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Sport Motherwell v Rangers: Examining Graham Alexander's managerial career so far - is he a good fit for the Steelmen?

08:40  17 january  2021
08:40  17 january  2021 Source:   msn.com

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Motherwell’s appointment of Graham Alexander as their new manager was met with mixed opinion amongst pundits and fans of Scottish football.

Replacing Stephen Robinson at Fir Park is an unenviable task given his success but Alexander is relishing the opportunity of managing north of the border.

It was refreshing to hear Alexander talk up the quality of Scottish football upon his arrival and that’s a sure fire way to win favour amongst neutrals.

Motherwell are an extremely forward-thinking club when it comes to their media output and engagement with supporters. As a fan-owned organisation, the club have developed strong lines of communication with their supporters which is imperative to the success of community ownership.

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Stephen Robinson wearing a suit and tie: Motherwell chief executive Alan Burrows with former boss Stephen Robinson © SNS Group Motherwell chief executive Alan Burrows with former boss Stephen Robinson

Through successful fan initiatives and creating a sense of community around the club, Motherwell’s fan ownership structure draws envious glances from other supporter groups looking to emulate their success.

Their manager needs to embrace how Motherwell do things and it’s understood that Alexander has really engaged with the media commitments.

Other names on the shortlist might not have been so perceptive to allowing access or committing to producing and ‘flipping’ young talent.

The Fir Park clubs’ business model is to develop and produce young talent that can be sold on for a profit whilst contributing on the pitch while at the club. Stephen Robinson successfully implemented this strategy with Louis Moult, Cedric Kipre, James Scott and David Turnbull all netting the club important fees.

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a man throwing a ball on a field © SNS Group

It’s impossible to predict the future but from his spell managing in England it’s clear to see that Alexander possesses some key qualities required to be successful as Motherwell boss...

Fleetwood Town

Alexander’s first managerial experience came in December 2012 when he was appointed manager of the Fisherman.

In his first full season in charge, Alexander led Fleetwood to the play-offs beating Burton Albion in the final to gain promotion to League One.

Graham Alexander wearing a suit and tie: Graham Alexander enjoyed success at Fleetwood © Action Images/Matthew Childs Graham Alexander enjoyed success at Fleetwood

It was time in their history that Fleetwood would play in the third tier of English football. The Cod Army enjoyed an excellent first year in the division, finishing in a respectable 10th place just six points off the play-offs.

However, Alexander was sacked the following season after registering two wins in ten games. The decision came after three straight defeats culminating in a 5-1 defeat to Gillingham which left Fleetwood in 20th place.

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Despite relieving Alexander of his duties, chairman Andy Pilley praised his management and highlighted his ‘supreme professionalism’ and ‘hard work’.

The 2012/13 season,when Alexander took charge, was Fleetwood’s first in the Football League after promotion from the Conference with Jamie Vardy as top scorer with 31 league goals.

Vardy would depart for Leicester that summer for a non-League record fee of £1 million pound.

Jamie Vardy in a blue uniform holding a football ball: Jamie Vardy went from Fleetwood to representing England © Getty Images Jamie Vardy went from Fleetwood to representing England

Fleetwood reinvested some of the Vardy money and backed Alexander by signing Jamille Matt for a club record transfer fee of over £200,000 pounds from Kidderminster in January 2013.

The powerful striker was an important figure during Fleetwood’s promotion season from League Two scoring eight goals in 25 games. Unfortunately, he suffered a serious injury next term and missed the majority of the season.

Matt’s replacement in the Fleetwood side was Queen of the South legend Stephen Dobbie who joined on-loan from Crystal Palace.

Dobbie only contributed four league goals but Alexander signed a host of Scottish players at the Fishermen.Barry Nicholson, Barry Feguson, Stephen Crainey, Stewart Murdoch all played under Alexander.

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He clearly monitored the Scottish leagues and handed a chance to Declan McManus in English football singing the striker on a pre-contract from Aberdeen at the start of his final season in charge.

