old Trafford.

Six years later, he was a senior member of Robson’s squad that were the underdogs in the FA Cup final but continued the tradition in the 1970s of favourites being upset by the outsiders. Ipswich defeated Arsenal 1-0 in 1978 to win the famous trophy for the first time in their history.

In 1981, Ipswich enjoyed their best-ever top-flight campaign, finishing runners-up to Aston Villa in the First Division. They only missed out on the title on the last day of the season. There was glory in the UEFA Cup, as Robson’s side defeated AZ Alkmaar in the final. However, injury meant Burley missed out on the opportunity to play in the showpiece event.

Robson left in 1982 to take the England international job but Burley stayed for another three seasons before moving to Sunderland in 1985. He would experience both relegation and promotion on Wearside before finishing his playing days with Gillingham, Motherwell in two separate spells, Ayr United, Falkirk and Colchester United.

By this point though, he was firmly planted into a long and fairly useful coaching career.

Initial frustration

George’s first taste of management came in Scotland when he succeeded Ally MacLeod as player-manager of Ayr United in 1991. He took the team to two consecutive Scottish Challenge Cup finals but was unable to steer Ayr into the top-flight of Scottish football.

Dismissed in 1993, he resumed his playing career for a year before being appointed Colchester United boss in June 1994. He was only in-charge for 20 games, winning eight of them and was still registered as a player at the time.

In November 1994, John Lyall stepped down as manager of Ipswich with the club firmly rooted in the bottom four of the Premier League. Without Colchester knowing, he held talks with Ipswich and eventually, a compensation package was reluctantly agreed between the two East Anglian sides. Burley became Ipswich boss and once Colchester had sorted out their managerial vacancy, he took the late Dale Roberts with him as assistant manager. The pair had worked together at Ayr too.

There was early success with a fantastic 1-0 victory at Anfield over Liverpool FC with Adam Tanner scoring the only goal. However, there were few victories. The squad was ageing and relegation was confirmed to Division One in April 1995. Among the losses was a record-breaking Premier League 9-0 defeat to Manchester United.

Burley was already building for the future though but the Suffolk side’s stay in the second-tier of English football was to be much longer than hoped. Ipswich were always a promotion contender and never finished lower than seventh for five successive campaigns. There was agony in three play-off semi-finals before finally achieving promotion at the fourth attempt of asking. Barnsley were defeated 4-2 in the final at Wembley Stadium and Ipswich Town were returning to the top-flight.

A stellar return to the top-flight

Tipped by many to go straight back down to Division One after winning promotion, Ipswich quickly wowed the Premiership with an unlikely challenge for not just the top six, but the top three and a place in the UEFA Champions League.

There were impressive away victories along the way at Southampton, Everton, Leeds United and Liverpool FC and Marcus Stewart finished second to Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink in the race for the Golden Boot. In the end, a 2-1 defeat at Charlton Athletic in April meant a Champions League position would be just beyond Ipswich with two games left.

However, they finished a fine fifth and just four points adrift of Arsenal in second spot. It meant qualification for the UEFA Cup for the first time in 19 years. Burley’s fantastic effort saw him voted the LMA Manager of the Year by his fellow colleagues.

After the highs of 2000-2001, the 2001-2002 season was very disappointing. Only two wins were achieved before Christmas in the Premier League which meant this was going to be a completely different campaign and a battle against relegation. There was an upturn in fortunes with seven wins in eight games taking Ipswich clear of the bottom three. However, a 6-0 home defeat by Liverpool FC started another drastic slide down the table. Ultimately, a 5-0 beating by the Reds at Anfield on the final day saw Ipswich relegated back to the First Division.

Burley was sacked in October 2002 after a 3-0 defeat to Grimsby Town as Ipswich started poorly on their return to the second-tier. They haven’t been back in the Premier League since.

