WHEN I once suggested that Billy Davies possessed the requisite skills to become a great football manager, one of the game’s most respected soothsayers dismissed it as being highly unlikely.
“The trouble with Billy is that it seems he can manage down, but not upwards,” he said, referring to the fact that Davies’s diligence in handling players sometimes failed to extend to his associations with members of the boardroom.
“You can’t go around telling the chairman to eff off,” my advisor continued. “Until Billy accepts that the word discretion deserves to be in the English language, there is always going to be a struggle.”
Davies’s struggle against life’s changing fortunes continued on Monday when a ribbon of breaking news on Sky Sport declared that he had been sacked for a second time in three years by Nottingham Forest.
It had all gone quite splendidly until a few weeks prior to this. Davies had virtual autonomy of the club. The often absent owner, Fawaz al-Hasawi, was in raptures. Nine million pounds of his money had been spent – but the Premier League was shimmering like a mirage. Who cared?
Then an injury-weakened Forest went eight Championship games without victory, were trounced 5-0 by Derby at the weekend, and filtered out of contention for a play-off place.
There was only one recourse. So, if you take into further consideration Davies’ abrupt dismissal by Derby in 2007, you are reading a rather repetitive narrative.
This particular departure was more damaging then most, however. If Davies had gone without seemingly a murmur of protestation, the recriminations became the property of others. Notably the Daily Telegraph.
In my days as Daily Mail Head of Sport, the Telegraph were considered to be the champions of the soft-shoe newspaper shuffle. But here they were applying hobnail boots to the retreating backside of the Scotsman.
It was reported that “the Billy Davies circus had been run out of town, after more than a year of drama, fall-outs, multiple sackings, conspiratorial messages – and sometimes football matches.”
Ouch! A man hoping to retain a foothold in the football world could do without that attached to his c.v. But the Telegraph weren’t finished. “Davies was given sole control, working closely alongside his cousin and agent (and former lawyer) Jim Price. But it seemed at times they were more preoccupied with settling personal vendettas than winning three points on a Saturday. Davies is now battling to save his own reputation.”
You didn’t need a forensics department to identify that a schism had developed between that particular writer and the pugnacious little Glaswegian. But is such a withering opinion justified?
Allow me to consult my personal history with the man. First, let me say that I like him, but add that there’s an undoubted schizophrenia in him: one minute he’s charming your ears off with brilliant chat, the next he’s removing them by force. This version of split personality is not uncommon in football managers, as readers of this site will know.
I’ve been texted by him, talked to him on the telephone a couple of times – once with the receiver held at arm’s length to protect myself from the invective that was pouring out of it – and met him twice, where he’s been most agreeable.
We had lunch on the second occasion which was back in September of 2011 – three months after he’d been initially sacked by Forest. I didn’t anticipate we would have the company of Jim Price, but I was presented with a fait accompli. No matter. Here is a sample of what I wrote back then:
INTERVIEWING Billy Davies is a complex affair. There’s a lawyer at his shoulder, three tape recorders on the table (one belonging to the said lawyer) and enough off-the-record interludes to constitute a Downing Street briefing.
But, according to my companions, this is the anomalous shape of football, circa 2011. Managing a club in these impatient times goes beyond difficult. The game has a foothold in Whitehall farce, so a man needs a team around him to assess the authenticity of the cast-list and determine whether the greasepaint is kosher.
Even, evidently, when that manager is out of work. This guy from Govan qualifies on that count, Nottingham Forest having divested themselves of his services just over three months ago.
But what’s with the lawyer and the tape recorder? Surely these precautions are indicative of suspicion in Davies?
“I’m protective of me and my family. This is the world we’re in now. I think you need to be a professional. A football manager needs a team – an accountant, legal advisors and agents because of what you’re dealing with.
“There are websites, fans forums, phone-ins and all these access points to creating stories, claims and counter claims. I don’t have an agent as such, but what I’ve got is a very good family member, an excellent contractual lawyer and an advisor who’s second to none.
“You talk then about the big animal (within) that the manager has to deal with: there are chief executives, general managers, football consultants, there are transfer acquisition committees. Yeah, there’s a big monster out there. That’s why a manager’s job is now so precarious.
“I know I’m simply a temp. Every manager is. I’ve got this short window of opportunity. Forget building a team over three years. You’re looking at three and four weeks before people start calling for your head. The good, old days of team building have completely gone. So what I know now is that I’m a temp manager who’ll go in and work for a period of time until it’s time to move on. Then the club brings in a new face and a new voice.”
As it was, that window of opportunity closed on Davies on Monday. By staying 13 months, he’d taken temping to new levels of longevity. But, it is alleged, there was a tempest forever raging within the club.
So, what lies ahead of him? He is already an extremely wealthy man with all these financial settlements, but you wonder if he will ever learn discretion and whether, having mastered the technique of managing downward, he’ll ever learn to manage upwards.
The suspicion is that he needs football to survive. We shall learn in time whether football needs him.