LES PAYNE: Quality no guarantee

Flashback: Neil Collins in the 2006 Hillsborough derby
Flashback: Neil Collins in the 2006 Hillsborough derby
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THERE comes a tipping point in the life of a football manager when he is teetering close to the edge.

Perhaps Alan Irvine, a good, decent man, liked and respected across the game, realised he’d reached it after the Peterborough game on Tuesday when he gave an uncharacteristically terse reaction to some of the media questions.

In this day and age of phone-ins, fans forums, twitter, etc, the pressure mounts as never before and more people than ever are offering their instant views, often extreme ones but particularly critical ones.

This sort of “pressure” is only going to increase (or get worse depending on how you look at it) and managerial life, which seems to be getting ever shorter, will get shorter still. Indeed, I can see the day time coming when clubs having three managers in a year might not be considered rare.

Irvine arrived with a fine reputation and glowing references from throughout football including some of its major figures. He came “highly recommended”.

High on his list of supporters was Howard Wilkinson who, of course, took the decision this week to leave the Owls board after such an invaluable contribution during the club’s many hours of need. With hindsight some might wonder if he reckoned something was blowing in the wind then.

For sure Wednesday will struggle to come up with someone who worked more diligently and conscientiously and put in more hours and miles in pursuit of the perfect outcome. Unfortunately, however hard you work, perfection - certainly not at League One level - doesn’t happen.

As the spotlight now switches to a successor, one recalls how, back in November 2005, Neil Warnock and Milan Mandaric seemed destined to link up at Portsmouth. The then Blades boss (it was their promotion season to the Premier League) was reportedly the “top target” and received glowing words from Mandaric.

There’ll be those fans who’ll note the ex-Wednesday favourites who were the three Leicester City bosses who didn’t get their P45 from Mr Mandaric - Gary Megson, Nigel Pearson and Nigel Worthington all moved up the food chain to other jobs at Bolton, Hull and Northern Ireland respectively.

Many have always thought Megson was destined for Hillsborough one day. No doubt names like Iain Dowie and, yes, Roy Keane, will be thrown in.

By now, so will hundreds of others. Over to you Mr Mandaric!

One particular signing on the final day of the transfer window served to remind me of a favourite footballing story and one of many involving Neil Warnock.

It was the evening before the city derby at Hillsborough back in 2006 with the Blades gunning strongly for promotion to the Premier League.

Warnock had a defensive crisis through injury and suspension and it seemed he’d only one recognised central defender left.

A caller that evening to BBC Radio Sheffield’s ‘Football Heaven’ confidently stated that United had signed a defender, gave a pretty convincing reason how he knew, and said it was James Collins - at the time at West Ham.

This was news to everybody. Nothing had gone out over the airwaves or in print. About 15 minutes later, the radio lads called Warnock and he went live on the programme.

Asked if he’d signed James Collins, the West Ham central defender, Warnock answered truthfully. “No.”

A couple of probing questions later and Warnock answered them all truthfully... he hadn’t signed James Collins nor would he be signing him and James Collins wouldn’t be playing the next day. Fine.

Come the next day and there was the Blades shirt with Collins on the back - and inside it was Neil Collins, a central defender signed on loan from Sunderland.

The signing was done stealthily; Warnock was happy for Wednesday to believe the defensive ‘crisis’ was continuing and they’d have a makeshift central defender the next day and was more than happy to answer questions about James Collins and never felt compelled to correct anyone.

Of course, Neil Collins played and helped United to a 2-1 win. He played one more game and that was it.

He’s now back at the Lane and ready for a “second debut” at Ipswich tomorrow.