Right call - five months too late

There comes a time when every manager reaches his sell-by date. If you look at the top managers, not very many last more than a four or five-year period in terms of motivating and keeping things going.

There comes a time when every manager reaches his sell-by date. If you look at the top managers, not very many last more than a four or five-year period in terms of motivating and keeping things going.

Not my words, but those in 1992 of Dave Strlnger, the last manager to both depart Norwich City at a time of his choosing and also leave the club in a relatively healthy state, and therefore a man who might just know a thing or two about the matter.

And so it came to pass that Nigel Worthington was unable to pull one last rabbit out of his hat. A manager-of-the-month award, six home wins out of seven at the end of last season, a 5-1 thumping of Barnsley in August, a major blunder by the Rotherham keeper when the Canaries might just have started thinking about an embarrassing Carling Cup exit.

All helped him extend a shelf life which probably had 'expires November 2005' stamped over it, but when the call was made for greater commitment last week, his side showed about as much passion as could be expected in a divorce court - with the inevitable parting of the ways.


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And that's the trouble with Worthington's exit from Carrow Road. It is five months too late. Had he left voluntarily in the summer, even allowing for last season's failings, he would have gone with a largely untarnished reputation and standing, not to mention leaving his successor much of the close season in which to formulate his plans for the future.

As it stands, if Norwich aren't in a position to make an immediate appointment, you can effectively write off the rest of this season short of an Iain Dowie-type transformation after the turn of the year.

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I do worry that the high points of Worthington's time are now going to get overlooked, which would be wrong. Without reaching the play-off final in 2002, the last four seasons would have been very different. Frankly, you could make a good case for naming both the Jarrold Stand and the Norwich Union infill after him because without his involvement the club wouldn't have been in any position to have built them on their present scale.

Time and again this column has accused Worthington of the 'error' of raising expectations, and ultimately that was to prove his undoing. Six years ago being 19th in the table and losing two successive home games, the second by a three-goal margin, would be concerning, but not shocking. Today it's totally unacceptable.

Nigel Worthington is one of only six Norwich City managers to win promotion and deserves his elevated place in the club's history. But his reluctance to see the writing on the wall over the last year as he grimly clung on to his increasingly untenable position did neither him nor the club any favours.

With hindsight, what finally undid him was that last-minute Southend equaliser almost three weeks ago. Had City managed to record that elusive first away victory then perhaps the defeat to Crystal Palace wouldn't have mattered quite so much, and maybe the approach to the trip to Plymouth wouldn't have been as shambolic.

After yesterday there was simply no way back. There's more than a lingering suspicion among some fans that players didn't, shall we say, try as hard as they could have done against Burnley.

Worthington might not have, as had been widely discussed, 'lost the dressing room', but there was more than enough ammunition for his critics to suggest that he had run out of ideas and motivational skills.

Bringing on a central defender as his first substitute as his side chased a two-goal deficit and two players who, for many fans, represent his worst-ever signings, as the next two were the acts of a desperate man.

And he represented an almost pitiful figure when he appeared on TV immediately after the game, vowing to see out the remainder of his contract despite being so shellshocked he seemed uncertain whether his side had actually conceded four goals or five.

At the time I have to say I feared the worst, that the board would not be swayed by supporters' opinions, electing, instead, to carry on regardless. Last season I recall Roger Munby declaring that those opposing the manager were a "small minority".

At the time you imagined the board were prepared to write off such people as persistent troublemakers or mischievous media types, but yesterday, as chants of "Let's be sacking you" and "Worthy, time to go" rang round there was no way back.

He plainly couldn't carry on, and yet the initial silence from the boardroom was deafening. I was fully expecting nothing to be said until today, or even for the two-match trial period to be carried though to Loftus Road in 13 days' time. The club might have not helped the situation with their bizarrely-worded statement last week - if Worthington couldn't turn things around in the 17 months since relegation from the Premiership it was hardly going to happen in two matches - but at least this time they bit the bullet and took a necessary and much-welcomed course of action.

In 2000 they refused to wield the axe as Bryan Hamilton's shambolic reign left the Canaries looking a disastrous relegation to Division Two square in the face. Maybe this time there may have been an unwillingness to compromise, with the popular perception being that Worthington wouldn't resign to endanger his pay-off while the board would attempt to force him to resign to avoid any outlay.

Whatever, at least it has happened now rather than after the QPR match. City have a fortnight in which to take stock, whereas had they waited until a week on Saturday they would have had just two days to prepare for a difficult trip to Birmingham.

I'd love to think that City officials are now melting Alan Curbishley's phone in an attempt to persuade him to come here. Maybe that won't happen, but what we don't need is a quick-fix appointment of the Peter Reid variety.

Norwich are not a tin-pot operation, let's not forget - how many other Championship grounds would fill their ground for an unattractve live match on Sky at an unsociable hour?

Who wouldn't want to come to a club with great heritage and regular 24,000-plus crowds?

Get the right person, give them until May 2009 to turn things around, although making them well aware that they'd be working on a reduced budget for the next two seasons, and yesterday will have been worth bearing.

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