19 March 2013

A young man's job

Meet the new boss: Lee Johnson is just 31 years of age.

Lee Johnson yesterday became the youngest manager in the Football League when he was put in charge of Oldham Athletic.

31-year-old Johnson has followed in his father Gary's footsteps by taking his first role in football management. It's a high-pressure role as well - Oldham are battling against relegation from League One, where they have been since 1997/1998, before Johnson even began his professional playing career!

At his first press conference at Boundary Park, Johnson showed plenty of youthful enthusiasm, saying, "I don’t feel any pressure at the moment, I just feel really excited to get the adventure underway. I can only give it my best which I will.

"All ask of the fans is they give the team the support for the 90 minutes which is so important in this current situation."

Johnson will be making a few headlines over the coming weeks, and not just because of his age. When Lee's Oldham host Gary's Yeovil Town on 16 April, they will become one of a small number of father-and-son duos to manage opposing teams in a Football League fixture.

The former Yeovil and Bristol City midfielder, who left Kilmarnock in January, takes over from Karl Robinson, who was 29 when he became Milton Keynes Dons manager and is now 32, as the Football League's most youthful manager.

Young bosses are nothing new, of course. In 1965, 30-year-old Brian Clough became the new Hartlepool United manager, and nine years later, East Stirlingshire appointed a 32-year-old by the name of Alex Ferguson. They've both done reasonably well for themselves since their first jobs. But when Clough and Ferguson took their first tentative steps in management, it was almost a prerequisite that you had to have a significant amount of life experience to be a head coach.

Chris Brass was one of a few names to break the mould when, in 2003, he was appointed player-manager of York City at the tender age of 27. He didn't do particularly well there, but clubs were soon giving jobs to young bucks like Chris Coleman, Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers, and they were reaping the rewards.

Nowadays, you can't move for managers who are younger than 40. As well as Johnson and Robinson, there's Leam Richardson (Accrington Stanley), Eddie Howe (AFC Bournemouth) and Andre Villas-Boas (Tottenham Hotspur), who are all aged 35 or under.

In fact, 15 managers from the 92 Football League clubs are in their 30s. It's easy to forget that Martinez is still only 39, and that Rodgers has only just himself turned 40.

The rise of the fresh-faced coach has been spearheaded by 35-year-old Villas-Boas. The Portuguese got his first big job, as 'technical director' of the British Virgin Islands national team, when he was just 21. He later became Jose Mourinho's apprentice at Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan before standing on his own two feet and winning Portugal's Primeira Liga and the UEFA Europa League with Porto aged only 33.

Villas-Boas, who like Mourinho was also inspired by the late, great Bobby Robson, is a forward-thinking coach, and I think that Lee Johnson will be that to some extent at Oldham. He has taken bits and pieces from his former coaches (including big names like Graham Taylor, Steve Coppell and of course his dad) and he said ahead of today's home game with Hartlepool, "I have got a definitive plan of ideas on how I want to go forward and I’m going to be brave in going for that."

Good luck to him. And in a league where one bad run of form could easily get you sacked, young Lee might need some of it.

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