Burley took over at Derby County in 2003 after their manager, John Gregory had been suspended. He did take them to a fourth-place finish in 2005 before resigning after strained relations with the board following the sale of Tom Huddlestone to Tottenham Hotspur. He then went on to have spells with Hearts which did see them briefly threaten the Glasgow clubs dominance of the Scottish game, Southampton, Crystal Palace and Apollon Limassol where his 2012 reign ended there after just two games in control.

Between 2008 and 2009, he was given the honour of managing his country with the remit to try and take Scotland to the World Cup finals in 2010. It didn’t work out. He won just three of his 14 matches as manager and a 3-0 friendly defeat in Cardiff to Wales in November 2009 spelt the end of his difficult reign as an international manager.

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The Managers: Alex Neil

Premier League Clubs Managed: Norwich City (2015-2016)

Still only 36-years old, Alex Neil has only begun his managerial journey and has the drive and determination to once again reach the limelight of being a Premier League manager.

The experience he gained at Norwich City will only help him going forwards and even if his reign in Norfolk ended with the sack in March 2017, Neil did achieve a surprise promotion via the play-offs and got his chance to pit himself in the top-flight against top-class managers like Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho and Manuel Pellegrini.

He is currently employed by SkyBet EFL Championship side Preston North End and with the club among the play-off chasing pack this season, the fiery Scotsman could be back sooner rather than later in the Premier League.

A loyal Hamilton man

In his playing days, Alex Neil spent the bulk of his time in Scottish football, joining Airdrieonians on a free transfer in 1999 after a brief youth stint with Dunfermline Athletic. He scored five times in just 16 appearances with the club playing in the First Division.

Having the confidence to try his luck in England, Neil moved to Barnsley less than a year after making his professional breakthrough. He made 121 appearances for the Tykes across four years, experiencing the disappointment of relegation from the First Division in 2002. He was a regular figure in Barnsley’s teams in Division Two though before spending one campaign with Mansfield Town.

However, it was his time at Hamilton Academical where Alex made his most positive strides, both as a player and eventually, a coach. Having been made surplus to requirements at Mansfield by former England international Carlton Palmer, Neil signed a two-year deal with Hamilton in 2005 and become a loyal member to the team for the next decade.

In 2007-2008, he won promotion to the Scottish Premier League with them, scoring a spectacular 40-yard free-kick against Stirling Albion which was voted as the club’s Goal of the Season. He remained as a player on Accies’ books until the start of 2015 but by then, he had already cut his teeth into management.

At the age of 31, he was given the full-time managerial role at New Douglas Park in May 2013 after a brief stint in interim charge. Hamilton had slipped back into the First Division but Alex quickly made amends for this. Having narrowly been edged out to the Championship title by Dundee, they recovered a first-leg deficit in the play-offs and embarrassed Edinburgh giants Hibernian on their own patch on a penalty shootout to earn promotion to the Scottish Premiership, relegating Hibs in the process.

The form continued on their return to the top-flight. Neil guided Hamilton to an amazing 1-0 victory away at mighty Celtic in October 2014; Hamilton’s first win at Parkhead in 76 years. He was going places and English clubs were taking note.

A successful gamble by the Canaries

Norwich City were only mid-table halfway through the 2014-2015 Championship season. They had dispensed with club icon Neil Adams and looked to be only a distant challenger for the play-off positions in their first season back in the second-tier following Premier League relegation.

The Canaries decided to take a gamble and approached Hamilton, who allowed Neil permission to speak to the club. The opportunity was simple too good to ignore and in January 2015, Alex cut his ties with Hamilton and took the vacancy at Carrow Road, ending his playing career in the process too.

He made a brilliant start. 24 hours after his appointment, Norwich beat league leaders AFC Bournemouth 2-1 to revive their stuttering season. In 25 matches, Norwich won 17 times and only a late-season home defeat to Middlesbrough meant they were pipped to automatic promotion by AFC Bournemouth and Watford. The play-offs beckoned and with Neil’s experience from the Scottish system, that bode well for the Norfolk team.

