Issue Peter Jackson: managerial hybrid or the great divider?

As told by Jason Mckeown

I’ve always looked at the Burnley situation when Owen Coyle left and the fans were calling him every name under the sun. Then they couldn’t wait to get rid of Brian Laws. If you’re a fan, you can’t have it both ways. Be careful what you wish for.” Peter Taylor, February 4 2011

After Stuart McCall – hired due to his passion and commitment – and Peter Taylor – recruited because of his experience and successful track record – both ultimately failed managing Bradford City, does interim arrival Peter Jackson represent a managerial hybrid?

On the face of it and, after a typically showman’s introduction to the media, it would appear Jackson has the potential to offer the best of both worlds. He has been quick to point out that he always puts 110% commitment to the club he is at, and that managing Bradford City is to him extra special. In terms of his outwards personality, he is probably as close to McCall as the club can find to a manager who’ll project how much he cares – and, like Taylor, he’s also successfully guided a club out of this league.

Anyone who once claimed to bleed Blue and White can never be considered as passionate for the Bantams as McCall – who once said that a game of tiddlywinks between City and Town would still really matter. Similarly, Jackson’s managerial pedigree can’t compete with Taylor’s. Nevertheless City’s Board, who have targeted the qualities of passion and previous success during its last two recruitment drives, might see Jackson as the closest to delivering both.

Jackson offers strong commitment to City’s cause, and he has a history of some success. So if McCall’s passion is still considered a good thing and if a track record like Taylor’s is still a desirable quality, there is a strong argument to make for Jackson to be entrusted with the job beyond the next few weeks

However, scratching beyond the surface of Jackson’s managerial record does throw up some doubts, which suggest he may not be the long-term answer for City. His first managerial role at Huddersfield in 1997 undoubtedly started well. Back in the old Division One, the Terriers were cut adrift at the bottom of the league and looked doomed to relegation to the third tier. Jackson made an instant impact after taking over in November; reviving the club and guiding it to a very respectable mid-table placing.

When the momentum was continued in the next season (1998/99), Town topped the league for six weeks before eventually being overtaken by Sunderland and City. As form tailed off badly towards the end of that season, which was far from in keeping with the ambition of new owners, Jackson was sacked. It was no coincidence that he was ordered to pack his desk on the same day the people of Bradford lined the streets to celebrate the Bantams’ promotion to the Premier League.

Yet the Terriers hardly prospered without him and he returned to manage the club four years later when it was at its lowest ebb – two relegations in three seasons, and a period in administration. Jackson famously inherited just eight players, yet guided the club to promotion out of the bottom tier – via a play off final penalty shootout win at Wembley – in his first season back. The following year, in League One, Town narrowly missed the play offs after a superb late run. The year after they made the play offs but were defeated by Barnsley. A year later the club drifted to midtable and he was again sacked.

Which led him to League Two Lincoln and a situation similar to his first spell at Town. The Imps had endured a terrible start and were facing the drop, but Jackson was again able to turn it round and pull Lincoln up to midtable. As he recovered from battling throat cancer, he couldn’t improve on another midtable position the year after. Early on last season he was sacked as the Imps plummeted down the league.

The point of looking back at all of this is to illustrate the recurring pattern of his management. When he takes over a team it usually triggers a sizeable short-term boost and relative instant success, but as times goes by he has proven unable to continue that upwards momentum or take a club onto the next level. He can motivate players for sure; he can improve the quality of the squad by making effective signings. But eventually, it seems, he either takes a wrong turning or goes off the map – and he struggles to recover. He twice left Town better off than when he took over, but couldn’t take them as far as they wanted to go. Though it must be noted that no one who has followed him in the Galpharm dugout has so far being able to do any better.

It can be argued, with some justification, that he was often a victim of the rising expectations his efforts had triggered, but he has rarely made any attempt to downplay them. When Town topped Division One during the early few weeks of the 1998/99 season, he argued loudly and passionately that his team could last the distance – they dropped off. Exactly a decade later he boldly predicted his Lincoln side would earn automatic promotion – they didn’t even come close to the play offs.

All of which offers a huge question mark over what City are looking for in their next manager. If it’s all about achieving that short-term boost of winning some football matches and getting a promotion, Jackson represents a strong candidate. But if we’re looking for the next manager to be here for years and to build up a team – which has in recent times suffered from lack of stability and short-term signings – and climb back up the leagues, one struggles to find enough reasons to believe Jackson is the right man.

And another long-term consideration when assessing him has to be the huge divide of opinion that even his temporary appointment has generated. It is both surprising and interesting that Jackson’s arrival has been very strongly backed by a sizeable number of supporters. Of course he is considered a club legend to supporters of a certain age, but the bad blood his affiliation with Town caused – which, lest we forget, saw him endure some terrible receptions over the years when returning to Valley Parade as opposition manager – has been quickly forgiven and forgotten by many.

Other fans are equally dismayed at his arrival – indeed some supporters are even vowing not to attend games while he remains in charge. It will be very difficult for him to ever successfully unite the fans.

This may not matter in the short-term – especially if Jackson’s arrival prompts the type of immediate boost in form that his introductions at Huddersfield (twice) and Lincoln delivered – but old wounds will prove difficult to heal even over time. Whatever is said now of McCall and Taylor, they were hugely popular choices for the vacancy they filled and, in McCall’s case at least, that helped him retain support during difficult times. In contrast it wouldn’t take too many home defeats for discontent towards Jackson to become notable. Even a promotion from League Two would provide little sentiment if City struggle under Jackson in League One.

For now at least Jackson is in the driving seat for the job. Lose the next two games, and he can blame it on the situation he inherited and propose alternative solutions. Win the next two games, and the clamour for him to get the job full time would be difficult for the Board to ignore. Imagine City get four points from the games with Gillingham and Rotherham, many people are calling for him to get the job but someone else is appointed? At some point down the line, the new manager would have a dodgy period and Jackson will be brought back up into conversation as a fantastic opportunity wasted. The Board would be heavily criticised for sending Jackson away.

Ultimately, it should all come back to properly evaluating what’s required for this role and what the expectations should be. Is it all about getting a promotion and then addressing other issues from a position of greater strength, or should the club be striving to follow longer-term thinking and focus on building on and off the pitch? Is all that’s required from the new manager a promotion next season, or are we looking for someone who’ll be here for years to come – channeling as much thought into matters such as youth development as he does targeting three points the following Saturday?

If the former is the objective, Jackson’s name deserves to figure high up the list of potential successors to Taylor. But if it’s the latter, the best answers probably lie elsewhere.