Megalomania in managers is generally not a good thing
#8 : TONY DALEY
Signed: June 1994 from Aston Villa, £1,250,000
Left: June 1998, contract expired
He was: A Christmas bottle of Martini that was smashed in the handover
As we’ve discussed previously, there was a time in the mid 90s when there was great optimism surrounding Wolves; we had effectively a new ground, state of the art for its time, we were spending a lot of money in an attempt to reach the Premier League and we had a charismatic, local owner who was putting everything behind us to propel us back to where we belong (although this is an odd concept for someone like me who’s watched us for nearly 30 years and frankly, there isn’t that much there to make a fuss of). So it followed that we made a real push for promotion ahead of the 1994/5 season, Graham Taylor being heavily backed and given the success of Blackburn and Newcastle on their trajectory into the top flight, it seemed that anything was possible. Taylor decided that his team would play with genuine width and made noises about that being the major strength of our all-conquering 1950s side – which was a bit of an easy popularity play and not really relevant 40 years on, but was well received in any event. Make do and mend options out wide such as Kevin Keen, Mark Rankine and Paul Birch that had been employed in the last couple of seasons would be a thing of the past, we were going for out and out wingers. Accordingly, Taylor snapped up Steve Froggatt and Tony Daley from his former club Aston Villa to play on either side.
Froggatt hadn’t actually played for Taylor at Villa but Daley certainly had, being a key player in their title challenge in 1989/90 and being capped seven times by him for England, including two games at Euro 92. His reputation was as an extremely quick winger with at times dazzling skills, aligned with the trademark inconsistency that you associate with such players. He made 28 appearances for Villa in 1993/4, including starting their League Cup final victory over Manchester United, but he was perceived to have gone stale there and was no longer part of Ron Atkinson’s plans in B6. The deal was done in June 1994 and he signed on for a fee of £1,250,000.
Any big money signings during this period came with a sense of great anticipation and Daley was no exception; we wanted to see what a player with a decent top level pedigree and still only in his mid 20s could do for us. What we didn’t know at the time – and what is reasonably common knowledge now – is that our medical staff advised Taylor not to sign him. More than once. And yet, he still did it. Loyalty to players you’ve managed in the past is one thing but to disregard the advice of qualified professionals in an area where you have zero expertise is something else instead. Inevitably enough, he picked up a knee injury in pre-season and we would have to wait until October to see him. In the meantime, Mark Walters arrived on loan from Liverpool to fulfil Taylor’s wish of effectively playing 4-2-4.
Daley eventually made his debut on 22 October 1994 with a 15 minute substitute appearance at home to Millwall. He came on with us 3-1 up and this seemed to be a routine enough run out just to get him out on the pitch and into the swing of first team football. There was an almost hushed awe among the crowd when he came on…which swiftly transformed to concerned yelps when he worryingly leapt up in seemingly sharp pain as he went to take his first touch in a gold shirt. He limped through the rest of that game – which we contrived to draw 3-3 in the end and it signified perhaps the start of the subsidence of our title challenge, which I’ll perhaps write about at another time – but was unsurprisingly ruled out of our next game, a League Cup tie against Nottingham Forest. Not long after, it was confirmed that he’d suffered a cruciate knee ligament injury and was ruled out for the season.
He returned for the 1995/6 season, though Taylor urged caution on the immediate prospects of his recovery and that of the similarly stricken John de Wolf. Caution or not, he gave us a star turn on his first Wolves start, tearing former England right back Gary Stevens to shreds in our opening day 2-2 draw at Tranmere. Unfortunately, this proved to be a bit of a false dawn. After this game, he really wasn’t doing much at all for us. Sure, he was still quick, but that didn’t mean he was using that attribute to hurt teams. There were flashes here and there, a couple of goals, a good performance against Derby, a couple of assists against Grimsby, a truly ludicrous haircut, but overall he looked like a common-or-garden right winger at this level who could shift a bit. Certainly not a £1m+ signing from the Premier League. With us hovering just above the bottom three, Taylor was sacked and Daley featured less under his successor Mark McGhee.
We toured Austria and Germany ahead of the 1996/7 season but it turned out to be a cursed trip; both Adrian Williams and Daley sustained serious knee injuries within days of each other. This looked terminal for Daley’s career – the second such injury in under two years for him and his recovery from the first one hadn’t been especially convincing. There was no prospect of him playing any part in that season, but nonetheless he worked his hardest and managed to back into our squad in January 1998. He made three substitute appearances against Norwich, Darlington and Sheffield United – the latter being most notable for a terrible miss on his part and this proved to be his final game for Wolves. We clearly felt that he was finished as a footballer at this level and he was released at the end of his contract in the summer of 1998 after just 27 appearances in four seasons.
Taylor showed further faith in Daley by handing him a one year deal at Watford where he made little impact, save for a goal at Birmingham in a Watford win which was part of a run where they overhauled us for the final playoff place in 1998/9. Six months at Walsall followed where he made seven appearances and he rounded off his career with two and a half years in the Conference at Forest Green, making 67 appearances along the way before retiring in 2002. He subsequently became qualified as a fitness coach and joined Sheffield United in this position in 2003, leaving them in 2007 and returning to Wolves where he remains to this day. Having survived numerous backroom revamps and changes of manager, he appears to be well regarded in this field as sports science becomes an ever more integral part of the game.
I said at the outset of this series that I’d try not to include players who had their Wolves career predominantly ruined through injury, such as Geoff Thomas or George Ndah. But Tony Daley is an exception, through no real fault of his own. It’s a lesson in managers knowing their boundaries. The medical staff are there for a reason; if they make the wrong call, then they pay for it, as Barry Holmes did in 2008 when it was revealed that Stephen Ward had been playing for the best part of a year with a knee condition that was one hefty challenge away from wrecking his career. It isn’t the manager’s domain to be ignoring their advice and playing with the club’s money in that way. As I say, it isn’t really Daley’s fault that he’s included in this series – though had he made 127 appearances rather than 27 of the general quality that he served up, he might have made it here in his own right – but he does need to be included as he was a waste of money that had we all known what the club had known at the time, we could all have foreseen from day one.