Although the majority of Alexander’s signings at Fleetwood were free transfers, he signed Ryan Cresswell for a six-figure fee and he excelled in the promotion season before moving to Northampton the following season.

The majority of Alexander’s signings were free transfers and he will be expected to recruit under similar restrictions at Motherwell which should reassure fans.

The loan signing of Charlie Taylor from Leeds is an example of his eye for a player.

The left-back was outstanding for Fleetwood during the 2013-14 and Taylor became a key player for Leeds before moving to Burnley for a reported £7 million pound fee.

Comments that Alexander is a dour manager and tactically rigid are lazy and inaccurate. In fact, Fleetwood’s promotion winning side of 2013-14 were very entertaining.

They scored the 4th highest amount of goals in league (66) but conceded 52 which was only the 9th best defensive record. Relegated Bristol Rovers only conceded two more goals than Fleetwood which indicates that Alexander’s side weren’t defensively resolute.

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a group of people posing for the camera: Motherwell boss Graham Alexander on the touchline © Ross MacDonald/SNS Group Motherwell boss Graham Alexander on the touchline

Alexander would generally adopt a 4-4-2 formation and experienced striker Jon Parkin would be a physical focal point with Matt or David Ball partnering him.

Parkin left that summer and Fleetwood struggled for goals in the 14/15 League One campaign scoring just 49 - the joint fourth lowest amount in the league.

Scunthorpe United

This is the only club where Alexander has failed to win promotion but in terms of player development and recruitment, ‘Well fans should be encouraged.

Alexander has the ability to identify young talent and,crucially, has the patience and faith to allow them to develop.

Following his release from Huddersfield Town, American winger Duane Holmes was identified by Alexander and he flourished under the tutelage of the former Scotland international.

After unsuccessful loan spells at Yeovil and Bury, Holmes was afforded regular minutes and the platform to develop at Scunthorpe and he became a key player.

Graham Alexander holding his hands up: New Motherwell boss Graham Alexander © Getty New Motherwell boss Graham Alexander

During Alexander’s only full season at Glanford Park, Holmes made 39 appearances and attracted the interest of Derby County where he eventually moved for a reported £700,000 in the summer of 2018.

Alexander was also instrumental in the development of two players who’ve gone onto play at a higher level; Charlie Goode and Hakeeb Adelakun.

Goode is currently at Championship side Brentford who are notoriously diligent when recruiting players and Adelakun is at Bristol City.

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Alexander entrusted the players with regular minutes during the 2016/17 season where Scunthorpe reached the play-offs before losing to eventual winners Millwall.

a football player on a field: Ivan Toney © Getty Images Ivan Toney

Brentford striker Ivan Toney - linked with a summer move to Arsenal - spent two loan spells under Alexander at Scunthorpe and has spoken positively about the English manager.

Scottish defender Murray Wallace went on an incredible run under Alexander playing 7,560 consecutive minutes and his consistent performances earned him a move to Championship side Millwall.

Alexander never won anything at Scunthorpe but he displayed key characteristics that convinced Motherwell that he was the right man to replace Stephen Robinson.

The Preston North End legend experienced working under tight financial constraints and is able to improve younger players. Alexander is astute in the transfer market and is knowledgeable about players across different leagues.

He’s displayed a willingness to hand players second chances and will persevere with those players even if they suffer a dip in performance level.

In 16/17, Scunthorpe outperformed their xG of 1.43 per game to score 1.69 goals per game. They also conceded just 1.18 goals per game despite having an xG against total of 1.43.

Similarly to his tenure at Fleetwood, Alexander favoured a 4-4-2 formation deploying it in over 50% of games. Although he occasionally played a 4-3-3, Alexander's tendency was to deploy two strikers which is understandable when one of those options is Toney.

