WELL, one thing is for sure, Steven Hammell can’t say he doesn’t know what he’s getting into.
The Motherwell legend was appointed as the Fir Park club’s new permanent manager yesterday, and having made 583 appearances for the Steelmen as a player, and perhaps more pertinently, been in charge of their youth academy for the past four years, he takes on the job with his eyes wide open.
And it is quite a job he has on his hands. It is rare for the atmosphere around a club to be so toxic that a manager loses his job before the Premiership is even underway, but that is what happened to Hammell’s predecessor Graham Alexander, who paid the price for embarrassing UEFA Conference League humbling at the hands of Sligo Rovers.
In truth though, the rot had set in well before that, with results eventually lowering to meet the standard of football being dished up at Fir Park around January, and a dismal run of just three league wins in 2022 eventually leaving Alexander in an untenable position.
It should be noted though that the man in the dugout prior to Hammell - no matter how he managed it - did take Motherwell to a fifth place finish in the Premiership last season. To paraphrase the late, great Ebbe Skovdahl though, this was a case of the league position looking good, but hiding the things that matter most.
The relative ‘success’ of Alexander when it comes to Premiership placings though does rather beg the question of what is expected of Hammell, both from the boardroom and from the stands. If a fifth placed finish couldn’t save Alexander from the wrath of the support, what chance does Hammell have given the investment the ‘city’ clubs outside the Old Firm have made to make up for their collective annus horribilis – Hearts excepted - last time out?
Well, as is the case for any provincial club, the primary target set in terms of the Premiership will be to stay in it. The ambition will be to make the top six. The wish though from supporters – and, I understand, the boardroom – will be to progress towards a more attractive style of football.
That won’t happen overnight, and Hammell will need to be backed by the board to bring in players who can produce something a little easier on the eye than what the punters have been used to over the past couple of years round Fir Park way. Not inspiring a desire to claw both of them out with your own fingers, would be a start.
That is not to say that the Motherwell fans and executives have collectively lost their marbles, turning their back on pragmatism to chase a pie in the sky ‘total football’ philosophy. Hammell is unlikely to create his own version of ‘Angeball’ when he has – with the greatest of respect – Connor Shields lining up out wide instead of Jota.
There is nothing wrong however with a team at least trying to play a brand of football that can entertain punters who are shelling out ever-increasing sums to watch it on a weekly basis. And while Hammell won’t be as idealistic as say, Shaun Maloney was during his ill-fated stint at Hibernian, he will be expected to evolve the Motherwell team beyond the rudimentary style adopted by Alexander.
From the outside, it may appear that Motherwell have gone with the easy and cheap option by promoting Hammell from within, and at least in regards to the compensation they would have had to pay to Kuopion Palloseura to appoint another candidate, Simo Valakari, that is true.
But there would be certainly be a strong rebuttal of that theory from within the club, and for the most part, from the fans too.
Hammell is of course hugely respected within Fir Park for the stellar service he has given as both a player and as a coach. It is his work in the latter role though that has convinced Motherwell he has what it takes to step into the top job.
He carries himself with authority and speaks well, both to his players and in the press. He knows the youth set-up inside out, and has already shown he won’t hesitate to promote young players into the first-team, giving a debut to 18-year-old Kian Spiers in the opening day win over St Mirren. Fans, of course, always love to see one of their own representing them on the pitch.
The proof, as always, will be in the pudding. But having quietly worked away behind the scenes preparing for this moment, it seems an opportune time to see if Hammell will sink or swim.
The supporters, even the sceptical ones who might have preferred a more experienced candidate, will uniformly be desperate for him to succeed. He is a bona fide Motherwell legend, and if he can get something going at Fir Park, it could be a pretty special time ahead for everyone connected to the club.
So, it may well not be a case of jobs for the boys, but the right ‘Boi’ – as the Motherwell Ultras call themselves – at the right time.