Local rivals Ipswich Town were beaten 4-2 on aggregate in the semi-finals, setting up a final at Wembley Stadium with Middlesbrough. On the day, Norwich were hungrier, better and sharper than their opponents. First half goals from Cameron Jerome and Nathan Redmond ensured a 2-0 victory and they were returning to the Premier League at the first attempt of asking.

At 34, he would be one of the youngest managers in Premier League history. The sky seemed to be the limit for Alex Neil. However, tougher times did lie ahead.

Learning the hard way

The early signs in 2015-2016 were encouraging for Norwich City. They beat Sunderland 3-1 in their first away match; defeated AFC Bournemouth by the same scoreline and a Russell Martin equaliser earned them a hard-fought point at Anfield against Liverpool FC.

The Christmas programme saw them claim a famous win at Old Trafford and home victories over Aston Villa and Southampton. With nine points from four games, Norwich had one of the best festive programme points returns for the season – only bettered by Tottenham Hotspur and equalled by Arsenal.

The New Year was less successful as Alex began to learn the hard way the trials and tribulations of Premier League management. Norwich went on a damaging run of form, losing eight of their next 10 matches, including a 5-4 home defeat to Liverpool FC. Even the January arrivals of Steven Naismith from Everton and Timm Klose from Bundesliga side VfL Wolfsburg couldn’t halt the slide in form that left their Premier League status in severe jeopardy.

Back-to-back wins over West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle United did briefly leave them masters of their own destiny but a 3-0 home defeat to relegation rivals Sunderland and survival specialist Sam Allardyce left it out of the club’s hands. Despite beating Watford 4-2 in their penultimate match, Norwich were relegated after Sunderland’s late rally got them out of trouble.

It was a crushing disappointment for Neil and one he wouldn’t recover from. Despite losing just two of the first 12 matches back in the Championship, Norwich dropped from 2nd in mid-October to 12th by Boxing Day, losing 5-0 at Brighton & Hove Albion along the way. After a 5-1 loss to Sheffield Wednesday in early March, former Labour Shadow Chancellor and new owner Ed Balls decided a change was needed and ask Neil to clear his desk.

He was only out of the game for four months though and when Simon Grayson decided to leave Deepdale to try his luck unsuccessfully at Sunderland, Preston North End offered Alex the opportunity to get back into football management. He has proved it was a wise appointment. Preston have lost only six times this season and sit 7th in early February 2018, just six points adrift of the play-off positions.

Alex Neil has enjoyed the highs of beating Celtic in Scottish football as a manager and the ultimate low of Premier League relegation but he has dealt well with the knockbacks and has plenty of time left to make a positive impact on the Premier League – should that be with Preston North End or with another team in the future.

Premier League Files: Stuart McCall

Premier League Career: Bradford City (1999-2001)

Having made a staggering 763 league appearances in his career, there isn’t much that Stuart McCall hasn’t achieved in his footballing life. He has played in the Premier League, represented Scotland at two major international tournaments and is now back at Bradford City as manager, aiming to guide the Bantams out of League One.

It is the club McCall will always claim to be his home, having made his professional debut with Bradford back in 1982. His first spell with the Yorkshire team ended in 1988, appearing 238 times and being appointed club captain at just the age of 21 during that time. He won promotion to Division Two in 1985 but that was overshadowed by the horrific fire at Valley Parade when the main stand was engulfed by flames on the final day of the season. McCall’s father sustained serious burns in the blaze.

He joined Everton for £850,000 in June 1988 after getting frustrated with a lack of ambition at Bradford. He scored twice in the 1989 FA Cup final against Liverpool FC but Ian Rush’s own double ensured the trophy would return to Anfield after a 3-2 victory. Unfortunately, he had joined Everton at a time where their decline was starting to emerge and that near-miss in the FA Cup final was the closest he would get to winning silverware on Merseyside. In 1991, he moved to Scottish football, joining Rangers and he would spend seven wonderful seasons at Ibrox. This came at a time when Rangers were the dominant force in Scotland. McCall won six successive league titles, three Scottish Cups and two League Cups in a glorious spell where he was inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame.

