Stuart McCall Sacked: Why Scunthorpe need a plan more than a man

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 25 March 2019, 18:19

Chairman Peter Swann has done a lot of good things for Scunthorpe United.

Firstly, he has ploughed a lot of money into a club that, over the last four years, has operated with an upper-end budget in most transfer windows on modest gates.

On top of that, he has invested the kind of time and effort that would be admirable for anyone earning from an organisation – including appearing on the Iron Bru podcast.

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For that reason, there should be a lot of gratitude for the work Swann has done.

Equally, however, the 53-year-old’s decision to dismiss boss Stuart McCall, after Saturday’s 3-1 loss at Rochdale, means three managerial sackings have been made over the last 12 months.

That would suggest that the club now needs to searchingly look at itself – Swann is central to that process.

Previous player profiles

Firstly, it’s important to look at how the club have been relatively successful over the previous two seasons, attaining successive play-off finishes.

The seven players who started the most league games across 2016-17 and 2017-18 are: Murray Wallace (91), Josh Morris (87), Neal Bishop (69), Duane Holmes (62), Conor Townsend (48), Paddy Madden (43) and Jordan Clarke (43).

Firstly, Wallace and Bishop arrived off the back of playing a combined 61 games in the Championship for Huddersfield and Blackpool respectively in the campaigns before they joined; Holmes, too, had made 27 Championship appearances.

Josh Morris had been brought to the club by Graham Alexander, under whom he had worked at Fleetwood, prior to scoring 14 goals in his first 16 league games for the club.

Conor Townsend had been at Glanford Park on loan prior to later joining permanently after an intervening stint at Grimsby, while fellow full-back Jordan Clarke signed after making 100 league starts for Coventry.

Additionally, Scunthorpe signed Madden in January 2014 when they were a League Two club - six months after he had scored 23 goals to inspire Yeovil to promotion to the Championship.

This shows the club have specialised in making obvious signings – the profile of player every other club in their position would add if they had the money.

That is backed up by the January additions of players like Tony McMahon, Byron Webster and Adam Hammill – who have all started in League One Play-Off Finals in the last three years – as well as Kevin Van Veen, who the club already knew from his previous stint.

In some ways, this is testament to Swann’s ambition – but in other ways, it shows that he has never needed to recruit with extensive research, or find unique ways of discovering the next hidden gem.

The club is currently averaging attendances of 4,275, which is the sixth-lowest in League One and with plans for a new stadium ongoing, they simply cannot afford to continue outspending their peers without facing severe consequences.

Strategy shift needed?

In the summer 2018, the club clearly felt compelled to attempt to shop in a slightly different market to find sustainability.

They lost six regulars from the second half of last season and added 10 players under 25 in a total of 13 additions – but that did not work with the team sitting 22nd on New Years’ Eve, before they added the experienced heads in January.

It would be wrong to make conclusive judgements about Scunthorpe’s recruitment process from afar, without knowing the specifics of what goes on.


However, the two figures aside from the manager who have officially been handed recruitment or scouting job titles are Lee Turnbull and Will Swann.

Turnbull’s association with the club across various capacities spans three decades while Swann is the chairman’s son.

That would suggest that it is possible that Turnbull and Swann have not necessarily got their jobs as a result of the club conducting a thorough search for the best candidates realistically available.

Instead, it might have been through convenience and possibly a tiny element of nepotism – which is completely understandable because everyone wants what’s best for their own family members.

It is rare though for that kind of thought-process to be applied to choices of player, because if they are not performing to the required standard they will move elsewhere regardless of emotional ties.

Key off-field roles such as head of recruitment or scouting co-ordinator are arguably even more important than that of one individual player.

Those people will be responsible for an extensive process that leads to bringing in approximately 10 players every summer, which is almost half the squad.

Whether a club can find value for money in the transfer market has a huge impact on overall long-term progress.

If Scunthorpe are to move towards a sustainable model, they must devise a smarter recruitment plan and that will involve taking a challenging, impartial review of their internal operations.

Dawson and a DoF?

In Peter Swann’s latest interview with BBC Radio Humberside, he confirmed that caretaker manager Andy Dawson will take charge until the end of the season.


His comments also hinted that, if Dawson were to keep Scunny up, he would have a good chance of getting the job on a permanent basis.

Dawson deserves credit for some of the work he has done as a joint-caretaker boss with Nick Daws previously, notably between Mark Robins and Graham Alexander’s regimes in 2015-16, when Scunthorpe just missed out on the play-offs.

When Daws stepped into the job permanently, however, he perhaps struggled to handle a much wider array of tasks than he had dealt with as interim boss and there is a possibility that Dawson might face the same challenges.

If Swann is to appoint Dawson, who is admirably honest and committed as well as an excellent coach, he should do so whilst appointing a Director of Football.

As the modern game is evolving, Scunthorpe are crying out for an influential figure who can carry out key off-field tasks – chiefly recruitment - that neither the chairman nor the manager specialise in.

If there is healthy dialogue between all parties, that model could work with some success.

The problem with giving Dawson too many responsibilities would be that, having only played for two clubs in his career, he will not have the contacts to undertake transfer dealings, nor the time to identify hidden gems.

Appointing Dawson might work out for Scunthorpe – but significant structural changes are needed before any manager can thrive in a shift towards financial sustainability.

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