JEREMY CASEY COLUMN: Can Mallinder recreate the magic?


Looking at the problems facing Jim Mallinder at the Saints has got me thinking about other coaches or managers who have made an instant impact with a club, and then seemingly hit a bit of a wall.

Now I am not saying Mallinder won’t be able to turn things round at Franklin’s Gardens, and it seems that according to chairman Leon Barwell he will certainly be given that chance.

But there is little doubt that after five years in charge, Mallinder’s methods are not, for the moment at least, working any more.

The supporters aren’t happy, and there has been criticism of the team and coaches from the stands, in print, and on the internet.

Saints, after more or less five years of constant upward progression under Mallinder and his assistant Dorian West, seem to have hit a bit of a slide.

Indeed, the situation Mallinder finds himself in reminds me of Graham Carr’s reign at Northampton Town back in the 1980s.

Carr rolled up at the County Ground from non-League football and had identified a crop of talented players he could bring in and mould into a team.

Mallinder joined Saints having coached at Sale and with England Saxons, and with a great knowledge of talent that had perhaps slipped under the radar, was about to blossom, or had huge potential.

So for Carr bringing in Trevor Morley, Richard Hill, Eddie McGoldrick, Ian Benjamin, Phil Chard, Russell Wilcox and the rest, see Mallinder signing up Ben Foden, Chris Ashton, Phil Dowson, James Downey, Lee Dickson, Tom Wood and Roger Wilson.

Both Carr and Mallinder had time to mould their teams, get them playing exactly as they wanted them to, and had great success.

Carr won the division four title, and was a whisker away from a promotion play-off place the following season, while Mallinder surpassed those achievements and won promotion, won the European Challenge Cup, won the LV= Cup, reached three Premiership play-off finals and the final of the European Cup.

Reading those records it may seem foolish to compare the two managers, but the fact is Carr was operating in football, which is a far more cut-throat sport than rugby (there are after all 92 professional league clubs in this country), and had to start breaking his winning team up sooner than Mallinder.

And it’s at that moment where the problems started for Carr, and have seemingly upset Mallinder’s plans as well.

In Carr’s case, goal machine Hill was sold after the 1987 title win, and following him out of the door in a steady procession - all to better themselves at bigger and higher level clubs - were Morley, McGoldrick, Keith McPherson, Chard and others.

Fair money was received, and replacements were brought in - but the simple fact is they were not as good as the players they were replacing.

Carr still put together a good team, with good players, but they weren’t as good as the class of ‘87.

The pool of players that he had pinpointed, that had that bit of extra quality, had dried up. And he could never quite recreate the magic.

Carr’s and the Cobblers’ tactics (copied by Jack Charlton and the Republic Of Ireland as they reached the 1988 European Championships and the 1990 World Cup) were also sussed out and nullified by other managers.

Again Carr tinkered, changed, tried to expand the team’s game, but they were never as consistently effective as that first team he built.

And the same could be said of Mallinder and his recent troubles at Saints.

He has worked hard at recruitment, but are the players that have replaced the departing Ashton, Downey, Wilson, Bruce Reihana and the rest as good as those players were?

The jury is still out on that, but I would suggest on current evidence that they are not.

And, like Carr and the Cobblers, Saints under Mallinder have had a set way of playing that served them well, but now seems to have run its course.

Where once Saints were an unstoppable force, scoring tries at will and terrorising opponents, they now struggle to make any sort of headway.

The opposition seems to have got their number.

Carr was a fantastic manager for the Cobblers, and will always be a club legend for what he achieved, and for the thrill, excitement and great players he brought to the County Ground.

But his reign ended in relegation back to the bottom tier and a ‘mutual decision’ that he leave the club.

Now I am not saying the same fate awaits Mallinder, but in sport it’s a fact of life that what has happened before means very little, it’s always about the future.

Mallinder has done a great job at Franklin’s Gardens, and has earned the right to rebuild his squad. Here’s hoping he is able to recreate the magic that Carr couldn’t quite manage to more than 20 years ago.