George Burley scooped an amazing double at the LMA Annual Awards dinner last night, collecting both the Carling Premiership Manager of the Year and the League Managers Association Manager of the Year prizes.
The Premiership gong, chosen by a Carling panel, saw Burley beat off the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson, David O’Leary and Arsene Wenger whilst the LMA Award, the Blue Riband honour of the Annual Awards, saw Burley’s fellow professional rate his achievements last season as the most impressive considering the resources available to him.
Again he was voted ahead of Sir Alex Ferguson, in third place, and Rotherham’s Ronnie Moore in second, who was also chosen as the winner of the Nationwide Division Two award.
It is suitable recognition for Burley who, after a marvelous first season back in the top flight, is now waiting to compete with Europe’s glamour boys in the UEFA Cup.
The BBC’s Match of the Day post-match interview asked Burley if he was disappointed to have failed to qualify for the UEFA Champions League. The reaction of the Ipswich manager was one of near-amusement, a measure of Burley’s achievements, that he could be considered not to be pleased with a season in which his team was one of the four best in England.
The Ipswich manager guided his team to the top flight after five years of attempts to lift his team out of the Nationwide League. Four years on the run, Burley’s dreams were shattered in the cruelest way: defeat in the dreaded play-offs. Finally, in 2000, Ipswich made it through the semi-finals against Bolton and beat Barnsley to return in one of the last domestic games to be played at Wembley Stadium.
Burley’s achievement has been to triumph in the Premiership against teams that are not only more expensively assembled but packed with more recognisable names. The names of Martijn Reuser, Matt Holland, Fabian Wilnis, Richard Naylor, James Scowcroft and Richard Wright and Marcus Stewart are now certainly more familiar to fans of established Premiership teams.
Burley’s transfer spending was a total of £6.6million, although £3million was recouped from the sale of David Johnson to Nottingham Forest. Apart from boosts such as retaining the services of goalkeeper Richard Wright, Marcus Stewart’s inspired £3.6 million transfer from Huddersfield will perhaps be remembered as Burley’s most inspired move.
The striker led the Premiership scoring charts for much of the season and was only beaten to the Golden Boot by Chelsea’s £20 million man Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. No indignity there: he finished ahead of Michael Owen, Mark Viduka, Teddy Sheringham, Emile Heskey, Alen Boksic and Thierry Henry. All established internationals.
The goals helped Town to a record which is not easy to argue with whichever way you look at it: 38 games, 20 wins and 6 draws, one UEFA Cup spot and two fully-deserved personal awards.