WITHOUT question the most important item on a football club agenda is the choice of manager, more fashionably a head coach.
The team will stand or fall by this decision. Wayne Rooney at Birmingham was the latest to confirm that getting the chop could also be as brutally swift as the slide of the guillotine.
He must have been aware that it might. After all, it had happened to two of his former England team-mates, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, who found that being great footballers was no defence against managerial botch-ups.
Rooney was the last of the turn-of-century Three Musketeers to slip off the manager’s saddle, after only two wins in 15 Championship games.
Vastly popular at Everton and Manchester United, the rest of the country wasn’t far behind in delight at his ability to score stacks of goals combined with thrilling ball skills.
Birmingham fans were just as admiring, at least until the new American owners accompanied his appointment by ruthlessly sacking the relatively successful John Eustace, a local boy, after he led them to sixth in the Championship.
There can be fewer jobs as stressful, unpredictable and unrelenting than being a football boss where only two things are guaranteed — the sack or a move to a bigger club.
The man in charge must be trusted by players, staff and chairman. He has to be deeply knowledgeable in all things football. And most of all he must be a leader.
The fact that he was a great footballer hardly matters.
So where did our golden boys go wrong? My guess is that, above all, the players didn’t get it. Simply weren’t on the same wavelength.
I remember an England player telling me that in training their star man was challenged by the coach to hit the bar from 15 yards out.
He tried twice and failed.
The coach placed the ball in the same spot and struck the bar first time. “Easy as that,” he said, striding away.
The victim was undermined. And the coach didn’t last too long.
Is it fair to say that Rooney seemed the most unlikely of the three to make an outstanding manager? But you never know.
Did mouthy Brian Clough strike many people as a possible double European Cup winner?
I am told by football oracles that Rooneydid a sound job at Derby and his trouble at St Andrew’s was introducing a fresh style too quickly.
Birmingham City have enormous potential. The way forward is by meticulous planning and an ambitious boss of humbler origin is crucial, unless Pep Guardiola is up for a new challenge.
Had they studied a list of previous appointments, they would have been aware of a similar farce at the club when Gary Rowett was axed for Gianfranco Zola in 2016.
The Italian star lasted slightly longer than Rooney. Not so much ‘deja vu’ as ‘deja Blues’.