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Johnny Phillips: Caretakers have played a prominent role at Wolves over the years

During a moment of reflection totally unconnected to any events currently occupying the nation, the role of the caretaker manager came to mind this week.

Rob Edwards the Interim manager of Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Rob Edwards the Interim manager of Wolverhampton Wanderers.

The willing employee ready to step into the breach for the sake of his club during that hiatus after the main man has been sacked or resigned and before a new appointment can be made.

At Wolves, caretaker managers have played an important role steadying the ship, sometimes even changing its course for the better before moving on altogether, returning to the coaching ranks or finding themselves in an unexpected pole position.

The most intriguing appointment of its kind came when Wolves emerged from a second administration in the summer of 1986.

Manager Sammy Chapman left in the wake of the team’s third successive relegation and first-team coach Brian Little, who had been working at Molineux since January, took the reins for the start of the 1986/87 season.

“I have always had the desire to become a manager and now I’ve got the chance,” he said on his temporary appointment.

He made an astute signing, persuading Ally Robertson to leave Albion and become captain, and early results were promising if unspectacular during the club’s first season in the Fourth Division.

Then, with fans warming to the incumbent, the new board turned to Graham Turner, who had just been sacked by Villa. It was an unpopular appointment but history shows the board got it right.

Little went on to enjoy a fine managerial career, having particular success with his old club Villa, taking them into Europe and winning a League Cup.

One wonders how he might have faired if given the opportunity at Wolves.

When Turner’s seven-and-a-half-year stay at Molineux came to an end in March 1994, defender Peter Shirtliff took charge for a couple of games before Graham Taylor entered the fray.

Taylor didn’t last more than 18 months and, while a successor was sought, Bobby Downes moved up from his backroom team to fill in while another managerial search took place.

Mark McGhee eventually succeeded Taylor almost a month later, in December 1995, but when his time was up in November 1998 Wolves changed their approach to the caretaker role.

McGhee’s assistant Colin Lee stepped into the void and began with an astonishing 6-1 win away at Bristol City, with four goals from on-loan Feyenoord striker David Connolly.

The game at Ashton Gate earned notoriety for a half-time mascots fight between Wolfie and three little pigs, who were sponsored by a local glazing firm which may have been seeking some publicity. Results improved and three weeks on from his temporary appointment the board decided to give Lee the job until the end of the season, prompting a once strong friendship between him and McGhee to turn sour.

By the summer Lee, and his assistant John Ward, had done enough to earn themselves two-year contracts.

Ward had been a manager in his own right and when Lee’s tenure came to an end in December 2000 he came under consideration for the job.

But Sir Jack Hayward decided to approach Dave Jones instead and Wolves finally put their 90s woes behind them with promotion to the Premier League in May 2003.

When Jones left in November 2004, his seat was temporarily filled by Stuart Gray.

The caretaker manager was a key conduit between the Wolves board and their next appointment, Glenn Hoddle.

The pair had worked together at Southampton when Hoddle had first followed Jones into the manager’s seat.

Many years followed before Wolves needed to call on the services of a caretaker manager again.

When they did, the team was at the start of an alarming freefall through the divisions once more.

After a devastating 5-1 home defeat to West Brom in February 2012, Mick McCarthy was sacked and his long-standing number two, Terry Connor, was left to pick up the pieces.

Connor only took the job on the understanding he was briefly filling in until a replacement could be found but two weeks later he was handed the job until the end of the season, and reluctantly accepted.

It never worked out, Wolves were relegated from the Premier League and their descent was well under way.

The last time the club needed the assistance of a caretaker was in the dramatic 2016/17 season when Walter Zenga’s ill-fated stint came to an end in October.

Rob Edwards had been working as a first-team coach and was made ‘interim head coach’ for just two games until Paul Lambert took charge. It was one of five different positions Edwards held during three separate spells at Wolves.

He has since gone on to prove his qualities, taking Forest Green Rovers to the League Two title last season before accepting the Watford job ahead of their return to the Championship next season.

What all these figures have in common is that they walked into a situation not entirely of their own making. All had links with their predecessor but several showed they could take the club on a different path.

Of course, one crucial necessity before fulfilling this temporary role is that if the man at the top steps down, he is actually required to depart the scene. Thus giving any caretaker the chance to repair at least some of the damage that has been done.

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