James Marrs has bounced back into management three months after his stunning departure from Premier League champions Brighton.
Marrs is the new boss of West Ham United, who see the talented coach as the man to take them into the Super League – a feat Marrs effectively achieved with his previous club before his sacking just weeks ahead of the play-off final that clinched their promotion.
Co-chairman Stephen Hunt told Sent Her Forward the club had sacked Marc Nurse, who endured a difficult season after taking over from club legend Julian Dicks – an action he described as “a football decision”.
And his sights are firmly set on a place among women’s football’s élite with a manager he describes as the best in the Premier League.
“Of all the teams that played against us, Brighton were the most intimidating from the moment they got off the coach,” he said. “There’s something about the way they’re set up, the way they are disciplined, and the structure.
“They’d almost won the game before they started.”
Hunt, who has been working on improving the entire structure of West Ham Ladies over the past year, says he was not deterred by the circumstances of Marrs’ sacking, for disciplinary breaches following complaints from a player.
He said: “He’s given us full disclosure of that, and that was then and this is now.”
Hunt pointed out: “West Ham United had (Paulo) Di Canio (whom they signed after he had been banned for pushing a referee) in far worse circumstances, so hopefully James will be our Di Canio.”
I don’t think there’s any need to throw out an entire team, or half a team, but if James says that’s what we will need, then that’s what will happen – Stephen Hunt, West Ham co-chairman
Ambitious Hunt, who has raised the profile of the women’s team since becoming co-chairman with his father, John, hopes Marrs’ appointment – which takes effect on July 28 – will also help his quest to achieve formal ties with the men’s club.
He described the existing relationship as “co-habiting”. “We are legally separate, but they are our biggest financial supporter,” he explained.
“They provide us with lots and lots of kit, facilities, media support. As I understand it, it’s not a great deal different to other clubs of a similar size.”
But he confirmed he wanted to bring the women’s set-up under West Ham’s wing. “I’m working very hard with the main club to that effect. I’ve got a round of golf with (West Ham chairman) David Gold in the middle of August and of course I’ll be boring him about the ladies (team).
“They’re businessmen. I’m a businessman. They’ve not really understood the ladies’ structure… but I’ve been able to talk their language, and that’s helped quite a lot.”
West Ham, who finished eighth of 12 in the Premier League Southern last season, have been working hard to seal Marrs’ appointment, with Hunt keen to praise his brother, Tim, and club secretary Richard Barrett for continuing negotiations while he has been away on business, and Karen Ray, who will oversee the club’s tour of the Netherlands, which starts tomorrow, as interim manager before Marrs arrives.
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While Hunt said the club had been prepared to give Nurse another season, Marrs’ availability changed all that.
“It’s about footballing decisions – nothing to do with personalities,” said Hunt. “James is clearly a step up for us from Marc.”
Nurse told Sent Her Forward he could not comment on specifics. “All I can say is I have parted company.”
Referring to the visit of Marrs’ Brighton last season – a match in which West Ham got a draw – Hunt said: “On and off the pitch they were the most impressive team, the most professional, the most determined to win the league.
“That’s what I want. I want to get into the WSL and then onwards.”
For all the controversy surrounding his dismissal from Brighton when on the verge of sealing two years of hard work with promotion to the Super League, Marrs is widely admired not only for his coaching ability and the style with which his teams play – something that is likely to go down well down West Ham way – but also the loyalty he commands.
Sent Her Forward understands that during the investigation by Brighton & Hove Albion into the complaint that led to his dismissal in April, players – senior and junior – and even parents of players informed the club of their support for the manager.
When he took charge at Brighton two years ago, around a dozen of the Gillingham team that he had taken to within two points of the Premier League title followed him to the south coast, even though it meant massive upheaval and in many cases, relocation.
Hunt said he did not know whether Marrs’ appointment would trigger another mass movement of players.
“I don’t have any expectations. We’ve got quite a good squad. I’m sure there will be player changes, coaching staff changes, as you expect with any new manager.
“But James has not mentioned any. It will be what it will be. I don’t think there’s any need to throw out an entire team, or half a team, but if James says that’s what we will need, then that’s what will happen.
Among those who followed Marrs to Brighton were Jay Blackie, who became Brighton’s captain, Charlotte Gurr, who was the club’s top scorer last season and stylish defender Deanna Cooper – all of whom left in the wake of his sacking.
Blackie has just joined West Ham’s Premier League rivals Charlton Athletic, and Gurr and Cooper are now playing in the Super League, for Millwall and London Bees respectively.
Marrs’ arrival – or more accurately, Nurse’s departure – will also revive speculation about a possible return for former West Ham skipper Stacey Little, who left after falling out with Nurse last season.
Hunt did not rule it out but indicated there had been a lot of bad feeling as a result of her departure.
Whoever gets the chance to line up in West Ham’s claret and blue next season, the return of its most talked-about coach means the Premier League just got more interesting.