FAREWELL KENNY JACKETT

Leaves with his head held high and can largely be proud of his time at Wolves – but time was up

Late on Friday evening, the news broke that Kenny Jackett had been sacked by Wolves after just over three years in charge. Walter Zenga has already been announced as his replacement. At this point we shall steer away from discussing the new man in charge – there’s only so much to be gleaned from potted Wikipedia biographies, and anyone without a working knowledge of the Saudi Arabian and UAE leagues can’t really pass much informed comment on his recent work – and concentrate on assessing the reign of Ken. Although Jeff Shi stated on Monday that Jackett would be given a chance to work with the new regime, his sacking was always on the cards. New owners habitually want to install their own man in short order and it was unlikely that a relatively low profile manager was going to be suitable for an era of big signings and large expenditure. At best, he would have lasted until the team went on its first bad run of 2016/17. Whatever the merits of Zenga, this arguably ruthless approach is a good early sign from Fosun; it is a good trait in football to identify problems and fix them before they become an issue, rather than hanging around and waiting for things to go sour before taking action. “Never change a winning team” is one of the biggest fallacies in football or any sport, it’s imperative that everything is constantly under review and subject to improvement if the opportunity arises.

Traore1
See, I mean you’d definitely change this winning team.

 

On to the positives and negatives of Ken’s time in charge:

Positives

  • Following relegation to League One, it was a very real prospect that we could have been stuck at that level for many years. Sheffield United are about to start their sixth straight season in the third tier, Coventry their fifth. Our success at that level is of course tempered by the fact that we should never have suffered the indignity of playing there and were only sent spiralling by the hubris of Steve Morgan and the rank idiocy of Dean Saunders, but nevertheless an immediate return wasn’t a given. As such Jackett deserves credit for overseeing achievement of his immediate goal and in some style too, with a haul of 103 points. Picking up such a points tally is impressive stuff irrespective of level; for reference when they won promotion from League One, Manchester City (3rd, 82 points), Nottingham Forest (2nd, 82 points) and Leeds United (2nd, 86 points) never got near that kind of form.

    Saunders1
    Missing: one idiot. If found, please return to village.
  • Many managers handed the Wolves job in 2013 would have assessed the squad and chosen to keep on Stephen Ward, Roger Johnson, Jamie O’Hara and Karl Henry, recognising that all had pedigree way above League One level and should therefore have had the requisite quality to secure promotion. However, Jackett quickly recognised that a clean break from the Mick McCarthy era was imperative and chose to exclude them from first team duty until they found new clubs. This was vital for the club, for all the merits of what Ward and Henry brought to the team in years past, this needed to be a fresh start for the club given the turmoil of the previous two seasons. Ken also got Leigh Griffiths back on board and scoring goals, a piece of excellent management which seemed nigh on impossible mere months earlier, and kept Bakary Sako happy and performing despite being stuck at a level severely incommensurate with his ability.

  • Ken’s early work in the transfer market was exemplary; Sam Ricketts was exactly the kind of leader we required to marshal a young team and was followed up by Scott Golbourne, Kevin McDonald, James Henry and Michael Jacobs who were perfectly equipped to bully League One. Nouha Dicko was a tremendous signing who has since proven that he is amongst the very best the Championship has to offer. Benik Afobe was a snip for the price paid, instantly fitted into and greatly improved the team, and in straitened times produced an obscene profit for the club in under a year (although there is much debate to be had about whether it was right to cash in when we did and to the very first offer too).

    Afobe1
    Half a point docked for being a badge kisser.
  • Kenny Jackett did produce good football at times during his reign. From January to November 2014, we played a brand of possession football which ensured we commanded games from start to finish; this also being a style scarcely seen by teams at Molineux at any point in the last 30 years, the nearest fit being Mark McGhee’s unsuccessful (and aborted) attempts when he first took charge. The final four months of 2014/15 following the arrival of Afobe were all about direct, brutal counter-attacking and hitting teams with sheer power and pace. The 21 games from Afobe’s debut yielded 38 points and 41 goals which flies in the face of Ken’s perceived negativity.

Negatives

  • Jackett had a real propensity to indulge in favouritism which bore little relation to what was playing out on the park. This is a trait of many managers, but no less frustrating for that. Kevin Doyle was persisted with in League One despite scoring a mere 3 goals in 23 appearances and contributing little to general play other than increasingly desperate attempts to win free kicks in inconsequential areas. Dave Edwards has repeatedly been deployed as a number 10, yet has a poor scoring record at Championship level and offers nothing by way of creativity; he was also deployed on the left of midfield at the start of 2015/16 with Ken later admitting (verbatim) at a Fans’ Parliament meeting that he wanted to “shoehorn” him in. Matt Doherty displaced club captain Sam Ricketts at the start of 2014/15 out of nowhere, has been preferred to England U21 star Dominic Iorfa at times and is, in Ken’s words, “too good to not play somewhere” – all of which seems strange devotion to a defender who is regularly at fault for goals (he did show signs of improvement towards the end of 2015/16, but this is only relative to how poor he was previously and stood out more as there was literally no attacking play to be excited about at the same time). Carl Ikeme was constantly directly at fault for goals last season yet despite the presence of Emi Martinez in the squad was seemingly immune to being dropped.

