Making our mind up

Billy Davies was the surprise beneficiary of Harri Kampmann's unsurprising sacking in 1998 and endured a mixed spell during his time as Fir Park boss.  Initially things went well and we finished fourth in the table in 2000 but a horrible collapse meant we missed out on a European place which probably should have been ours.  Davies was also given astronomical financial backing, which started our path into administration, and struggled badly when the supply was cut off.  He was then sacked in autumn 2001 after a horrific start to the season saw us collect a mere three points from seven games to sit firmly in the relegation scrap.  Davies' later managerial successes have made it clear John Boyle was right to spot talent in him but letting a novice walk straight from the changing room into the manager's office remains an undeniable error.

Eric Black was the next permanent appointment and had the simple task of keeping us in the SPL.  He was highly-rated by the media and referred to as a natural manager in waiting but again it was Motherwell who gave him his first job even in management after he had retired from playing for several years.  The football under Black was frequently grim and several of his signings were workman-like at best.  The emergence of James McFadden both brightened life for the supporters and effectively ensured we would survive in the league but administration gave Black a reason to resign.  Whether he did the right thing or simply jumped at the chance of an honourable escape remains up for debate though and 'not proven' is probably the most generous assessment he could be given for his time at Fir Park.

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Butcher & Black

Being plunged into administration left us with little choice as to our next manager as Terry Butcher – who had basically failed everywhere else before arriving at Motherwell as Black's assistant – was promoted to the hot seat by default.  As it happens he was just the right man for our crisis and he helped rally the fans to back our young team which was capable of playing simply breathtaking football.  Sadly they were also capable of being completely guff and despite wins over both halves of the Old Firm and scoring six against Hearts and Livingston, we finished bottom of the league.  Motherwell, and Butcher, were saved by Falkirk's inadequacies and after the sale of McFadden we blossomed into a top six side and reached the final of the League Cup.  Butcher left in 2006 with everyone's best wishes but John Boyle struggles to take much of the credit for his initial appointment – picking an ace requires no skill if it's the only card on offer.

After Butcher's departure, a hasty appointment was made as Maurice Malpas stepped up from the assistant role.  On the face of it this should have helped maintain continuity and Malpas was considered by many as the brains behind Butcher's brawn in the previous partnership.  Sadly the adage that a good number two may not make a good number one rang true and the season which followed was absolutely brutal.  Four losses to start with set the tone and after we lost to lower league St Johnstone in the cup, we simply fell apart in the last three months of the season.  Only Dunfermline taking mediocrity to new levels spared us a horrific relegation battle and after a shocking loss to St Mirren on the second last day of the season, the fans were moved to protest.  Malpas somehow seemed to survive but eventually resigned after Boyle demanded his assistant Paul Hegarty left the club. 

Mark McGhee had established a good if not outstanding reputation as a manager in England and eyebrows were raised when he return north to Fir Park.  He turned round a poor side overnight with Clarkson, Quinn and McGarry suddenly looking like footballers and we made a storming start to the season.  Wonderful – though expensive – signings like Porter and Hughes aided our challenge and on the day Phil O'Donnell died we had moved well clear in third place.  McGhee led us through that tragedy with tremendous dignity but it was media speculation linking him with the Scotland job which sparked a change in his style.  Suddenly every bigger job seemed more appealing and despite leading us to third place, he seemed set to join Hearts in the summer.  A clean break would have been best for all parties but after a hefty wage increase he agreed to stay.  A seemingly distracted McGhee made several excuses throughout the next campaign which ended in a disappointing, though far from terrible, seventh place before finally jumping ship to Aberdeen. McGhee was probably Boyle's best appointment to date given the turnaround in fortunes he orchestrated but the manner of his departure certainly soured things with the fans.

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Gannon & Brown

Jim Gannon was turned down by Hibs but welcomed by Motherwell as he moved into Scottish football for the first time in 2009.  A decent European campaign and some wonderful signings of unheralded players gave cause for optimism but rumours soon started to emerge about unrest behind the scenes.  His treatment of senior professionals was highly questionable and once a decent run of form turned into a number of losses on the bounce his position was questioned.  The club may have been looking for a way out and Gannon's alleged refusal to commit to a long-term contract was enough to see him sacked before the end of the year.  If he had been given time to implement his ideas he could well have been fantastic at Fir Park but a complete implosion would not have been beyond the realm of possibility either.  This was definitely a bold and imaginative appointment but even though he signed the players which secured a top half finish, we may have been better off without the man himself.

That seemed to be proven when Craig Brown took over a shaken squad and turned things round almost instantly.  From worrying about the relegation battle we charged into the top six and though we missed out on the genuine European places, Dundee United's cup win saw us squeeze into the Europa League in fifth place.  There were some poor performances under Brown as well but it was accepted he was generally dong a good job and, for once, we appeared to have finally found some mid-term stability.  This year started in positive fashion as signings like Randolph and Blackman boosted the team but even before his departure, some cracks were beginning to appear with a slip of form.  The whole truth behind Brown's working status at Fir Park and the thinking behind his farcical move to Aberdeen will probably never be known so depending on your view the club can either be praised or criticised for the whole situation.  Regardless, this was another brave appointment from John Boyle to rescue a veteran seemingly lost to the game and we can only hope he strikes gold again in the coming week.