Deano and O'Driscoll are chalk and cheese

Friday 15th March 2013 10:01

Saunders and O'Driscoll: Head to head

Saunders and O'Driscoll: Head to head

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Wolves host Bristol City on Saturday, with both strugglers now managed by former Doncaster bosses. Rovers FanZoner Dan Nice assesses the duo.

When Wolves were said to want a manager with Doncaster connections, I immediately thought that Sean O'Driscoll was the person they had in mind.

O'Driscoll seemed to tick all of the boxes. Wolverhampton-born and a lifelong Wolves fan, available to start work immediately and somebody who can change the entire culture of a football club. With the club dropping like Bambi on an ice mountain, what was not to like?

Instead they decided that Dean Saunders, the then Doncaster manager, was the man for the job. My reaction? More surprise than disappointment, it has to be said. Did I expect him to leave? Of course. Did I blame him? No. Did I think he would do well there? The jury was out. It still is.

So why Saunders? He is said to be a character who 'gives a place a lift' and my word, if ever a club needed a lift, it was Wolves. It was rumoured that chairman Steve Morgan knew of Saunders from Liverpool connections, and it was said that the club needed somebody to turn things around 'immediately'. Hand in glove? If only it were that simple.

While Saunders had led Doncaster to joint top this term, he had also overseen a Rovers relegation the previous season. And while it would be wrong to blame him directly for that, given the situation he inherited and all of the high-profile comings and goings we had, he came in after seven games. He had 39 matches to sort things out. The situation was far from irretrievable.

Things have not worked out for Saunders so far but I think you have to question the Wolves selection criteria rather than his management style. With Saunders, what you see is what you get. If you can't see that, that's your problem. Those who accept jobs cannot be at fault; only those who offer them.

It is interesting that managers get put into boxes. Saunders is seen as the modern-day manager, someone who makes an instant impact before moving on. O'Driscoll is perceived as somebody who is in it for the long haul; the man with a plan. A manager for whom change takes time.

Yet fortunes at their new clubs have not actually followed that formula. Saunders has collected a woeful eight points from his first 11 fixtures as Wolves have continued to plummet, while O'Driscoll has taken 17 points from the same amount of games at Bristol City. That has given a chance to a side that looked doomed under Derek McInnes.

The nine-point swing means that Saunders' Wolves meet O'Driscoll's Bristol City on Saturday with both having gathered 39 points from 37 games. With Barnsley beating Brighton and Peterborough picking up a valuable point at Leeds on Tuesday, the two former Donny managers go head-to-head as the bottom two on goal difference.

While we are not yet at the 'must-win' stage, you feel the pressure is on Wolves to deliver. One win in 14 matches means that Wolves are at crisis point. A run of seven home games without a victory must end soon because fixtures at Birmingham, Bolton, Charlton and Brighton will not be easy.

Although none of the sides in the bottom half are out of reach, many have shown they have enough to survive with recent results. Some have games in hand. The approach to the match will be fascinating - will either team be prepared to lose in order to win or will fear of failure dictate the nature of the contest?

There is no reason why you can't like both Saunders and O'Driscoll, but I feel obliged to pick sides for some reason. So who is the better manager? I think it depends on your outlook. For me, it's O'Driscoll because he is all about longevity and I hate the short-term nature of the football industry.

Saunders got Wrexham results in the Conference and got us results in League One but the Championship is a huge step up. In 50 games at this level with Doncaster and Wolves, he has picked up 43 points. This is relegation form whichever way you look at it - and Saunders may have two on his CV come May.

For me, his current strategy and tactics will restrict success to a certain level. You can argue that Saunders inherited two pretty bleak situations but while he could bemoan resources at Donny, Saunders inherited a huge squad of talented players at Wolves. And besides, O'Driscoll picked up an even bigger challenge at Ashton Gate and the signs of progress at Bristol City are clear.

O'Driscoll also gave Forest solid foundations in turbulent times and kept Doncaster up for three seasons on limited resources. In my mind, he is the manager I'd appoint if I had the millions required to buy a football club. I admire the way he goes about his work.

O'Driscoll completely changed Doncaster Rovers and he made me realise quite a few things as a supporter. Rather than judging purely on results, I started to take a keener interest in the team's philosophy. I judged by performances.

I felt proud to be a Donny fan if we lost yet played well, like our late 2-1 defeat at an expensively-assembled Newcastle United side. He made me proud of my club. O'Driscoll taught me a new way of thinking; his interviews were said to be dull by many, but I found them interesting and insightful. He offers an alternative view.

As Gianfranco Zola once said, in Britain we tend to want our footballers to run through brick walls, but he used to work out how to run round them. This is O'Driscoll's style in a nutshell. Unfortunately for O'Driscoll, the modern game does not lend itself to his principles. But that has not stopped him from sticking to them.

Rather than become fixated on results and outcomes, O'Driscoll prefers a process-based approach. He challenges players to improve and question things and won't issue rollickings on results alone. O'Driscoll used his experiences as a player to shape his managerial career. A man comfortable with methods, theory and note-taking, O'Driscoll is a footballing student.

In every respect, Saunders is cheese to O'Driscoll's chalk. Saunders is 'Deano', man of the people, very much the manager for the modern game. He's media savvy. He's here today, gone tomorrow. His motto is that we are here for a good time, not a long time.

The initial Saunders Wolves press conference felt like déjà vu to me. He walked in smiling in a shiny suit with an infectious personality, just as he did at the Keepmoat. He's very hard to dislike. He hates losing. There's something about him that makes you want him to succeed.

There were plenty of anecdotes from a proud footballing career. Saunders said he'd do anything it takes to get the required results. The media lapped it up: 'Saunders the saviour'. But being a football manager is like being a local breakfast TV presenter. You can tell your tale, move to a different part of the country and tell it again. Nobody is any the wiser if they haven't heard it all before. I had.

Yes, Saunders helped to turn results around at Wrexham and Doncaster but he did not see either job through. But that didn't matter because somebody else wanted him. If a Premier League club came in tomorrow, Saunders would be off in a flash. Is this a lack of loyalty? Not in my eyes.

It is basic supply and demand theory; if somebody wants you, then you will get a job, regardless of what the CV says. In football, you can stick around yet get a bum deal - ask O'Driscoll about the last few months of his Doncaster reign for a prime example of that.

Loyalty only works one way in football and your stock is only high for so long. So in you can't blame him for leaving Wrexham and Doncaster when you look at the strange world of football management. How can you have a five-year plan when you might not even get five months, like O'Driscoll at Forest?

But while your neighbour may have a shiny new garden that you'd love to have, the grass isn't always greener on the other side. Does Saunders regret leaving our promotion campaign to go to Wolves? Publicly, no, he wouldn't admit it. But ask him over a coffee off the record and I suspect he has at least a tinge of regret.

So what about Saturday? When two sides meet with a poor home and away record respectively, logic would suggest a draw. Reason would argue that Wolves are due a win at Molineux and that home advantage should be important. Irony would suggest that it should come against a manager who is one of their own.

But football is an irrational game and I am going to go on my gut instinct. O'Driscoll has already overseen a win at Molineux with Forest and he knows how to be successful in crunch Championship games like this, even if it goes against his nature.

So I'm backing Bristol City to improve their survival chances and put a huge dagger into Wolves' hopes at the same time. It's nothing personal, Deano. I hope both clubs stay up, but fear there can only be one survivor.

By Daniel Nice, FanZone's Doncaster blogger. Follow him on Twitter at @daniel_nice7 - and don't forget to follow @FanZone too!



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