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Head scratcher: Ray Jones, the Devonshire Colts coach, could do no more than beat what was put before him in the First Division, only for his peers to rail against him in the end-of-season voting (File photograph)

Fool me once, shame on you

Fool me twice, shame on me

— Proverb

When José Mourinho nonchalantly announced himself to English football as “a special one”, ahead of the 2004-05 Premier League season, he was bound to rub many of his fellow managers the wrong way. The Portuguese, on the back of a stupendous Champions League success with unfancied Porto, then promptly followed up his boast by leading Chelsea to their first league title in 50 years before repeating the feat in 2005-06. However, over the course of nine largely successful campaigns in England, which yielded three league titles and which included stops at Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, not once was the maverick former translator for Sir Bobby Robson fêted as manager of the year by the League Managers Association.

Now in no way would Bermuda’s Ray Jones wish to compare himself to Mourinho, but where the comparisons are favourable is in their penchant for what? Rubbing people the wrong way.

Like the LMA awards, the decision-makers for the First Division Coach of the Year award are the coaches themselves, and collectively Jones’s peers made it so that the apparent shoo-in after an unprecedented season of achievement with Devonshire Colts was shut out of all and any recognition.

Mourinho had some infamous touchline run-ins with Arsène Wenger, of Arsenal, and Rafael Benítez, of Liverpool, during his early years in England, but who among the eight other coaches in our second tier could be considered to be Jones’s bêtes noires to the extent that they would conspire to leave him high and dry?

As far as miscarriages of justice go, this ranks as high up as anything perpetrated by our largely amateur sports communities — and there have been some doozies.

Which is a pity in the football context, because the season just completed can be said to have been largely encouraging. No matter that the men’s national team failed to relive past glories in the Concacaf Nations League, there were several success stories domestically — including at administrative level — culminating in the quite remarkable maiden FA Cup triumph for St George’s Colts over favourites and cup-holders North Village.

But this past weekend’s after-dinner mint, for the lack of a better term, leaves a nasty taste; such a waste of a good meal.

A reminder for context: Devonshire Colts won the First Division league title by a whopping 18 points after a perfect record of played 16, won 16. In the second-tier knockout competition, Colts reached the final where they were upset by St David’s Warriors.

You would think Jones would be the unanimous choice. But no. The panel of misfits went instead for Tori Davis, the coach of runners-up Wolves Sports Club, who admittedly was quite bemused by the turn of events.

This snub to Jones alone would justify calls for a change to the process, but given that it comes only 12 months after Antwan Russell, of Paget Lions, was similarly denied when his team had secured promotion to the Premier Division as champions, won the First Division Shield and enjoyed a glorious run to the last four of the FA Cup, it is painfully clear to any sane observer that the system has been corrupted.

It does not matter that it has been in place for the past 20 years, as the governing Bermuda Football Association is at pains to point out, the incompetence and inference of bias writ large before us are too egregious to ignore.

If the suits at the BFA — among whom Jones is one, rather embarrassingly — care to listen, the answer can be found where we started. With José Mourinho.

It is true that he was never named LMA Manager of the Year in England. But it is also true that only on five occasions has the manager of the Premier League champions won the award since its inception in 1993. That’s because the award is open to all managers in the English football pyramid — 96 of them — and, as such, they are far less likely to collude successfully in a discriminatory manner against any one individual.

They also weigh scale of accomplishment to give due consideration to managers who inherit poor sides or financial difficulties — not only those who do not have such financial constraints and have won trophies. Case in point, the sensational job Steve Coppell did in leading second-tier Reading from the relegation places at Christmas to first place in the Championship come season’s end warranted his anointment as the top manager in 2005-06 — becoming one of only six from outside the top flight to be given the distinction.

Mourinho did not necessarily leave English shores empty-handed of individual accolades, though. He was named Premier League Manager of the Year three times during his first and second stints at Stamford Bridge — he had won the league on each occasion while making his fair share of enemies. But with only 20 managers on the ballot, the panel that oversees the voting process was not from his peers but rather independent observers.

That’s the obvious answer to fixing the mess in which the BFA finds itself. With so few coaches in our Premier Division and First Division, it is a fool’s paradise to believe that petty differences or rivalries would not ultimately result in the governing body being left with egg on its face.

There is a popular axiom that goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. While that may have been true the past two decades as the BFA was walking a tightrope, that clearly is no longer the case.

You be the judge: on the evidence of this final First Division table, should Coach of the Year really be debatable?

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Published May 03, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated May 03, 2024 at 7:17 am)

It’s broke, fix it

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