Sacked by Plymouth, but a big future awaits Carl Fletcher
Football is a results business and nobody understands that better than Carl Fletcher right now. The 32-year-old rookie had the worst possible start to 2013 – he was sacked by Plymouth on New Year’s Day, just moments after his team were beaten 2-1 by a Bristol Rovers team buoyed by the arrival of a new manager.
That the fatal blow should be delivered by John Ward in the oppositng dugout was ironic. It was only a month ago that Ward was on the brink of joining Plymouth to work alongside Fletcher as director of football. Instead, he performed a U-turn when the Pirates came calling in their search for a successor to Mark McGhee.
Some might say the writing was on the wall for Fletcher once owner James Brent had approached a seasoned campaigner like Ward but it had long been apparent that Fletcher needed some help and he seemed genuinely open to the prospect of being advised by the former Carlisle and Colchester boss.
Indeed, Fletcher was the first to admit he was out of his depth. He was a first-time manager working for a first-time owner with nobody else to point them in the right direction. Both men had the best intentions and no shortage of initiative, but neither had any experience of running a football club – never mind one that had endured such hardship in recent times.
For Fletcher, it was the administrative side of the job that was proving most obstructive. But, equally, it was also clear that he needed help in the transfer market. He needed someone with better contacts, somebody able to pull a few strings to get him a better class of player.
Because when you look beyond the league table and analyse Argyle’s results in detail, accounting for what Fletcher had at his disposal in contrast to the class of opposition, you start to wonder whether he deserved to lose his job at all. Rather, you start to wonder how things might have been different had he been given the right guidance by a more experienced right-hand man.
When Fletcher picked up the reins in September 2011, Plymouth were rooted to the bottom of the Football League with just one point from nine matches. They looked doomed. However, soon enough, he began to make a difference. The recovery was slow but, over the next seven months, real progress was made and relegation was averted.
Come mid-January, Argyle were out of the bottom two. By Easter, they were all but safe with a 1-0 win over Aldershot. Having lost eight of the first nine matches, they would only lose a further 12 in the remaining 37. And yet it was all achieved with modest transfer activity, most of the repairs were carried out on the training ground.
Fletcher didn’t have much control over many things that were going on around him but he had remarkable control over the two things that mattered most: results and performances. In terms of personnel, Plymouth weren’t a top-half team by any stretch of the imagination and yet they finished last term undefeated in 19 matches against bottom-half opposition. Predictably, their record against top-half opposition was dismal, but only three times in 18 matches did they suffer defeat by two clear goals.
Given Plymouth’s limitations, it was an outstanding show of uncertainty avoidance and it marks Fletcher out as a highly-promising young coach with the in-built leadership credentials to one day be his own man. You simply don’t get that level of consistency in League Two unless the players are hanging on your every word.
All of which brings us to the sequence of results that ultimately brought about Fletcher’s demise because the current campaign is laced with similarities to last term. When the Pilgrims played out a 1-1 draw with Torquay on Boxing Day – their 24th in 61 league matches under Fletcher – they had accumulated 22 of their 24 points from 15 matches against the bottom 15.
However, Fletcher entered the Christmas period on the brink of the axe following a run of seven successive matches against top-half opposition. Naturally, the Pilgrims had mustered just one point from that sequence but only once had they been comfortably beaten. It was the same old story but now the randomness of the fixture list was having an impact on the league table and testing Brent’s resolve.
Only time will tell whether it’s possible to glean more from the Argyle players by taking them on a roller-coaster journey of emotional highs and lows, although presumably John Sheridan will use his contacts to recruit better players in any case. Either way, we should probably expect fewer draws.
Meanwhile, as Fletcher said his tearful farewells to the waiting media at the Memorial Stadium, he was left contemplating the future and whether he still has a role to play in football. Taking everything into consideration on the evidence of his first managerial post, he doesn’t just have a future, he has a big future. All he needs is the right guidance.Tagged in: football, Plymouth
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