“Following a robust selection process, we quickly identified the need to move away from the classic managerial merry go round appointment and bring in an exciting, hungry coach who wanted to stamp their mark and build a project at our football club.”
That was the statement made by Grimsby Town upon the appointment of new manager Michael Jolley on 2 March 2018. With the side just six points clear of the League Two relegation zone at the time and on a run of fourteen league games without a win, matters had come to a head with the dismissal of Russell Slade and an urgent need to reverse some massive negative momentum. It came as a surprise to the majority when Jolley’s name was announced, as almost no one in the world of football had heard of him. Indeed, many Lincoln fans were astonished to find he had a Sincil Bank connection, having spent an almost invisible period as an assistant coach under David Holdsworth in 2012.
Grimsby even went as far as to say their appointment was a real coup for the club, which is an awfully bold statement to justify considering his anonymity. Most young managerial prospects who are in demand can point to a track record of success further down the pyramid, but even at the age of 41, Jolley does not have that. In that respect, he does not tick the box. Grimsby appear to have adopted the correct philosophy during their search for a new manager, but did they select the right candidate?
Let’s go back to the beginning and try to find out who Michael Jolley is.
Tracing Jolley’s career in football is no easy process because of its meandering and inconsistent nature. His football education began as a youth team midfielder with Barnsley, but he was released as a teenager. At that point, he decided he was unlikely to make it as a footballer and turned his attention to his studies at Sheffield College. He certainly has an education to envy, going on to earn a master’s degree in economics from Downing College. Having left Cambridge, he spent a number of years working in hedge fund investment in London and New York before returning to the UK in 2002. He cites the 9/11 attacks as a turning point in his life: he was working in midtown at the time and saw the Twin Towers fall as he walked back to his apartment.
Back in London, he began to take his coaching badges in his spare time. In 2004 he made a major career change when he chose to join Crystal Palace as an academy coach. After three years he moved on to Nottingham Forest’s academy before leaving a year later to become a football coach at the University of Stirling where he studied for a postgraduate diploma in sports coaching. At the same time, he coached the Scotland Universities team and spent a short period working with Falkirk’s academy. His brief time in Scotland came to an end following an unfortunate incident which led to his suspension from all football activities.
Having been cleared to continue at the end of 2009, he resurfaced in 2011 as a participant in the inaugural FA Elite Coaches Award. After that brief spell at Lincoln in 2012, he spent eighteen months as an academy coach at Crewe before joining Burnley in 2014 as senior academy development coach. In 2015 he completed the LMA Diploma in Football Management, and in 2016 received his UEFA Pro Licence to complete an impressive set of qualifications. After almost three years at Burnley, he took the first step into management when appointed manager of struggling Swedish Allsvenskan side AFC Eskilstuna in June 2017. At the time of his appointment, the side sat bottom of the table, four points adrift of safety. Despite taking fifteen points from his first sixteen games, he was unable to prevent their relegation, which was confirmed following a 1-1 draw against relegated Halmstads on 23 October 2017. Having finished bottom of the league with just four wins, he parted company with the club by mutual consent on 9 January 2018 and returned to the UK once more.
His time out of the game was to be brief, as Grimsby came along two months later. Appointed on an undisclosed rolling contract, things took time to pick up with just two points gained from his first five matches. When Grimsby went into the crunch home game with relegation rivals Chesterfield on 7 April, they had slipped to just four points above the drop zone. An 88th-minute penalty by Mitch Rose gave them their first win in 21 games, making the gap five points with four games to play. Another penalty by Rose – this one in the 82nd minute – at home to another relegation rival Barnet the following Saturday gave them another vital point. Unbelievably he converted another penalty on the stroke of half-time at Swindon in the next game to give them all three points. A 93rd-minute Jamille Matt winner against Notts County in the penultimate game secured their Football League status for a further season.
So what next? To begin with, Grimsby tell us that the Jolley Revolution is underway. It is commendable that they are trying to build some momentum, but the realistic view may not be as convincing. Momentum is created only by winning a lot of football matches, and that is a very hard thing to initiate from the bottom up. They are placing plenty of faith in their inexperienced manager, but unknown quantities abound. How much of the last-gasp revival was down to Jolley, and how much down to a kind fixture list? Three of Grimsby’s final five games came against relegation rivals, two of which were at home. Furthermore, without those three Mitch Rose penalties, Grimsby would have been relegated. And Grimsby were six points clear of relegation when he came in, and only five clear after the final ball had been kicked. Do the facts present a somewhat different picture to the perception?
At this juncture, the answer to that is anyone’s guess. As ever, reality is a far harsher place than the world of optimism. Michael Jolley may prove to be an excellent manager, but he is almost completely untested and has no experience to draw on. The vast majority of saviour-managers fail to repeat end of season form and are gone within months. Can he buck that trend? Having slipped a long way behind the leading clubs in the division, he really will need to demonstrate messianic qualities if his side is to make a dent in League Two this season.
P = Promoted; R = Relegated; SF = Lost in play-off semi-final; F = Lost in play-off final; PO = Won play-off final; D = Demoted.
Figures are league games only; cup matches and playoffs are not included.
League position shown is either the position at the end of the season or the position at the time of departure.
— Vital Lincoln City (@VitalLincoln) July 19, 2018