Although he had one more year on his deal in Glasgow, new Rangers manager Dick Advocaat allowed McCall to leave on a free transfer in the summer of 1998 and he would ultimately return to Bradford and as club captain too. His inspired performances in the centre of midfield would win him the club’s Player of the Year award and a final day victory at Molineux over Wolverhampton Wanderers would seal a surprise promotion to the Premier League.

McCall’s experience would be essential in 1999-2000 if Bradford were to avoid an immediate relegation. He helped the club claim 26 of their 36 points at Valley Parade, including a late 93rd-minute equaliser at home to Tottenham Hotspur. By now, he was already showing an interest in coaching. After Paul Jewell’s resignation shortly after the season ended, he was appointed assistant manager to Chris Hutchings. When Hutchings was sacked in November 2000, he even had a couple of games in caretaker charge before Jim Jefferies was appointed as Hutchings’ successor. Bradford were relegated with just 26 points and he even had a fight with teammate Andy Myers on the pitch during a 6-1 defeat to Leeds United which went unpunished by the club.

McCall was released by Bradford in May 2002 and he would play another 71 league matches for Sheffield United over the next two seasons. He retired just a few weeks before his 41st birthday in 2005. At international level, he won 40 caps for Scotland and played at Italia 90 and EURO 96, scoring in a group stage victory over Sweden in the former competition. He retired in 1998 after being left out of the squad for the World Cup finals in France.

He stayed with the Blades’ after retirement and became Neil Warnock’s assistant manager, leaving in 2007 after Warnock’s resignation following their crushing relegation from the Premier League. His first managerial post was at Bradford in 2007, and he also spent four years as boss of Motherwell. He returned to Valley Parade for a second managerial spell in 2016 after Phil Parkinson’s departure for Bolton Wanderers. He only narrowly missed out on promotion to the Championship in his first season back in May 2017, losing the play-off final to Millwall.

Stuart McCall was a player with plenty of heart and determination to succeed. He also seems to have plenty of commitment as a manager and will be hoping to get Bradford into the Championship at the end of the 2017-2018 campaign.

Premier League Files: Charlie Adam

Premier League Career: Blackpool (2010-2011), Liverpool FC (2011-2012), Stoke City (2012-PRESENT)

Charlie Adam has now been a fixture in the Premier League for over eight years. Currently at Stoke City, the Dundee-born midfielder has experienced the highs of scoring infront of The Kop for Liverpool FC and the pain of relegation with Blackpool despite some inspirational individual performances in 2011.

Scottish international Adam joined the books of Glasgow giants Rangers aged just 17 and made his first-team debut for the club against Livingston in 2004. However, it wouldn’t be until 2006 before he became a regular player in their matchday squads. In amongst this gap, he had loan spells with Ross County and St Mirren. During his time with Rangers, he scored in Europe’s premier club competition against VfB Stuttgart twice and was part of the Gers’ side that made the 2008 UEFA Cup final, although he was an unused substitute in the showpiece event against Zenit St Petersburg.

In February 2009, Charlie moved south of the border and joined Blackpool on a temporary deal. It wasn’t a great start. He was sent off on his debut against Doncaster Rovers. However, he impressed on his return from suspension and eventually, a deal was done for Adam to head to Bloomfield Road on a permanent basis.

He was named in the PFA Championship Team of the Year and was instrumental in Blackpool’s play-off matches in 2009-2010. He scored a matchwinning penalty to defeat Nottingham Forest in the semi-finals, before striking in the final over Cardiff City from a trademark free-kick. Despite finishing sixth, Blackpool’s dramatic 3-2 victory with Adam as the creative lynchpin meant they were heading for the realms of the Premier League.