    Edwards1
    Senior debut in 2002/3. 22 goals above League One level. This is not a goalscoring midfielder.
  • Other players however, were poorly treated. Björn Sigurdarson was never likely to be the answer in English football but in League One he was routinely handed 45 minutes to show his worth then dumped back on the bench for weeks while Doyle offered nothing. Michael Jacobs was not given a single start in the number 10 role in 2014/15 while Edwards was inked into the team (it remains to be seen whether he can make an impact with Wigan this season to prove Jackett wrong). Bright Enobakhare found his progress blocked by the ample figure of Grant Holt for two months. Jack Price was regularly dropped and pushed down the pecking order despite frequently being our most impressive midfielder. Joe Mason was signed by Jackett having allegedly been targeted for months yet struggled to earn a regular starting place; the same applies even more so to Nathan Byrne who we were told was watched by the club over 40 times before we signed him. Adam Le Fondre has made a career out of being a penalty box predator in a conventional front two; not once did we deploy him in such a way. Jed Wallace was signed and barely used despite his abundant potential, Jordan Graham was around seventh in line to play on the left of midfield despite clearly being a cut above all the other alternatives.

  • For all Jackett’s good early work in the transfer market, this too declined as time went on. Any cursory glance at Leon Clarke’s career statistics would have revealed that he is an adept goalscorer at League One level and of no use whatsoever in the Championship. Given that we were well on course for promotion by the time we re-signed him (and there were still sufficient people at the club from Clarke’s first spell who should have told him there was no value in bringing him back) this seemed a spectacularly poor signing and so it proved. Yannick Sagbo and Grant Holt were terrible attempts at short term fixes. Rajiv van La Parra’s lack of consistent end product and questionable commitment should have been identified through proper scouting. Joe Mason appears to be wildly overpriced at the reported fee of £3m and Conor Coady was a diabolical use of £2m – a defensive midfielder who doesn’t have the positional astuteness to protect the back four and is truly woeful in possession, we already owned at least four better central midfielders when we signed him.

    Clarke1
    You can imagine how pleased I was with this.
  • One can point to mitigating factors when assessing our final league position in 2015/16. To lose all of Nouha Dicko, Jordan Graham and Michal Zyro to cruciate ligament injuries is beyond unfortunate, Richard Stearman, Bakary Sako and Benik Afobe were all integral parts of our 2014/15 team yet departed without being adequately replaced. However – there can be no excuse for serving up what we were subjected to last season. There were frequent first halves of no shots on target (we failed to score in 27 out of 46 first halves), dismal attempts at possession, the joint lowest tally of home wins at this level since our tumble down the divisions in the mid 80s, four consecutive 0-0 home draws (at a point where we had nothing to play for, so settling for inching our way along at a point a game made no sense), perhaps the most potent off the shoulder forward in the division in Afobe being deployed in ludicrously deep areas, failing to beat three of the division’s bottom four at home…none of this was anywhere near acceptable. Watching our games became incredibly numbing, the lack of entertainment value without even the pay off of results was a combination which left support for Ken at almost non-existent levels by the end of the campaign.

    Sleeping-football-fan-640x400
    You genuinely could have slept through most of our first halves and literally missed nothing.
  • Jackett did have a tendency – more so than most managers – to take his teams on very poor runs. We hired him after he won just 5 of his final 24 league games with Millwall. Between late November 2013 and early January 2014, we won just one out of seven League One fixtures. There were five straight defeats with 16 goals conceded in November and December 2014. Going into the dead rubber final game against a second string Sheffield Wednesday last season, we had won 3 of our last 19 games.

Overall, the mood towards Kenny Jackett should be one of gratitude. He achieved his immediate aim with ease, he left us at our default minimum level of being a stable Championship team, there were, on balance, more good times than bad. There is little need to feel too sorry for him on departure; under the normal run of things and had we not been in ownership limbo, he’d likely have been sacked at some point in 2015/16 and was well aware that new ownership meant in all likelihood that he would be leaving. In being ditched before the season has started, he’s avoided any stigma for being sacked due to poor results so his reputation won’t take a hit, and any club looking for stability at this level as a base will be interested in his services before the year’s out. He should always be welcome back at Molineux; broadly speaking Ken, thanks for your work. It’s just time we all moved on.

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