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ERIC NICOLSON: Why Motherwell overlooking St Johnstone legend Tommy Wright feels utterly inexplicable

Tommy Wright would have been an ideal successor to Stephen Robinson.
Tommy Wright would have been an ideal successor to Stephen Robinson.

Had I been asked in May with whom I next expected to see Tommy Wright working, I’d have probably said the Northern Ireland national team or Motherwell.

There was football logic to taking a break after seven years of unprecedented success with St Johnstone when you stripped away the emotion of his departure.

And there was also football logic to taking charge at Windsor or Fir Park when he decided the time was right to get back on the training ground.

The former was the job of his dreams – and an attainable one at that – and the latter a glaringly obvious ‘two plus two equals four’ fit.

That the man in the building, Ian Baraclough, would be chosen by the IFA to succeed Michael O‘Neill, despite the fact his CV wasn’t nearly as hefty as Wright’s, was half-expected.

The under-21 to senior team route is a well-trodden one in international football.

Baraclough has done no better than OK, however, and failed on the one night that really mattered, the Euro 2020 play-off final against Slovakia when the Irish could have done with a bit of Wright’s tactical savvy and fire-in-the-belly motivation.

Governing body officials can rarely be relied upon to make the common sense appointment but Motherwell?

In their case, overlooking Wright feels utterly inexplicable.

The main reason for saying that Fir Park felt like the most obvious next destination for one of the best managers the Scottish Premiership has seen in the last couple of decades was a process of elimination.

You can rule out Rangers and Celtic and the football snobbery factor also comes into play when talking about Aberdeen, Hibs and Hearts, possibly even Dundee United.

With the greatest respect to Ross County and Hamilton Accies (which of course means I’m showing them no respect whatsoever), Wright is far too good a manager for clubs of their size and fanbase.

St Mirren? Perhaps. The same goes for Kilmarnock. But Motherwell would have been ideal for Wright and Wright would have been ideal for Motherwell.

That would have been the case had Stephen Robinson landed one of the many jobs he was linked with and quit while the Steelmen were sitting in mid-table or above.

But it is even more true now that they are a crisis club, or at the very least doing a very passable impression of one.

Wright knows the territory inside out. He is calm under bottom of the league pressure. He improves players. He inspires players.

He adopts the style of football to suit them and not a preordained ‘philosophy’. And he was the manager Motherwell’s club captain Declan Gallagher wanted to play for when he decided to leave Livingston a couple of years ago.

Declan Gallagher.

In short, Wright would have been a cast-iron guarantee of Motherwell staying in the division and more than likely reaching the top six.

And, forget the myth, he does bring through academy youngsters.

Good luck to Graham Alexander but I suspect he is now going to have to live up to a reputation that even he probably doesn’t recognise.

I’ve seen Alexander described over the last day or two as the right choice because of the style of football his teams play.

Go and watch the latest Class of ’92 series, listen to a Salford City supporter or a journalist who covered them and you may change your mind.

Gritty is a word that comes up. Flamboyant is one that doesn’t.

Unfounded perception has been allowed to overtake hard-earned reality.

It’s very hard to escape the conclusion that Wright is suffering from familiarity, lazy assumptions and the fact that he doesn’t have a trendy beard, fade-shade haircut or doesn’t stand on the touchline like a disciple of Pep Guardiola with skinny trousers and a slim-fit jumper, rather than a club suit and an Alex Ferguson coat.

Unfounded perception has been allowed to overtake hard-earned reality.

Not a new phenomenon in football but depressing nonetheless.

Wright won’t lose any sleep over it. He will realise that if ever there was a season to sit out and watch from afar, it’s this one.

And Saints supporters, who are perplexed by the stereotype of the manager they adored, will no doubt be part-relieved that Motherwell have passed up a golden opportunity to hire Wright at a time of unprecedented jeopardy when his sure touch would be an asset to most of the clubs in the Premiership.

The prospect of a relegation battle in Perth if results don’t pick up over the next few weeks is grim enough.

But coming up against your club’s greatest ever manager in the middle of one really would be the stuff of nightmares.

The A to Z of Tommy Wright at St Johnstone

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