Quick-fire City need a swift appointment

Chris Lakey It's supposed to be a sleepy little backwater, where a celebrity cook runs a cosy little football club. A few local difficulties crop up every now and again, but to the rest of the footballing world, Norwich City is a well-run club that's just going through a few difficult times.

Chris Lakey

It's supposed to be a sleepy little backwater, where a celebrity cook runs a cosy little football club. A few local difficulties crop up every now and again, but to the rest of the footballing world, Norwich City is a well-run club that's just going through a few difficult times.

That was all before last weekend, when things suddenly began to change.

Seven days ago, City fans were hardly able to control themselves, such was the excitement ahead of a new season. A bright new era under Bryan Gunn after last season's devastating relegation was about to begin.

Then Colchester United smacked seven goals past one of Gunn's 12 summer signings and the tables were turned. Suddenly, everyone was looking at Gunn, pointing their fingers and saying “we told you so”.

They'd told him not to take the manager's job; they'd warned him that it would end in tears. But, most of all, they'd told him they didn't want to see one of their heroes become a figure of hate, of derision, of fun.

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By 5pm last Saturday, Gunn was that person. Two fans ran on to the pitch to remonstrate with him, the boos rang out as goal after goal went in: 25,000 Norwich fans and not one of them could hide their embarrassment.

In his post-match press conference Gunn was asked whether he was considering his position. It was, he said, a stupid question. Perhaps he was too proud to admit his failing - but if he wasn't considering it, then his employers were.

The board met soon after the game, on Sunday, and chief executive David McNally was at Huish Park, on Tuesday, when City beat Yeovil 4-0 in the first round of the Carling Cup. As the fans began the journey home, Gunn and McNally were deep in conversation as they wandered away from the media gathered around the players' tunnel.

It seemed amicable enough and probably was. Gunn conducted media interviews from the team's base in the west country on Thursday afternoon ahead of today's game at Exeter so clearly there were no indications on his part that his job was in any danger.

It was a job that he couldn't turn down in the first place. Before we look at the rights and wrongs of Gunn's dismissal, let's turn the clock back to January.

City are in trouble; they're heading for the bottom three; the fans have fallen out with manager Glenn Roeder. For once, the club act decisively and sack him. The relationship had been stretched beyond the point of repair.

Gunn was the obvious choice to run the team while a new manager was found. City beat Barnsley 4-0 and Gunn got the job full-time, on January 22, until the end of the season.

He couldn't, he said, not take it. The fans were less than convinced. Yes, they loved Gunny, but he had no managerial experience, at a time when the club needed it most. Managerial reigns almost inevitably end in tears and no one wanted Gunn to be the one with the handkerchief.

Gunn was unable to dabble to any great extent in the January transfer market and instead had to rely on the flawed loan system that Roeder had used to near breaking point. It didn't save City. Gunn's record after Barnsley was appalling: City played 18 games, winning four, drawing five and losing nine. Five of those defeats came in the final six games, culminating in a truly terrible display at Charlton on the final day of the season.

But 11 days after that, the club confirmed that Gunn would be manager for another year, with Ian Butterworth and Ian Crook staying as assistant and coach respectively.

It's at this point where things become complicated: the board that made that decision was composed of chairman Roger Munby, chief executive Neil Doncaster, joint majority shareholders Delia Smith and her husband Michael Wynn Jones and Michael Foulger.

On May 12, Doncaster and Munby stepped down.

On May 13, Gunn, Butterworth and Crook were confirmed as the management team for the 2009-10 season - presumably by Delia, Wynn Jones and Foulger.

On June 12, McNally came in and on July 2, Alan Bowkett joined the board as new club chairman, with Stephan Phillips also becoming a director.

So the management trio were appointed by only half of the board, albeit the half with all the money and shares.

Gunn had already made his first signing of the summer - Matt Gill - before McNally arrived, and would add Michael Nelson and Owain Tudur Jones as well as agreeing a new deal for Simon Lappin before the new board members came in. Gunn would go on to sign another nine players, including one on loan.

So how could a board that had backed him to that extent then sack him after one league game?

Whether they wanted Gunn or not, the new board could not get rid of him before a ball had been kicked in anger: he was in situ, he would have to be given a chance. But how long does a chance last?

Pre-season results went well, but if the board had any misgivings, they all came to the surface a week ago, when they sat and cringed as City collapsed like a pack of cards. Perhaps it confirmed their worst fears, perhaps it gave them just the very reason they needed to bring in their own man.

Whatever, losing 7-1, even if it was the first game of the season, was reason to ask the question - and they weren't alone in questioning Gunn's ability to run the football team.

So what about the timing - almost exactly 24 hours before their second league game of the season and just three days after a 4-0 Carling Cup win?

There is no good time to sack a manager, but City have four games in the space of 10 days and can't afford any more calamities. The Yeovil game wasn't as convincing as some would have you believe: for the first 45 minutes City were at sixes and sevens. Not as bad as Colchester, obviously, but not good enough, and two late goals by Grant Holt in a good second half didn't tell the whole story of the match.

If that were to continue at Exeter today, at Brentford on Tuesday and then at home to Wycombe next Saturday, City could have found themselves overtaken by a side that started the season on -10 points.

Okay, there are 45 games to go, but making the decision now could avert the loss of more valuable points and give City first dibs in the managerial market. In two months time you can bet English football managers will start being discarded like confetti at a wedding and the choices will be limited and the competition for candidates greater, unless you fancy a failure.

And that's one thing Norwich City Football Club cannot afford.

They have been decisive in sacking Gunn. They must now act quickly and correctly in finding a replacement.

In the meantime, only those with ice running through their veins would wish Bryan Gunn anything but their best wishes.