Step aside Frank de Boer’s Crystal Palace. Hold the phone Brian Clough’s Leeds United. The football management hall of shame has a new main attraction.
Troy Deeney’s 29-day stint in charge of League Two club Forest Green Rovers will rightly be remembered as a crown jewel in the most cataclysmically dire managerial tenures ever.
In less than a month, Deeney failed to win any of his six games (drawing three and losing three) and publicly insulted every player at the club, some deeply personally. He received a four-match touchline ban and £1500 fine – a significant proportion of his wage packet – for using “improper and/or abusive and/or insulting language” towards a match official, then was promptly sacked the same day.
Deeney took over with the club 23rd and left them 24th, seven points from safety. It is the shortest managerial tenure of anyone who had overseen at least one game and didn’t resign in English football history.
The Brummie battering ram has two discernible skills – talking and playing football – but he talks himself into trouble more often than he talks himself out of it.
“A load of nonsense,” Deeney said after his final game, a 2-0 home defeat to Harrogate Town. “A group of people doing their own thing, hiding, scared. I don’t understand why they’re scared, they should be used to losing from what I’ve seen.
“We’ve got a lot of people who haven’t gone through the mill of humility to understand why they are here and what they’ve been doing. But if you come into an environment that is full of sulkers, full of people that blame other people, then it takes time.” Pot, kettle, etc.
Deeney also launched an extraordinary tirade at Fankaty Dabo, a player you probably know best for missing the play-off final penalty which cost Coventry a Premier League place last May.
“He’s not been good enough for five, six, seven, eight, nine weeks now,” he ranted. “I’ve told him in front of everyone that six months ago he had a kick to go to the Premier League, now he wouldn’t get a game in the National League.
“He’s faster than everybody, but he gets run every game, he never makes a tackle and every time the ball comes to him, he looks like he kicks it with his shin pads.”
Deeney’s should be an inspirational story. He has spoken openly about his past and the challenges of his upbringing, expelled from school at 14, leaving without any qualifications and spending time in prison. “My dad was well known on the streets, shall we say, and he had a different lifestyle, which could spill into the home setting,” he said in a 2019 interview with The Guardian.
“Being exposed to that at a young age was difficult. When I was 10, my dad beat me and my mum up pretty badly. He was angry and we didn’t know why. It only happened once, but I remember being in year six at school and having social workers come to check up on me.”
Yet he went on to turn his life around and establish a 20-year football career, leading the line for Watford in the Premier League and earning three GCSEs in his spare time.
At Forest Green, Deeney was also one of just five ethnic minority managers in English football’s top four divisions, having earned his Uefa A licence while still playing. This is supposed to be a tale which embodies football’s great meritocracy, but instead it just illustrates the continued dangers of its cult of chumocracy.
Whether in his column in The Sun, or on any of his ill-advised litany of indistinguishable podcast appearances where pliant hosts nod and grin through a barrage of falsehoods and filler, or in his press interviews, Deeney makes it incredibly difficult to pull for him. He has always appeared to possess an arrogance which dwarfs his talent. That disparity is becoming a canyon.
That Deeney believed he could rectify the roaring binfire at Forest Green should have been the obvious warning sign he wasn’t capable of doing so. Presented with the fate of an institution people have put their lives’ work into, the man who appears to know it all should have known he wasn’t ready. Instead, like Augustus Gloop into the chocolate river, he dived right in.
Hubris is unsettlingly common among ex-footballers. Without the right support, being cheered on every Saturday afternoon unsurprisingly leads you to believe you’re untouchable.
When no-one will tell you otherwise, you come to believe you’re always right, that it’s never your fault, no matter what those pesky facts say. Used to adulation and attention which is stripped as your physical power wanes, you then chase it wherever you can find it.
Of course, there should be equal condemnation of those who enable appointments like Deeney’s. This is also a story of football’s grimy obsession with names, with promoting image over substance, with PR and clicks and clips, with the continued desire to hire inexperienced and inept former pros over genuinely talented career coaches. Being a good student is no guarantee you will be a good teacher.
Wayne Rooney at Birmingham and Kolo Toure at Wigan are other recent celebrity hires which inevitably went awry, appointments rooted in the same veneration of footballing idols that got Deeney here too.
Another issue with former players in management is a strange reticence to focus on tactics over motivational shtick, a trap Deeney clearly falls into.
They have a tendency to believe their careers were built on the “cojones” Deeney famously accused Arsenal of lacking after a 2017-18 win, on drive and motivation and inner fire. Yes, there were tactics and technicalities, but managers and systems came and went. Cojones are forever.
So, Troy Deeney: football manager, we hardly knew ya, but even that was too much. However he attempts to talk his way out of this – he was rushed into it, the club was doomed anyway, he wasn’t given adequate support – there is no way to salvage the blazing wreckage he’s left behind.
Yet there’s every chance another lazy, uninspired owner or director will see a name they recognise and be charmed by the oddly confident man who promises the truth, and the cycle will start anew. #DeeneytoWatford2025, who says no?