To be or not to be
Sunday afternoon will bring us a reunion with an old Albion hero who’s had a pretty epic year elsewhere – Craig Shakespeare.
Assistant manager at Leicester City, Shakey has a freshly minted Premier League medal in his collection, is helping pilot the Foxes to the knockout stages of the Champions League and has had a brief spell working with the England team alongside Sam Allardyce.
It’s due reward for one of the game’s good guys, but nobody should be fooled by Shakey’s avuncular nature into thinking that he’s gained success simply by being a good bloke to have around the place. Craig has a footballing brain so sharp you could split hairs with it in much the way he used to split defences with a pass from out of nowhere.
With all due deference to the great man, in truth, in his playing days here, at Walsall, at Sheffield Wednesday and Grimsby, he was a player waiting for an even better career to follow. Craig could play, no question about that, and had it not been for injuries, he would have been an exceptional member of Ossie Ardiles’ team here, but he was a footballer whose intelligence outstripped the ability of even his gifted feet to deliver. He was always a terrific reader of the game and it was clear that it was in that footballing brain that his greatest talents lay.
After hanging up the boots as a player, he returned to The Hawthorns as a youth coach initially, gradually moving his way through to working with the first team, taking charge of it in caretaker capacity after Bryan Robson and then Nigel Pearson had departed as we beat Crystal Palace 2-0 before Tony Mowbray was installed as manager.
Shakey had the thick end of two years working with Mowbray, leaving in June 2008 to rejoin Nigel Pearson as his assistant at Leicester City. The conclusion that many have obviously jumped to is that theirs was a good cop / bad cop relationship but again, that is to underestimate Shakey’s intellect and his ability to rattle a few cages himself should the need arise.
That is true of the managers that he has worked with, for Pearson, Mowbray, Ranieri and even Allardyce value him for the way in which he challenges them, will often take on their opinions and offer a different slant to matters.
Good coach and sound tactician that he is, his man management skills are excellent too. A funny man, he’s the kind that can break the tension with a joke, often at his own expense. When Leicester won promotion from the front, when they looked destined for the drop, then when they went chasing the title, the pressure at the King Power Stadium would, you’d think, have been excruciating for three seasons and more now. Shakey’s personality will surely have played a big part in keeping things on an even keel, just as he will now with the eyes of the world on Leicester City for the first time ever.
For all those talents, Shakey is the archetypal backroom boy, the kind of man that doesn’t seek the limelight, that doesn’t need to be out front and centre but instead is happy to be working away diligently in the background, getting the job done.
Perhaps he’ll surprise us one day by taking on a managerial role, but if I was Dan Ashworth, once the dust settles from the Allardyce fallout, I’d be doing my best to persuade Craig Shakespeare to come back into the international coaching fold.