Glenn Ferguson aims to change Ballymena United's fortunes
A new year, a new man at the helm but the same old dilemma for the manager in the Ballymena United hot-seat — how do you end the trophy famine?
Silverware will be far from the thoughts of Glenn Ferguson as one of the Irish League’s greatest ever players dips his toe in the management pool for the first time.
Whether he makes a big splash or sinks without trace only time will tell but, as he was unveiled on Saturday to his new Braid public, the former Northern Ireland striker will know that, ultimately, his glittering past will count for nothing if the future doesn’t become a whole lot rosier at Warden Street.
He watched his first match as manager from the stands, with caretaker boss Joe McCall in charge for the last time as the Sky Blues huffed and puffed to a 2-2 draw with Donegal Celtic.
Ferguson takes over a team low in confidence and, in certain areas, painfully low in quality — a fact that would have been all too apparent for the new boss after his first 90 minutes as a spectator.
It was all smiles as he was unveiled at a press conference on Saturday lunchtime, ushered in to the click and flashing of cameras in front of a trophy cabinet, that had everything on it from crystal gifts to toy lorries. Brasso sales have not been plentiful down Ballymena way in recent times.
Ferguson was still in the early stages of his career the last time Sky Blue ribbons dangled off anything of note and that pall of failure hangs over the Showgrounds. More than one manager in that time has spoken of a curse, with tongue in cheek, but too many good men have come and gone since Alex McKee’s men lifted the Irish Cup back in 1989 to make you stop and think.
There will be no excuses from Ferguson. A class act on and off the pitch, if an ounce of his will to win and grit and determination rub off on his first crop of players then things will have already improved ten-fold.
“In the last 20 years, I've had confidence in my ability on the pitch and I've picked up a lot from certain managers I've worked with,” said Ferguson, who will be assisted by Lee Doherty and Norman Kelly.
“I've picked up a lot off Lee, who manages our Legends team, and even in those matches he's a winner. Norman plays in those games and he's a winner.
“Irrespective of who has been here before and whether they've done a good job or not, that's in the past. As a club we want to move forward and hopefully we can help them do that.”
There is huge potential at Ballymena United. The infrastructure is first class, the ground is second to none and there are a lot of good people behind the scenes desperate for success.
But the plain and simple truth is that, no matter how good Ferguson is, or for that matter Roy Walker, Tommy Wright, Kenny Shiels (need I continue?) unless you have good players or ones who will die with their boots on, it doesn’t really matter who sits in the dug-out.
What Ferguson will do immediately is command respect. He has just hung his boots up relatively recently and, in Doherty and Kelly, he has two fine lieutenants who know what it takes to succeed.
“When you look around the club, you can see the potential with the training facilities and the way the board has backed the managers in the past, you get a real chance here,” he added.
“Hopefully we can turn around what's on the pitch at the minute and turn performances into results and just move Ballymena United up the table.”
And that job is a tough one as the defensive vampires (they just can’t deal with crosses) that are the real curse of the Sky Blues were all too clear for Ferguson as he carried out his first post-match post mortem. Maybe it was a trick of the light, but he already looked like he’d aged.
“We knew that Ballymena could score goals but, unfortunately, we also knew that they could concede and that was pretty evident out there,” he commented afterwards.
“The amount of crosses that went into the box and two free headers (for the goals), you need boys putting their head on the line and that didn’t happen today.
“And also at the other end there were balls that went into the box that we didn’t challenge for either.
“I told them that going forward we’re going to have to work hard. There were a couple of players who I thought wanted to play on their own terms which doesn’t happen and I told them that. They’ll be given instructions to do. We’re not ruling with a rod of iron but there’s instructions you have to give players to carry out and, if they don’t, they’ll be out of the team. That’s the bottom line.
“I highlighted the defensive deficiencies and told them that they need to improve on that. I don’t think that’s a secret, anyone can see that, but during the week it’s going to about getting in, training and assessing who’s fit and who’s not and what changes can be made.”
Welcome to life at Warden Street. At least there’s a Spike now to deal with those pesky vampires