He continued to star, especially in the first five months of Blackpool’s Premier League adventure. He scored a penalty in the club’s famous win at Anfield and produced a series of special free-kicks, including strikes away from home at Blackburn Rovers and Manchester United. His head was turned in January 2011 by interest from several leading Premier League sides. Liverpool FC had a £4.5 million bid turned down and Tottenham Hotspur were also heavily linked with the player. Although he handed in a transfer request, Blackpool turned it down and he got on with the job of trying to keep the Tangerines’ in the Premier League. His performance levels though did inevitably drop following the speculation. Despite his best efforts, which included 12 goals and a nomination for the PFA Players’ Player of the Year, Adam couldn’t stop Blackpool avoid an agonising relegation on the final day of the season.

In July 2011, Liverpool FC finally got their man after seeing two earlier bids by Blackpool rejected. Charlie started strongly on Merseyside, swinging in a free-kick on the opening day against Sunderland that was guided in by Luis Suarez. Two weeks later, he scored his first goal for the Reds’ infront of The Kop in the 3-1 victory over Bolton Wanderers. Unfortunately, that was as good as it got for the central midfielder. A silly red card at Tottenham, injuries and a loss of confidence from the penalty spot meant he didn’t have the impact he’d hoped for at Anfield. Kenny Dalglish was sacked and Brendan Rodgers decided Adam wouldn’t fit into his plans. He moved to Stoke City in August 2012.

Things started shaky at Stoke, despite winning goals against Queens Park Rangers and Fulham. He was given compassionate leave after the tragic death of his father but didn’t fit into Tony Pulis’ tactical plans. A crucial winning goal against Norwich City in April 2013 was enough to ensure Stoke weren’t dragged into a relegation scrap. It was an emotional moment for Charlie, who dedicated the goal to his late father. However, his mediocre season ended with yet another red card against Tottenham Hotspur.

2013-2014 was a much better season with Mark Hughes having replaced Pulis in the Stoke hotseat. Adam scored seven goals, including two goals against Manchester United which set Stoke up for their first win over the Red Devils in 20 years. He matched this goalscoring tally the following season which included a special strike from over the halfway line in a 2-1 loss to champions Chelsea. He later described his goal at Stamford Bridge as a “once in a lifetime goal.”

His last two seasons haven’t produced the same total in terms of goal return but Adam is still very much a part of the first-team squad at Stoke. Whilst he isn’t a guaranteed starter every single week, he still will always pose a threat from long-range and will remain as committed as ever in the tackle.

The Managers: Alex McLeish

Premier League Clubs Managed: Birmingham City (2007-2008), (2009-2011), Aston Villa (2011-2012)

The Midlands and especially, the city of Birmingham dominated the management career of Alex McLeish in the Premier League. The Scot was a huge success in Scottish football but his English spell wasn’t so rewarding. Despite winning the League Cup in 2011 with Birmingham City, two relegations and an uneasy season at Villa Park in 2011-2012 meant it was an unfulfilling experience in the top-flight for McLeish.

Early Scottish success

As a player, McLeish was a central defender for Aberdeen during their own monopoly of Scottish football in the 1980s. He scored in the 1983 European Cup Winners’ Cup final over the mighty Real Madrid and made 493 appearances for Aberdeen across 16 seasons. His performances saw him voted Scottish Player of the Year in 1990 and it led to international recognition from Scotland on no fewer than 77 occasions.

McLeish’s first management role came at Motherwell where he made the final appearances of his playing time. Under his guidance, the Lanarkshire club finished second to Rangers in 1995 but he was unable to build on this and in the next two campaigns, relegation battles followed. He left Motherwell in 1998 to take over at Hibernian.

