This week Leyton Orient appointed 39 year old Welshman Carl Fletcher as their new head coach, following Ross Embleton’s decision to step down as interim head coach a number of weeks ago.
Fletcher joins the club from Bournemouth, where he worked his way up to the role of Loan Player Manager after spells as both the under-18’s and under-23’s manager.
As a player Fletcher had a fairly successful career, starting off at the Cherries before eventually making his way into the Premier League with West Ham and even appearing in the 2006 FA Cup Final.
Despite being born in Camberley, the diminutive midfielder was eligible to play for Wales thanks to his Welsh Grandmother and went onto earn 36 caps for the Dragons, with his only goal coming in a 3-0 friendly victory over Norway at Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground.
After leaving West Ham in 2006, he went onto join Crystal Palace, where he was immediately installed as captain, before ending up at Plymouth Argyle.
Fletcher’s two years as a player in Devon were turbulent to say the least, suffering consecutive relegations as the club battled against financial difficulties.
Things bottomed out for Argyle in 2011 though as they plied their trade in English Football’s Fourth Tier for the first time since 2002. In September of that season, at the age of just 31, Fletcher was appointed Caretaker Manager at Home Park following the departure of Peter Reid.
This proved to be Fletcher’s only first team managerial role to date and The Real EFL spoke to Sam Down at Argyle Life to gain some insight on how Fletcher’s spell at the club is perceived almost six years after he left the club.
A lot of Orient fans will look at Fletcher’s win rate at Argyle and perhaps be a little underwhelmed, however there were mitigating circumstances during his time at Home Park. Could you perhaps outline the situation the club was in whilst he was in charge?
“It’s a difficult one to assess, as when he was appointed, the club was at arguably at its lowest ebb. We were sitting 24th in League Two with 1 point from 9 games. He did show a real improvement from Peter Reid though and a few wobbles aside; Fletcher’s managerial performance in that 11/12 season was magnificent. He kept up a team that looked all but sunk after a dreadful start to the season and it was done with only being able to sign his own players after a third of the season had already passed.
However, as his win rate shows, it wasn’t all rosy in the garden. The situation in the 2012/13 season whilst imperfect was a lot better placed for a club to push on and build a platform. Whilst fans accepted that the scars of administration would take too long to heal for a quick fix, we hoped we would at least be about to secure a mid-table finish with a sniff at the play-offs in the 2012/13.
They weren’t the perfect circumstances: our budget was a little restricted by the need for financial prudence and the budget which we did have was used on expensive high earners. So, it still wasn’t the ideal platform for Fletcher, but there was no excuse for us doing as badly as we did. We were in the relegation zone when he was sacked on New Year’s Day.”
It’s obviously been a little while since his time at the helm, but what could you expect from a Plymouth Argyle side managed by Carl Fletcher? Any specifics on formations, tactics and how much faith he had in young players?
“This is an interesting question, because there was a pretty clear difference between Fletcher the pragmatic and Fletcher the idealist.
The Fletcher of his (successful) 2011/12 season played one of the most defensive and cautious styles of football that I’ve ever seen from an Argyle manager. He played a 4-4-2 formation in which the two central midfielders sat deep in front of the defence and were essentially used as auxiliary centre-backs.
It wasn’t pretty at all but it did the job that was needed to pull a limited squad away from a relegation battle with games to spare. He was guided by then Director of Football John Deehan though and fans did at the time somewhat suspect that this was more of a case of ‘needs must’ rather than Fletcher’s preferred way to play football.
In his second season, Deehan had gone and all this went out the window. Fletcher signed players and trained them to play what he clearly intended to be a possession based style. He clearly had a vision and a philosophy as to how the game should be played and a lot of fans really respected him for that.
He was clearly obsessed with wanting us to do well and tried many variations on the theme whilst still sticking broadly to the ‘Barcelona’ attempted style that was very much in vogue during that era. More often than not, we’d play 4-3-3 although he’d still occasionally toy with two up top. Just one problem: he was absolutely terrible at implementing it.
For whatever reason, it just did not work. Our chance creation was poor in spite of high possession stats. We’d often tap the ball around the edge of the area for what felt like minutes on end before getting frustrated, passing the ball out wide before a tame cross went into the arms of the goalkeeper. For all its noble intentions, it was executed awfully and was painful to watch. Attendances dwindled as supporters grew bored of the tepid style and it eventually led to his sacking.
As for young players, he had a weird habit of signing a lot of them but barely giving significant playing time to any. We did have a talented crop of youth at the time and many of them went to waste due to the manager’s insistence on barely using them, which was another contributing factor to the general loss of goodwill towards him from fans.”
Fletcher’s reign only lasted 15 months before he was eventually sacked, what was the fan reaction to his sacking at the time? Did they think it was justified and if so why?
“This probably isn’t the answer you want to hear but quite frankly the reaction at the time of his sacking was one of delight. Fans were dismayed that after surviving mission impossible, we were having an equally bad season the next year only that this time, it was self-inflicted. In spite of his clearly sharp mind on an ideological level, Fletcher simply did not know what he was doing and had to be replaced to secure our survival.
That said, with the passing of time fans began to appreciate somebody who was clearly a good man and had put his heart and soul into getting Plymouth Argyle back to where we wanted to be, but just didn’t have enough.
I fully expect Fletcher to be welcomed back with applause and I hope that people will remember Fletch the titan who fought on behalf of the unpaid players as captain whilst the club was being run by vultures and crooks.”
It’s now been almost 7 years since Fletcher left Argyle and he’s still only 39. In your view do you think he’s the type of character who will have learnt from his mistakes and will go onto to have a successful managerial career at this level?
“Has Fletcher learned? That’s the million pound question isn’t it? I think there’s two ways Fletcher could be a success at Orient. Firstly, if he replicates his first season approach. He may well say ‘stuff the niceties, let’s get Orient out of the relegation fight’ and play the kind of deep-lying counter that did so well in the spring of 2012.”
Secondly, there is the possibility he’s learned how to execute his preferred style in a way that’s a lot more mature and player-focused than his disastrous attempt here before. He’s worked under one of the best English managers in the game for many years at Bournemouth.
Eddie Howe is a man who himself successfully executed the type of football that Fletcher was clearly attempting during his time at Home Park and…maybe, just maybe he’ll have learned enough to be able to do the same.
He’s fortunate to get a second bite of the cherry at FL level. He won’t get a third. If it doesn’t work out, he’ll be sacked in pretty short order, and probably just go back to coaching and that’s fine. But if he gets it right, Orient fans COULD have reason to get excited about a new era of success to coincide with their return to the league.”