Dean Saunders recently filled the vacancy left by Ståle Solbakken as the Norwegian left Molineux after one of the less merry Christmas’s in recent history. Saunders hasn’t got the experience some Wolves fans may have hoped for, so how well is he equipped to make a go of it in Wolverhampton?
On paper, he’s actually got it all. He knows the lower leagues inside out, a trait that has paid off handsomely for managers such as Paul Lambert and Nigel Adkins who have both achieved back to back promotions with teams assembled largely in League One, Norwich and Southamption respectively.
His three year tenure as Assistant Manager for the Welsh national team also gives him prime position for identifying young international talent – a throwback to Mick McCarthy’s Irish academy contacts that saw players such as Andy Keogh, Kevin Foley, Steven Ward, and later more established pros such as Kevin Doyle and Stephen Hunt join the club.
Finally, Saunders was not just an excellent football player. He also made the brave step that so few Brits do by playing abroad – twice. His time at Galatasaray in 95/96 and Benfica during 98/99 won’t mean anything in terms of contacts, but Saunders will have almost definitely learned alternative coaching, man-management and playing styles. This may give him an advantage in handling some of Wolves foreign personalities – Sako, Sigurðarson, Doumbia, Peszko – if he chooses to that is.
Backing up an impressive CV
It all sounds very positive, but what about his managerial track record? During a 20 year playing career, Saunders certainly gained some valuable influences. He played under managers such as Kenny Dalglish (Liverpool), Brian Little (Aston Villa) and Arthur Cox (Derby). As a Welsh international, capped 75 times, he played under managers such as John Toshack and Bobby Gould – a well-rounded education.
Furthermore, he has already been putting his knowledge to good use. After various coaching posts at Bradford, Wales, Newcastle and Blackburn, he landed his first job as a manager in 2008 at the Racecourse Ground, home to Wrexham. After a tricky baptism he turned the Welsh club’s fortunes around, leaving them as Conference league leaders in 2011 – a position they failed to maintain after his departure.
At Doncaster Rovers, he joined while the club was in Championship free fall under Sean O’Driscoll, a man also linked with the Wolves job, perhaps due more to his personal affiliation with the club than any solid fact. Having failed to save Doncaster from relegation in 2012 he began to rebuild, a job he has left unfinished for his opportunity at Wolves. Donny do currently sit pretty in top spot as we kick off 2013, proving that Saunders has a natural flair for developing a winning strategy.
This will be his toughest test yet though. The Championship league table makes for disturbing reading if you are a Wolves fan right now as the club sit in 18th just six points above the relegation zone. Even more upsetting has been the manner of which a bedraggled and frankly bored looking group of players have got themselves into this utter mess. The pace, energy, enthusiasm, and in some cases talent have all but disappeared from a team whose embryonic self, just four years ago, dominated this league.
Saunders certainly seems to posses the mentality to get back to hard working and winning ways. Now it’s about whether he has the resolve. The players looked a lot more up for it in Saunders’ first game against Blackburn, especially in the second half. Hopefully, that will prove a platform on which to build.