Editorial By Matt Calmus
Aidy Boorthroyd brimmed with talk and an almost elastic supply in tenacity as he entered the Weston Homes Community Stadium yesterday, hours shy of a ten-month anniversary since his Watford sacking. After many words, whispers and white smoke, the Essex club unveiled perhaps their finest-ever coup de main.
Emphatic might just about cut this one. The smart money had long been on Boothroyd to win a high-profile race to replace Paul Lambert. Still, only once the printing presses were set into headline hyperdrive and cameras started clicking like crazy could Colchester fans fully concentrate, or actually comprehend what was happening. A man who has managed in English football`s tightest magic circle, the Premier League, was in town- to stay.
He signed a contract and committed to an ambitiously-agreed plan that could see Colchester playing Championship football again inside three years. Club owner, Robbie Cowling, had guaranteed supporters a name of bigger repute and better potential as Lambert`s successor. This showpiece became a chance to spectacularly honour that; the big dividend on one huge promise to pay.
Cue Boothroyd and his cheery words of catharsis. They were designed to heal scars, brighten some shadows and set the stage. Will the Chairman choose his team? No. Might caretaker, Joe Dunne, become a redundant cone-collecting outcast? Never. But surely he`s a kick ‘n` rush, long-ball merchant? Not at all.
The stadium`s lush labyrinth transformed quickly from a chamber of denial into an arena of pride and passion-play. What`s more, Colchester`s heir apparent faced some tough questioning, at times, on subjects he hadn`t necessarily scripted for. This was a genuine, honest, deal.
Amid the self-confident air from both Cowling and Boothroyd, which some might wrongly mistake for hollow bravado, came all the right clues. Colchester will continue to build sustainably, integrate their fan fraternity with the nearby Garrison and bring stability in a new era. The former Watford manager also said he had an addictive personality – the personality of a winner, primordially.
“We played a lot of entertaining football at Watford and people tend to forget that,” said the man who not only pulled his team not only to the top-flight but also all the way to an F.A. Cup semi-final. “I`m not bothered by the stigma of the long ball. A lot of it had to do with Watford’s past, under Graham Taylor and I was aligned with that, but I`m not bothered; I`m quite pleased. It happens when you win matches. And I’d rather win first than entertain.”
On predications for Colchester – whom Boothroyd also said could thrive on their history as the perennial underdog – the replies were much more candid. “I want to do better than last year,” he explained, in an attempt to deflect some of the inevitable rising expectation that will come with his appointment. That means bettering 12th place in League One. “When I was at my previous club, I talked about getting promotion and we did – then I saw we`d stay in the Premiership and we didn`t, so I`ve learnt the best thing is to keep your mouth shut!”
Increasingly, Colchester and Boothroyd feels like a perfect fit. Comparisons tumble from the tongue; the club is still tenderly young, aspiring and upwardly-mobile, much like their new manger. Part of his approach will be to galvanise players, yet through positivity, teamwork and collective understanding.
It won`t work? For proof that one man`s iron will can mould and shape any football club, review the ultimate end result of Lambert`s 312-day reign. The 7-1 thrashing of Norwich City, a record U`s league win, turned out to be one of his last dugout cameos for Colchester. The poison parting gift unwittingly also proved a perfect audition for a job with United`s neighbours.
In that way, Boothroyd`s style, although like Lambert`s is means to the same winning end, couldn`t contrast more. Matt Lockwood admitted to being bullied under Lambert and resident journalists were simply told to accept job-lot press conferences. Paul Reid also said he felt neglected over his long-term injury as Lambert kept news about progress away from the public.
Not so now. Robbie Cowling openly declared that the pair talked over Colchester`s future for many hours prior to Boothroyd`s arrival. You sense the well-travelled Yorkshireman talks a good game, too, not just out of sheer willingness, but also as a verbal tool to take pressure off his players. He conceded to having already had a unique career, not at all route one, also jokingly announcing his intent: “I am going to annoy these people at Colchester because I am viscously ambitious.”
The more you look, the more you see there`s almost nothing textbook about him. Defending the sticking point of that long-ball charge, he simply maintained a sensible mantra – it is a matter of the team working to strengths. Self-refinement has also been on the agenda during his absence from the game, hence an explanation that exile has brought him a sense of humility.
“I wouldn`t change a single second. I`ve never really had a chance to say thank you to the people and fans at Watford, but at the same time, it`s Colchester United now for me.” He added: “Expectation levels rise, dwindle, and I think that`s difficult. But, I think for any manager or person, I don`t think you are rounded until you`ve had some adversity. I`ve had the opportunity to see my kids and my wife a bit more – they`re both pleased I`ve come back, they drove me here and dropped me off!”
As a first chapter began afresh in Essex, it was ultimately a phrase borrowed from the business world that resounded again and again. Cowling told us he saw opportunity in every problem. This move represents a great opportunity for Colchester United. And now, Aidy Boothroyd is most definitely League One`s problem.
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