Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 26 July 2014

It ended badly for David Jeffrey at Linfield and that's a crying shame

Emotional scene: David Jeffrey weeps after Linfield's 2011 Irish Cup victory over Crusaders

The song on the karaoke jukebox might be 'Please release me (Let me go)' by Engelbert Humperdinck.

David Jeffrey's 17-year managerial reign at Linfield is coming to an end and now only the fat lady is singing.

As a bartender named Coughlin uttered in the film 'Cocktail'.. "Everything ends badly, otherwise it wouldn't end."

Certainly, we were all served up the heady mix of the Linfield cocktail at the weekend when Jeffrey's statement appeared on the club's website.

A break-up of this magnitude was always going to cause a media explosion so it was in everyone's interest to make it as dignified an ending as possible.

But enough of the spin, smoke and mirrors – if Jeffrey wasn't pushed then I'm George Clooney.

He is keeping his powder dry for the moment and he's not a man who wants to hang dirty linen out in public but you get the feeling he would like to share the full story.

He has always divided opinion among his own supporters and those who run the club and when fans took to Internet forums and became more vociferous in their criticism of the team's style of play the writing on the wall was more visible.

Jeffrey's critics took a pop at him for playing to the gallery but he was part of the gallery – he's a Blueman who defends his club with pride.

The club's management committee held their nerve when Linfield finished last season trophyless and then sunk to the bottom of the table at the beginning of this campaign – an experience even Jeffrey hadn't encountered before.

But patience was wearing thin. The YouTube saga, when Jeffrey was caught paying a vocal tribute to Jimmy Callacher (below), proved to be a decisive blow in the end but it would not have been so damaging if the club was winning every match and marching towards silverware on every front.

Disappointing results are the most damning evidence used against a manager.

The management committee has been split on Jeffrey's stewardship for some time until they had to make him an offer he could not refuse – leave on your terms and make it a dignified exit.

David has been down this road before. In 1992 he had to leave his beloved Linfield and extend his playing career at Ards. New doors open and another one will for a man who has a managerial CV that cannot be matched.

He will relax, recharge the batteries and perhaps continue his media work but his spectre will hang over every managerial vacancy that arises.

Linfield have played their hand and time will be their judge, jury and executioner.

However, when Ulster Rugby chose not to renew Brian McLaughlin's contract as Head Coach at the end of the 2011-2012 season, a storm of protest erupted... but where's that storm now?

Every managerial appointment is a gamble. Jeffrey had limited coaching experience when he became Linfield manager in 1997 but that proved to be an inspired decision.

So who do they go for next? Pat Fenlon is a worthy choice but, with the greatest respect to Ballymena United, I feel Glenn Ferguson is a Linfield manager in the making. He ticks all the boxes for me.

Does he understand the Linfield mentality, the demands and expectations at the club? Check. Is he respected by the club's fans and players? Check. Does he have a sound knowledge of Irish League players, including those at Linfield? Check. Has he been tactically astute, including in matches against Linfield? Check.

Is he a young manager hungry to replicate the success he had as a player in management? Check. Has he learned about management under Jeffrey? Check. Does he know how to win league titles? Check. Is he a Blueman at heart? Check.

It may seem like a crazy statement this early in Spike's coaching career but I can see him developing into a manager in the mould of Coyle and Jeffrey.

He has rightly stated he is committed to the Sky Blues but what if Linfield hit him with an offer he can't refuse?

Spike would be my choice but I'm not running Linfield Football Club. Whoever gets the job, I hope fortune favours the brave.

The more I reflect on events of the weekend, the more I conclude that this was inevitable. Seventeen years as manager at one club is a huge innings. Fans are aspirational. They are dreamers and there's nothing wrong with that. It's human nature.

They want to see someone burst through the Windsor Park doors in the style of Wyatt Earp and announce they are 'the Special One'.

They want a white knight on a handsome horse to win all their battles for them.

I'm exaggerating a little, but you get my drift.

The same pattern is emerging at Portadown where supporters are also craving fresh ideas and a new approach.

It doesn't matter whether you are David Jeffrey, Ronnie McFall, Roy Coyle or Sir Alex Ferguson. When familiarity breeds not contempt but disillusionment and a desire for something new then change is inevitable.

On a personal note, I found David to be entertaining, informative and courteous. He brought colour to the Irish League and our game could do with more colour. I hope he stays in the Irish League.

I feel his pain but I can also feel his relief. Management is a stressful business and his health has been adversely affected during his time as Blues boss.

Many of us love football and our lives would be a lot duller without it but there are more important things in life.

I wish him good health and happiness in the future.

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