If you looked up ‘maverick’ in the dictionary there would be a picture of Graham Westley. Well, perhaps not, but there should be. An obviously intelligent man who divides opinion at all clubs he graces with his ‘medal winner’ mentality, it’s fair to say that Graham Westley is unorthodox… and then some.
Mainly known for his highly successful second spell at Stevenage, ‘GW’ (what he refers to himself as) first came to my attention on 10th December 2011. He brought his Boro side to Deepdale to play out what was the worst football match I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing. A 0-0 draw with very few chances in freezing conditions wasn’t exactly what I was in the mood for that Saturday afternoon.
After the game, Westley lambasted the North End squad and Phil Brown. Little did he know that just over a month later he would be in the opposite dugout. After 13 months with Graham Westley being in charge of my club, I’d like to give my honest opinion on the man. I know for certain that a large number of North End fans will disagree, and perhaps fans further afield, but I’m going to try and back up my opinion as well as I can.
Graham Westley – The Tactician
Well, where to start. Some of the best performances I’ve ever seen from North End have been under Graham Westley, but by far the worst performances have all come under him. I would like to set one thing straight, though; he is not a long ball merchant.
I honestly don’t know where that came from. We played a lot of terrible football under Westley, but we were never particularly a long ball team. Yes, we had the odd game in which we’d play direct (see Sheffield Wednesday vs Preston, in which we had a Non-League centre back playing up front) but in reality we played some superb, passing football, some of the best I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure if the highlights are available anywhere, but I think back to 4-1 wins over Swindon, Crystal Palace and Stevenage, a 5-0 win over Hartlepool and defeating Huddersfield 2-0. Granted, all of these results came towards the start of the season when the pitches were in better condition, but the fact remains that Graham Westley was setting a side out to play good football and to win football games.
On the other hand, as I mentioned earlier, we witnessed some truly terrible performances. We heard a lot from Westley about ‘desire’ and a ‘winning mentality’, but all we got was almost no creativity, patchy defending and no cutting edge in the final third. Graham would (some, including myself, would say rightly) put it down to injuries to key players, including full-back pair Keith Keane and Scott Laird. Nobody can argue that we struggled with the loss of those two, but the issue wasn’t the loss of the players – it was how Graham Westley reacted. We had makeshift right backs, a feud between David Buchanan (our second choice left-back) and Westley and we never filled the gap that Keane or Laird left. Who’s fault was that? In my opinion, Graham Westley’s.
A trademark of Westley’s time at Deepdale was player’s appearing in positions they had never featured in before. As fore mentioned, we had a string of right-backs who had never appeared at right back before: John Mousinho (CM), John Welsh (CM) and Bailey Wright (CB) were all drafted in at some stage. It was a mess that wasn’t sorted until the 15th January. Keith Keane suffered his injury on the 20th November.
On the whole, Westley’s tactics were poor. After an impressive start to the 2012-2013 season, he didn’t seem to have a Plan B when things didn’t quite go his way, and that’s not exactly the mark of a master tactician.
Graham Westley – The Wheeler Dealer
If you believe Graham Westley (and in this instance, I do), he’ll tell you he cut the wage bill at Preston by 60% in summer 2012. For this, I thank him. For too long we’d had player’s being too comfortable on a wage that wasn’t in line with League 1 budgets, so removing the high earners and replacing them with cheaper but just as effective player’s was always going to be a tough task, but it’s one that I believe Westley excelled at.
I’m going to lay out the negatives first, however. He signed some of the worst player’s I’ve ever seen at Deepdale. Anthony Elding, Andy Procter, Aaron Brown and Chris Beardsley (to name a few) were/are not League 1 players. In fact, the majority didn’t even come close to being League 1 players. The real criminal part is that not only were they signed, but they played far too often. Anthony Elding somehow managed to make 5 league appearances for Preston. To put that into context, that’s 5 games in which North End had considerably weakened their chances of scoring.
Fortunately, Westley was generally a success when it came to transfers. Much of the current squad, sitting 6th in League 1, were signed by Graham Westley. There’s some real quality in the side now and the club aren’t forking out £ridiculous-a-week for the privilege. Scott Laird, David Buchanan, Lee Holmes, Keith Keane, Stuart Beavon, Nicky Wroe, Paul Huntington, John Welsh, Jack King, Joel Byrom and Joe Garner all feature regularly for Simon Grayson’s side, having all been signed on permanent deals during the summer of 2012. In addition, he brought England U21 goalkeeper Declan Rudd to the club on temporary terms in January, with his loan being renewed to cover this season after a string of superb performances by the young shot stopper.
To summarise, Graham Westley did a good job in the removal of ‘deadwood’ at Deepdale. He did bring in some poor players, but his good-to-bad permanent signing ratio is excellent, and Preston are now feeling the benefits of it.
Graham Westley – The Man Manager
“There’s only one reason I’m here – the gaffer.” – John Mousinho, Summer 2012.
If you think that quote is there to begin this chapter on how wonderful a man manager Graham Westley is… you’re wrong. John Mousinho was/is seemingly the only member of the GW Fan Club. The rest of the footballing world seems to despise the ground he walks on.
In an extract from Clarke Carlisle’s autobiography, he recalls how Westley introduced himself to the North End squad by stating: “My kids don’t call me Dad… they call me medal winner.” Now, I’m no man management expert, but surely that’s no way to introduce yourself to a group of professional footballers? It’s farcical.
He’d lock the squad in the changing rooms for hours after a defeat, and refused to let the player’s pick their children up from school, keeping them in from 9am in the morning to the evening – almost unheard of in football. He’d make comments about player’s in the media, and if you believe certain reports, engaged in many training ground conflicts.
Graham Westley – The Ego
‘Attitude Is More Important Than Ability’
AIMITA. That’s the name the company of which Graham Westley acts as CEO. It’s a nice little phrase, but if he believes his attitude towards football is more important than his managerial ability, he has a funny way of showing it.
A self-proclaimed winning machine, ‘GW’ is the most egocentric person I’ve ever come across. He does the lot: refers to himself in the third person, proudly discusses his previous achievements and absolutely loves being on camera. During his time at Preston, he wrote a weekly column for the local paper. Needless to say that was always interesting reading.
All things considered, Graham Westley is what I’d refer to as ‘box office’. If he was in the Premier League (God help us if that ever happens), you’d love to watch the games his teams were involved in. He’s an absolute lunatic, and when he’s your manager and you’re winning games, it’s a lot of fun.
Graham Westley – The Summary
He’s a maverick. It’s as simple as that. On Saturday he makes his first return to Deepdale, and I won’t boo him or applaud him. I won’t show any response to him at all. Instead, I’ll focus on my own team.
This is my call to all Preston fans – do not react to Graham Westley. We all know that’s exactly what he’d want. The best thing we can do is give him nothing to feed off. Nothing to feed his ego. If we get behind our own team and our own manager, I think that will hurt him the most.