Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Robbo returns

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John Robertson (right) with assistant Donald Park in 2003, during his first spell at Inverness
So, twelve and a half years after he left, John Robertson returns to Inverness Caledonian Thistle, the site of his greatest managerial successes.

Correction: John Robertson returns to the site of his only managerial successes; after leaving the Highlanders in December 2004, the former Scotland striker didn't exactly go on to better things.  If he was unlucky in his dream job at Hearts (where Vladimir Romanov came in and wanted his own coach) and Ross County (where he left after four months after being told to make big budget cuts) there seem to be few excuses for his tenures at Livingston and East Fife.  His sixteen month spell in Methil ended five years ago, and is his only managerial post in a decade.

He has still been active in Scottish football, working as a coach with Hearts' under-17 squad and doing plenty of media work, but the fact that he hasn't managed in so long is obviously a worry.

Of course it was Robertson who guided ICT to the top flight for the very first time back in 2004; the club badly need him to repeat the trick.  The Scottish Championship is a hell of a competitive league even without the likes of Hearts, Hibs and Rangers.  To win promotion they will have to fend off not just Dundee United but streetwise sides like Falkirk and Morton as well as a resurgent St. Mirren.

And frankly the club are in disarray, with a dreadful lack of leadership both on and off the field.  The board's failure to act and remove Richie Foran several months ago has resulted in relegation and a shortfall of about half a million pounds; following the end of the season the chairman, Kenny Cameron, quit.  Foran remained in post for another nine days whilst a new chairman and directors got sorted out and was apparently making decisions on releasing and retaining players a few days prior to his departure.

Another sixteen days have elapsed before Robertson's unveiling, which comes three and a half weeks after the final league match of 2016-17; whilst Caley Thistle have been procrastinating, their peers have been wheeling and dealing to strengthen for the new season.  The Betfred Cup starts in just a month's time.  With only two goalkeepers and ten outfield players under contract, there's an awful lot of catching up to do.

The fans' patience, worn thin by a year of horrendous results and turgid football and stretched further by the lack of communication from the club during this turbulent period, finally snapped after season ticket details were announced - on the same day Foran was punted, no less.  Prices were frozen, despite relegation and despite the fact that there will be one fewer home game in 2017-18.  (For comparison, after relegation in 2009 prices were cut by £100 across the board)

Even the most loyal supporters baulked at this, with many threatening not to renew until new chairman Willie Finlayson backtracked furiously yesterday, offering a 10% reduction on prices and a host of perks for season ticket holders.  It was a welcome move, but whether that, and the Robbo appointment, are enough to limit the significant damage done remains to be seen.

The hope is that Robertson thrives once more in this environment.  Ex-players such as Bobby Mann and Michael Fraser have spoken very highly of him as a coach and manager.  Moreover, he should have a pretty decent contacts book and hopefully be able to find us a few decent players.  At this level recruitment is probably a more important for a manager than tactical aptitude, so fingers crossed there.

However, the first impression is that the appointment is uninspiring.  The names linked with the post - Robbo (an ex-manager), Paul Sheerin (an ex-player), Maurice Malpas (an ex-assistant manager) - suggest a complete lack of imagination and lack of a proper application process.  Was there really no interest in the role outwith Scotland?  Or is it the case that the club only have contact details for former employees?

My own gut feeling remains that 2017-18 will be a hard season for Caley Thistle.  Things are going to get worse before they get better.  And that's nobody's fault but their own.

Lawrie Spence has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

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