McLeish arrived too late to stop the Edinburgh side sliding out of the top-flight but he guided them straight back into the Premiership and soon consolidated Hibs into a comfortable, attractive side to watch. He even managed to tempt the likes of former French international Franck Sauzee to Easter Road. Hibernian finished best of the rest in 2001 behind the Glasgow dominant Celtic and Rangers combination. The latter had noted his good work and at Christmas time in 2001, he was chosen by Dick Advocaat as his future successor.

Stopping the Celtic steamroller

Any doubts about McLeish’s appointment by Rangers supporters were instantly quelled. Although the title was always going to go to Martin O’Neill and Celtic long before his arrival in 2001-2002, McLeish did preside over a domestic cup double against the old enemy. The likes of Barry Ferguson, Peter Lovenkrands and Ronald de Boer made swift contributions as Rangers swept the board in 2002-2003. McLeish was keeping the winning tradition going at Ibrox. How they wish they had these days back nowadays…

Another title followed in 2005 and also under his guidance, Rangers reached the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League, becoming the first Scottish side to get through the group stage since the competition’s reformation in 1992. However, Celtic had bounced back and regained the grip on Scottish football. With fan pressure growing, McLeish stood down in the summer of 2006.

After a brief hiatus from the game, he took over as manager of his country in January 2007. Under his reign as Scotland manager, the Scots stunned France in Paris to beat them in qualifying for the 2008 European Championships. Sadly though, a defeat in Georgia ended any realistic hopes of a first major tournament finals’ appearance in 10 years. A loss to Italy in the final round of games ensured Scotland’s brave failure was complete.

Days after the Italian defeat, he resigned and took over the vacancy at Birmingham City which was left open after Steve Bruce went to Wigan Athletic. His chapter in English football was about to begin.

Highs and lows with Birmingham

McLeish’s debut match as Birmingham manager was a memorable one. Sebastian Larsson’s stunning strike helped the Blues’ to a 3-2 away win at White Hart Lane against Tottenham Hotspur. They briefly climbed to 11th in early March but a poor run of results towards the end of the season ended with the team’s relegation to the Championship, despite beating Blackburn Rovers 4-1 on the final day of the season.

Things did improve. An immediate promotion back to the top-flight followed and then, he produced a sound 2009-2010 campaign which saw Birmingham finish an impressive ninth; their highest finish in over half a century. Among the achievements was a club-record 12-match unbeaten run in the top-flight and the Manager of the Month award for December 2009.

In 2010-2011, expectations were therefore fairly high and there was a victory over champions Chelsea, plus creditable home draws with Liverpool FC and Manchester United. In February 2011, Birmingham stunned favourites Arsenal at Wembley Stadium to win the Carling Cup 2-1. However, a nightmarish run followed in the Premier League. Just two wins in their last 11 matches saw the club relegated for the third time in just over five years. Birmingham’s plight was confirmed by a 2-1 defeat on the final day to Tottenham Hotspur.

The board wanted to keep McLeish in charge but in June 2011, he controversially resigned from his position via e-mail. Five days later, he liked the Midlands so much; he stayed in the region and became Aston Villa boss. Protests were held outside Villa Park on his appointment. He was not the fans’ popular choice. McLeish signed Shay Given and Charles N’Zogbia on his arrival. Neither signing would ultimately work out well. Villa did remain unbeaten until mid-October but there was never any comfort in the role, or a great brand of football being played by his team.

Chelsea were beaten 3-1 at Stamford Bridge on New Years’ Eve but just four wins were achieved all term at home and relegation was avoided by a mere two points. His contract was terminated by Randy Lerner after defeat at Norwich City on the final day consigned Villa to a lowly 16th-place finish.

Since then, Alex McLeish had the briefest of spells at Nottingham Forest (7 games) following by stints working in Belgium and Egypt. Alex McLeish has experienced the highs and lows in football management. His teams weren’t the prettiest to watch but they were very successful in his homeland. It didn’t quite work out though in England.