Some time over the next 48 hours or so, there is every chance that the board of Norwich City Football Club will make the decision of their lives and appoint Peter Grant's successor.
He – and unless Hope Powell has thrown her hat into the ring, it will be a 'he' – may not be officially unveiled until some stage next week, but over the next couple of days the short list will get ever shorter and someone, somewhere, will emerge as their No1 choice.
I suspect that over the last ten days the board have been bombarded with well-intended advice. Everyone will have had their say. In every likelihood, they are probably in a kind of 'information overload' position; one hundred and one thoughts spinning round their heads as they all try to see that that's the wood – and that over there, there are the trees.
So let's try and simplify matters in these final hours.
Having watched and worked with eight, full-time Norwich City managers over the last 15 or so years – and having interviewed about twice as many again for various books, newspapers and websites – there are a couple of conclusions I've long since come to. And as I sat in my hotel room last night and caught the last two goals of Arsenal's stunning 7-0 win over Sparta, the same two thoughts came back to me.
One, it's not about managers. It's about players. And, two, it's not about whether the Press, the board or the supporters like a manager, it's about whether the players do.
For me, that's the only two questions that anyone has to answer when interviewing a manager. Nothing else.
Will the players like him? Where will he get us better players from?
That's it. Nothing else.
If there is such a thing as a managerial genius at work these days, for my money it's Arsene Wenger. And if there was ever a managerial appointment that was stroke of genius it was David Dein's decision to fly half-way round the world to go and bring this studious-looking Frenchman to Highbury. Wenger was, at that time, managing in the Japanese J-League. He was with Grampus Eight and bar the odd train-spotter, no-one in this country had ever heard of him.
Did he know the English Premiership inside out? No. Had he mananged or coached in every tier of the Football League? No. Did he have a dossier this thick on every club, every player, every ground he was likely to encounter in his new English adventure? No. Was he, in the eyes of computer, this great, natural leader of men? Nah.
So what stood Wenger apart in that summer of 1996. He knew players.
He knew that players are players the world over. They can be pink, yellow, black, blue – they can be four-foot two or six-foot three. They're still players. Still blokes; still blokes that you have to inspire to go that extra mile for you.
But not only did he clearly know players as a sub-species; as a group; but he also knew players individually. He – or his mates – knew where the treasure was buried. Cesc Fabregas? Thierry Henry?
And as he unearthed this treasure and that treasure one after another, so his respect within that first Highbury dressing room grew.
You put Tony Adams and that great Arsenal back four and Arsene Wenger together and they are poles apart; completely different beasts. Logic will insist they won't get on. How did Wenger earn their respect? By respecting their abilities as players – and if it weren't bust, he weren't about to fix it – and then bolting on new players whose abilities Adams and Co then, in turn, respected.
That's how players judge 'The Gaffer' – on the players he brings in. Every dressing room is the same. There will be an established 'hard core' who will sit as judge, jury and executioner on every manager that walks into their world – and judgement will come on the players he brings in.
Bryan Hamilton and Steve Walsh – big thumbs down from the boys… You can run through every manager and see that, by and large, his success or failure is not determined by any huge tactical brain – Wenger still plays 4-4-2, just like the rest of them – rather it is determined by the quality of players that he throws into that mystical dressing room mix.
And I'm not even sure that Wenger is that inspirational. Does he do Henry V speeches? No. And it's the same with Sven at Manchester City. He's not in there, beating his chest, urging players on to new heights of derring-do.
Both of them succeed because they know and find players who don't need inspiration; self-motivated characters who will deliver eight out of ten performances week in, week out – because that's what in their DNA. That's what Wenger and his scouts had already spotted; that's what they bought. And that's what the rest of the boys spotted when Cesc Fabregas first walked through the door of the dressing room. A class act. Someone who doesn't need to be inspired.
People say the Canaries need a manager who can go in there and really shake them up; really give them a big kick up the a*se. Which, you presume, is why Phil Gartside has it in his little head that Bolton need Gary Megson. Because that's how you get Nicolas Anelka to score the goals to keep you up. By shouting at him.
No. Don't work; won't work. Not any more. Anelka will just turn the volume up on his I-pod and nod. Bovvered?
And this is key. It's not about someone walking into an interview room and the eight or nine people gathered there going 'Wow… wasn't he great?' It's all about the moment that same person walks through the dressing room door for the first time and whether or not the players go: 'Mmm. OK… he seems decent…'
No-one else's opinions count. No-one else's.
And if the instant reaction of the players is: 'Ugh… here we go again… so-and-so said this would happen…' you're in big trouble. Big trouble.
They're big kids. Ask a teacher. You have to get their attention early. And if you don't have many medals to show initially, then respect and attention comes from the players you bring in. 'Mmm. OK… he seems decent…' says the dressing room jury and you're starting, as a manager, to get somewhere.
Big sticks don't work; big contacts' books do. Ron Saunders may have waved a big stick, but he knew players. He knew where David Cross was; he knew where Jimmy Bone was.
Two generations later and that's the one question you need to ask yourself time and time again. Does this man really know where the players are? Really know? Because that's how you get the attention of a Chrissy Martin or a Michael Spillane; that's where you earn the respect of a Darren Huckerby and an Adam Drury.
By knowing players. By knowing better players than them.
It's not about managers. Never has been. It's about players. It's always about players.
And you have to see this appointment through their eyes, not yours. Who would they want? Who lights their fire? Who floats their boat? Who rocks their world?
He's your man.
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