(Photo: Action Images)
By Chris Dunlavy
KENNY Jackett’s brief Rotherham reign was just a few hours old when he was asked whether the wreckage of the Alan Stubbs era could be salvaged.
“Well,” said the former Wolves and Millwall boss, “I have always left a club in a better state than I found it.”
Not any more. The 54-year-old’s departure, just five games and 39 days after his arrival, has turned a relegation battle into a damage limitation exercise.
Hope, burning but sputtering, has been extinguished. The Millers, perennially haunted by relegation, are now doomed.
Statistics can often mislead, but in this case they are irrefutably damning. Pre-weekend, the Millers had amassed a sorry seven points from their 18 games.
By the same stage last season, Bolton had 12 on the board – and the cash-strapped Trotters still finished the campaign a cavernous 19 shy of safety.
In fact, no EFL side has EVER survived relegation on the back of such an appalling start.
The question – and, with Jackett even more reticent than usual, answers are in short supply – is: what changed so dramatically in the space of four weeks?
Millers chairman Tony Stewart insisted there was no fall out, no aggro, nothing like that.
“We didn’t even have time to exchange harsh words,” he joked, presumably through gritted teeth. Yet sources all use the same word to explain Jackett’s departure – budget.
Jackett knew money was tight. Steve Evans kept the Millers in the Championship on a wage bill of £5m. Neil Warnock’s great escape was achieved on £7m, not that he spent much of it.
Going to the New York Stadium and expecting a transfer war chest is like using Southern Rail and expecting to arrive on time.
Nevertheless, Jackett, a man renowned for his meticulous deliberation, still committed an uncharacteristic misjudgement.
Basic due diligence, or a chat with any regular supporter, should have told him that Rotherham’s summer recruitment stank to high heaven.
Callow kids, has-beens, Scots with scant experience.
The fact that Dexter Blackstock and Peter Odemwingie arrived on frees in September and October tells you everything about their botched efforts to sign a striker.
Jackett, presumably, knew that too. There’s no way he would have taken the job without assurances from Stewart that he’d be given funds in January.
Yet a month on the training ground led to a dawning realisation that the players he’d inherited were worse than he thought, the rebuilding job less one-bed flat and more four-storey mansion. As the defeats piled up and safety looked ever more distant, Jackett realised attracting players would be nigh on impossible without a serious budget hike. Aware that wasn’t forthcoming, he jumped ship.
When a shark is attacked, it releases a chemical signal detectable for miles around.
Essentially a kind of primitive alarm bell, it tells other sharks to run – or swim – for the hills.
In bailing so dramatically out of the New York Stadium, Jackett has unleashed his own chemical signal, one that will send every other manager with a CV to protect a message that Rotherham is poison.
It is inconceivable that Stewart will be able to tempt another manager of Jackett’s calibre. In a sense, though, his departure at least brings clarity.
Rotherham’s explosive leap from League Two to the Championship clearly outstripped their infrastructure. Behind the state-of-the-art stadium is an antiquated training facility and slapdash scouting systems.
Stubbs, though hardly blameless himself, pointed this out in September.
“It does need an overhaul, a transformation,” he said. “We need a proper recruitment system and more scouts. The old system worked for the club in League Two and League One, but in the Championship there is no margin for error. We are severely playing catch-up.”
And, if Rotherham keep clinging to survival in the second tier, spending every penny on players nobody else wants, they always will be.
Don’t chuck money at survival in January. Don’t appoint another 20-minute manager.
Just as Burnley sacrificed their first Premier League season to upgrade the club, so Stewart should write off this campaign to focus on restructuring, developing a strategy and appointing a manager to implement it.
Short-term, that will be deeply depressing. Long-term, it will end the turmoil and upheaval that has characterised their recent history.
Inadvertently, Jackett may have left Rotherham in better shape than he found it, too.