Remembering Butch and pondering directors of football

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Well if last week’s piece was a sombre affair, detailing as it did the untimely demise of a player here killed in a car crash on his way back from a match, this week’s starts unfortunately in a similar vein.

I didn’t know the player from club Adama here in Ethiopia, but I was shocked and stunned to hear of the tragic death of Macclesfield Town’s Richard Butcher last week.

“Butch” was a player I did know, having worked with him two years ago at Lincoln City, where I was assistant manager at the time.

It’s been a terrible 12 months for Macclesfield, given that my old friend and then Silkmen manager Keith Alexander passed away last March.

Keith’s death was shocking enough, even allowing for the health problems he’d had a few years previously, but Butch’s, given his age and supreme fitness, just left me plain dumbfounded.

He was 29 for goodness sake, and in that brief time working with him, it was clear that not only was he a lovely guy, he was one of the fittest players at the club.

I still don’t know the full picture from here, but it just seems inexplicable. It got me thinking about how thin the line is between being at the peak of physical performance and not.

Richard Butcher played for several clubs including Lincoln & Notts County

I remember Butch asking me after nearly every day of a pre-season training regime, bordering on the brutal, what we would be doing the next day.

I’d spent part of that summer in the USA with my cousin, who’s married to a Native American lady, and she told me a saying her people have which I remembered and took an almost a maniacal pleasure in repeating almost daily to Butch. “Tomorrow’s NEVER promised…” I’d say.

Amidst the shock and sorrow of hearing the news, how tragically ironic that now sounded I thought. My thoughts and prayers go to him, his family and everyone connected with Macclesfield Town.

That sad start to the New Year also coincided with a spate of managerial sackings back in England, depressing in their predictability.

I read somewhere that there should be managerial windows in the same way as there are transfer windows. Whatever the various reasons behind the sackings, it’s clear to me that something’s got to change.

Some might say that it’s inevitable, but the common factor linking the vast majority of them is the lack of forward thinking and planning involved.

From my own experience, I always feel that too much is left for the manager to do in this day and age. Yes he may have honest and hard-working staff he can rely on, but he carries a weight of responsibility that is almost too big a burden at times.

We’re talking about big businesses here, yet they’re still run like corner shops. So many lack a genuine chain of command, with a board of directors at the top and a properly accountable director of football responsible for hiring and being a proper link between the board and management team?

Some clubs do have such a figure, and despite the bad press this kind of structure often receives in the English press, it is still a sign of good practice.

Problems have occurred in the past when such a person has been imposed on a manager, but if he’s already a fixture at the club and brings some experience of playing the game, then his knowledge and experience can be invaluable.

Liverpool's recently appointed 'Director of Football Strategy' Damien Commolli

It’s something that they invariably do better on the continent than in England, sad to say. Real Madrid have Jorge Valdano, World Cup winner with Argentina in 1986, and prior to him was Predrag Mijatovic, an outstanding talent in his day.

Germany are able to utilise the experience and talents of ex players like Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in the administration of the clubs such as Wolfsburg and Bayern Munich. 

The cynical might say that there is a reason players in England aren’t readily associated with the administrative side of the game. Sir Trevor Brooking in his role with the FA and perhaps Brian Marwood at Manchester City are certainly the exceptions to the rule.

But the notion that ex-players aren’t capable of operating in such roles is a myth, particularly outside the top flight, where players are more readily aware of preparing for a life after their playing days are over.

My point is that a club with such a structure will almost inevitably provide a better framework for a manager to operate within, effectively leaving him in the ‘head coach’ role, I think best suited to modern managerial life.

It won’t immediately or entirely stop the knee-jerk approach to hiring and firing, but it provides more stability and promotes better business practice.

The other benefit of having such an intelligent (yes there are plenty!) ex-player capable of working alongside the manager helping establish the transfer policy, identify targets and negotiate contracts, is that it allows clubs to chart their own course, rather than let them - or worse the manager - be in the throes of unscrupulous agents.

It might seem a trite comparison, but continuing the analogy, big businesses rarely have a chain of command at the top, a workforce at the bottom, and probably their most important employee somewhere in the middle, left in the main to his own devices and then carrying the can for all perceived failures.

Some clubs do employ such a person, but the point is that it should be standard practice throughout the divisions. Hundreds of players leave the profession every year, where do they all go? And what a potential knowledge and experience exits with them? It’s really not that radical a concept, all it needs is the willingness of clubs top embrace the concept fully and then identify the type of individual capable of fulfilling such a role.

I don’t know whether Richard Butcher had such plans for life after football but amiable, enthusiastic and intelligent players such as he would be the kind highly suited to such a role, and football will be poorer for the absence of people like him.

R.I.P. Butch!