As the signing of Steven Lawless suggests, Alexander likes creative players who are willing to take risks and are effective on the counter-attack.

a man looking at the camera: Steven Lawless hopes to impress Motherwell fans © Alan Harvey/SNS Group Steven Lawless hopes to impress Motherwell fans

Josh Morris was a revelation for Scunthorpe during the 16/17 season, scoring a remarkable 19 league goals despite only previously netting 11 times in his whole career.

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Alexander identified the potential in Morris and he’s failed to recapture that prolific form since the Motherwell manager departed the club.

Scunthorpe scored the second highest number of goals that season (82) which further rubbishes claims that Alexander is a negative manager. They scored a remarkable 24 goals from outside the area which was eight more than any other club in the league.

Alexander clearly worked on finishing on the training ground as The Irons had the highest shot accuracy in the league at 39%, this statistic bodes well for Motherwell’s profligate strikers this season.

Salford City

Alexander was appointed by the club synonymous with Manchester United’s iconic class of ‘92 in May 2018.

In his first full season in charge, Salford achieved promotion into League Two after beating AFC Flyde in the play-off final at Wembley.

Graham Alexander with his captain at Salford Adam Rooney © Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Graham Alexander with his captain at Salford Adam Rooney

Tactically, Alexander’s preference was to deploy two strikers, switching between a 4-4-2 and 3-5-2 formation. Unsurprisingly, given their striking options at that level - Adam Rooney scored 22 goals in 41 appearances - Salford finished top scorers in the league with 77 goals.

Given the famous owners and the involvement of billionaire Peter Lim, there has been claims that the Greater Manchester based side are spending vast amounts on wages but Gary Neville has refuted those suggestions.

Salford are undoubtedly an attractive proposition for players and they’ve been able to sign players from clubs in higher divisions.

Like his two previous jobs, the majority of Alexander’s signings were on free transfers and the club also used to employ the services of a data-led consultancy company - which highlights his openness to modern recruitment methods.

Salford maintained a realistic shot at promotion under Alexander when clubs voted to cancel the 19/20 season due to the pandemic.

He also led the club to the final of the EFL trophy although that was never played due to the cancellation of the season.

Defensively, the underlying numbers hinted at problems for Salford City and they were definitely a factor in Alexander’s surprise dismissal this season.

Despite finishing the season in tenth place, Salford had the second worst expected goals against (xGA) at 59.1 and they also conceded the most shots against them with 523.

They also had the fourth lowest amount of possession in the league (46.6%) and the fourth lowest passing accuracy (71.4%).

Although it could be argued that Salford were a newly-promoted side, they have very ambitious owners and the decision to sack Alexander wasn’t due to results but because of a perceived negative style of play.

Salford were unbeaten in their opening five games this season and fifth in the league when Alexander was relieved of his duties and Neville explained why.

He said: “We just felt we wanted to change the way in which we approached it this season, the style of play.

“We were a little disappointed in last season’s performance but Graham getting one promotion, getting us to a cup final and being fifth in the league, it wasn’t a reflection on him as he’s a fantastic manager who did a good job for us.”

Ultimately, Salford’s decision to move in a different direction shouldn’t overshadow Alexander’s promising start to his managerial career in England.

a man standing in front of a store: Motherwell boss Graham Alexander © Craig Foy/SNS Group Motherwell boss Graham Alexander

The 49 year-old is the perfect profile of manager for Motherwell and he has already demonstrated in his career the characteristics which fit the ethos of the Fir Park side.

Short-term, the objective for Motherwell is simply to climb the table and hopefully avoid a relegation battle later in the season.

Long-term, Alexander will be expected to embrace the club’s philosophy of developing young talent and maximising their value while playing a brand of football that their supporters can identify with.

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Aberdeen 2 Motherwell 0: Polworth sees red as Steelmen go 13 games without a win .
Graham Alexander's search for a first win as 'Well gaffer goes on after defeat to DonsTommie Hoban's header and an Andy Considine strike proved the difference in a feisty clash in the Granite City that leaves Graham Alexander still searching for his first victory as gaffer.

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