O'Driscoll's common sense approach rarely appreciated in the modern game


Soccer Angles: But Bristol City can benefit from the astute guidance of a patient manager

There’s more than one O’Driscoll. Admittedly there have been times this week and over many stretches covering the past 14 years when it has seemed otherwise, such has been the sustained brilliance of Brian.

But, working away over the same period – quiet, imaginative and effective – has been Sean O’Driscoll. If this weekend is a big one for Brian, it’s pretty significant for Sean too.

Sean O’Driscoll spent his 16-year playing career at two clubs, Fulham and Bournemouth. He earned his three Irish caps when at Craven Cottage – on a South American tour in 1982, when Liam Brady and Tony Grealish were alongside in midfield.

When he retired from playing at Bournemouth O’Driscoll stayed on first as a coach, then as manager for another 11 years. This would indicate he is a man who appreciates stability.

So the past 14 months may well have alarmed Sean O’Driscoll. In that time he has left Doncaster Rovers, where he had been for five years, lifting the small Yorkshire club into the Championship courtesy of a Wembley play-off victory against much richer rivals, Leeds United.

From Doncaster O’Driscoll went to Nottingham Forest as a coach, assisting manager Steve Cotterill.

O’Driscoll was then offered the Crawley Town manager’s job and saw enough potential in the League One club to take it. But without overseeing a game, O’Driscoll departed – he had been given the manager’s post at Forest once Cotterill was removed.

Good fit

Forest and O’Driscoll seemed like a good fit. Here was a thinker-manager at a club where the ethos is all about progressive, feet-first football. O’Driscoll is not Brian Clough but there is enough single-mindedness for O’Driscoll to be different. And a readiness to be different is Clough-like.

O’Driscoll doesn’t play the media game.

Forest had just been the subject of a Kuwait-based takeover but the club has not enjoyed glory or stability for some time. O’Driscoll was asked to shape a new team but just as he was beginning to convince his players of his methods, he was sacked at Christmas. It followed a 4-2 win over Leeds United. We have yet to hear a full explanation for that decision.

O’Driscoll was immediately linked with vacancies at Huddersfield Town and his old club Doncaster, as well as his home town club, Wolves.

But last month he signed on at Bristol City, who narrowly avoided relegation to League One last season and who sit in the Championship relegation zone again, €16.5 million in debt. It’s been a strange old time for Sean O’Driscoll.

In four games at Bristol City, he has experienced two defeats and two victories – which isn’t bad considering City had won just three of their previous 21 games. They remain second bottom of the Championship, five points from safety, but things have definitely improved since O’Driscoll arrived and you can imagine he will have his team prepared today – because the opposition are Nottingham Forest.

Had they persevered with O’Driscoll it is not difficult to imagine Forest in the Championship play-offs heading south-west to Bristol with a tailwind. As it is, Forest appointed Alex McLeish after O’Driscoll. He lasted all of 40 days; Forest have won one of the seven post-O’Driscoll matches.

Thursday brought the return of Billy Davies to the City Ground, though the combative Scot is not expected to be in the dugout today. He has proven form with Forest and you would expect an upturn soon.

It all amounts to a whirlwind. After such steadiness, 55-year-old O’Driscoll could be forgiven disorientation.

With potential

But the first signs are that he has found stability in Bristol, a city with potential. Although praised as a creator of purist football, he is a pragmatic individual, whose attitude to the circus around the game crosses into cynicism.

O’Driscoll said this week: “Nothing surprises me in football anymore. Football is like a bubble and, in many ways, it is detached from the rest of life.

“I cannot get emotionally involved in what has gone on at Nottingham Forest in the past. If I’m honest, I have enough problems getting my own team ready for Saturday.”

One of his core beliefs is to get players to think for themselves, for them to find their own solutions, not to provide them. Hear O’Driscoll talk and the common sense shines through. But English football tends not to treasure such a commodity, which is why Davies is the fifth Forest appointment in two years.

Run clubs

People who run clubs, especially foreign owners, don’t seem amenable to common sense. They want fireworks, David Beckham in pants. They don’t want to hear O’Driscoll say: “The only certainty in English football is that you will lose matches.” Or add: “But you cannot, whenever you lose a football match, tear up the paper and start again with something else. You have to say: ‘This is the way we have to build, this is the way we have to do things,’ and try to be as consistent as you can. What most clubs need is stability, organisation and a little bit of direction.”

After a spell of such comparative turmoil, O’Driscoll has some of that for himself again. Bristol City should feel the benefit.

Trapattoni's blind spot Creative midfielder Hoolahan still surplus to requirements

Even in victory Giovanni Trapattoni failed to convince this week. His reference to Wes Hoolahan – “We have seen him many times for his club” – cannot simply be allowed to pass. How many times?
It has been apparent to plenty of observers in England that Hoolahan was one of the creative reasons for the rise of Norwich Cityunder Paul Lambert. Norwich have gone from League One to the Premier League – and stayed there – in three years. Yet Trapattoni wasn’t seen in East Anglia until of late.

Hoolahan played in 33 of their Premier League games last season – more than Glen Whelan played for Stoke City, for example. But you know which one Trap trusts, and it’s not the one who springs from an Irish tradition of small, ballplaying, intuitive inside forwards.

Given the creative limitations of the squad, for Hoolahan to have been consistently overlooked and even now to be considered as some kind of luxury is so disappointing.

Wes Hoolahan is a good footballer and even in the third division was better than some of those
two divisions higher. Now he’s got there, he’s still not the one Trap wants.

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