If at first you don’t succeed, try again. If that doesn’t work out, what the hell, try one more time. And if your next few attempts also all end up the shape of a rancid pear, then there’s one motivational slogan that has always appealed to TMN in any hour of hopeless despair: ‘Sod off somewhere else and become a big fish in a miniscule-sized pond where success is guaranteed and any further failure will take place far beyond the harsh, unforgiving spotlight of your nearest and dearest.’
The Big Fish Small Pond philosophy has been enthusiastically embraced in recent times by any number of fading footballers and managerial has-beens, for whom the stench of failure has been so strong that only a mission abroad can possibly serve to rebuild their battered reputations.
All hail Brian Talbot, then, for proving that there is indeed life beyond the competitive clammy nether regions of English football’s lower divisions. Following distinctly underwhelming spells at Oldham and Oxford in recent years, and with his previous Rushden ‘successes’ often (rightly) viewed as having had more to do with Max Griggs’ Doc Martens’ millions than any inspirational managerial leadership, the former Ipswich and Arsenal midfielder decided last year to take up a new challenge in the emerging footballing powerhouse that is….Malta!
And 18 months on, he led his Marsaxlokk FC charges into a Champions league qualifier with Sarajevo last Wednesday which, if they make it to the group stages, could end in Talbot returning to Arsenal as one of Europe’s leading managers, ready to pit his tactical wits against….
Ok, this story would have worked a lot better if Marsaxlokk hadn’t collapsed to a 6-0 butt-pumping in the first leg. But, hey, a couple of early away goals in Bosnia next week and anything could happen…but it probably won’t – which only goes to prove that succeeding in a small Maltese pond is one thing, but if you’re going to attempt to jump into the shark-infested seas of high-level European competition, you’ll probably need more than former Hull striker Daniel Webb drowning up front and former Tooting and Mitcham midfielder Jamie Pace failing to stem the tide in midfield (That’s enough water metaphors – Ed).
But this doesn’t detract from Talbot’s achievement in leading Marsaxlokk (you may prefer to use their local name ‘Xlukkajri’ – the latter best pronounced as ‘guh?!’) to their first ever championship last season.
A cursory search on the internet informs us that they apparently played a brand of exciting attacking football that TMN only wishes was as in evidence when he presided over Oxford United’s plummet to the lower reaches of League 2 in 2005/6.
TMN also has fond memories of trips to Rushden and Diamonds’ Nene Park back when they were the big spending bully boys of the Nationwide Conference and countless minnows managed to inflict Doc Martens-booted kickings to the league’s least popular team – after which Talbot would invariably bemoan the standard of the OPPOSITION’S football, claiming that his players struggled ‘to raise themselves against smaller teams in this league’.
‘Winning the championship was the first trophy the club had won in their history, so it was a very proud achievement’, Talbot told the press this summer. ‘The celebrations were pretty wild. We were on a boat going past the beach. The population of the town is only 3,200 but we had 10,000 people come from all over the island to watch the procession.” An open-top boat parade in the Mediterranean sunshine? The adulation of an entire nation? A reputation restored? Talbot wins and has shown the way.
(*TMN frantically starts googling ‘football reporter wanted for small paper in stunning climate – competition minimal – previous experience of failure a distinct advantage’. Results: 0*)