Image Credit: Falkirk Herald
Gary Holt’s Livingston departure took many by surprise, but his return to Falkirk as Sporting Director just a matter of weeks later seemed to come even more out the blue.
Holt was, of course, doing fairly well at Livi, having kept the Lions in the Scottish Premiership for two seasons in a row – which is no mean feat. However, it appeared that he had taken the club as far as he could as manager, and the start of the David Martindale era has shown that it was probably the right decision for Holt to leave.
But the former Norwich City manager still has plenty to offer to Scottish Football, and in particular Falkirk – the club he managed during the 2013/2014 season. It may seem on the surface to be a strange move for both parties, but there are a number of signs that this could be a fruitful partnership. Here are a few reasons why Gary Holt will help bring back success to the Falkirk Stadium.
Existing relationship with Falkirk
It is often forgotten that Gary Holt almost got Falkirk promoted in his only season as manager of the club. A three-way title fight with Hamilton and Dundee came down to the last day of the season, which eventually saw The Dee promoted automatically. Hamilton eventually got the better of Falkirk in the play-offs, but The Bairns were no pushovers for The Accies, who were eventually promoted themselves.
Falkirk set up in an open and attacking style for much of the season, with Holt favouring 2 strikers and a diamond in midfield – The Bairns even scored more goals than champions Dundee.
Holt’s experience of challenging at the top of the league, in a higher division, will stand Falkirk in good stead, giving managers Lee Miller and David McCracken a more experienced colleague to look to for advice in the quest for a return to the Championship. Holt actually brought McCracken to Falkirk in 2013, so all the signs are there that an excellent working relationship is possible.
Youth Development Plan
Part of the DNA of Falkirk in the early to mid 2010s was its commitment to youth development – involving players such as: Stephen Kingsley, Jay Fulton and Tony Gallacher in the first team before selling them on for a healthy profit down south. Other players like Craig Sibbald, Kevin O’Hara and Liam Dick have gone on to be regular starters for clubs who currently play above Falkirk’s level.
But in late 2017 Falkirk’s academy structure was scrapped, much to the dismay of supporters, young players and parents alike. This move has proved to be one of the most costly in the club’s history, with The Bairns losing the conveyor belt of talent and the much-needed transfer fees brought in byacademy player sales. Worst of all, the club lost a large part of its identity – just one former academy player remains at Falkirk.
Holt’s Falkirk side was one built around the club’s youth prospects, and the new Sporting Director has already stated that his main focus is building a new development structure at the Falkirk Stadium, with an eye on re-building a pathway to the first team for young players. The return of a youth programme, albeit a different one than existed before, could go a long way to heal the wounds created by the decision to scrap the academy in the first place.
This could eventually see a squad created similar to what Holt presided over during his first spell at the club – a nucleus of experience, surrounded by talented and exciting youth.
Academy graduate Craig Sibbald was a key member of Holt’s Falkirk side (Credit: Falkirk Herald)
Consistent Structure in the Footballing Department
Falkirk’s unfamiliar position as a League One club can be at least partly attributed to a lack of consistency off and on the pitch, since the departure of Peter Houston in 2017. Players, coaches and managers have come and gone at a rate of knots. For example, in the much-maligned 2018/19 season, Falkirk used 42 players – with only two remaining just two years on.
Whilst squad turnover has improved dramatically since then, having an experience head hold fort over the footballing department, can only be a good thing. This means that if Falkirk’ current managers leave the club at some point in the future, Holt will be on hand to ensure that the footballing ethos of the club continues.
As a result, no manager who comes in will be able to totally overhaul the footballing department of the club and must be willing to work within the ideology of the club. This will be music to the ears of Falkirk fans, who have become accustomed to many false dawns in the past few years.
Whilst Holt’s return is no guarantee of success for Falkirk, it does signal a positive change toward a more long-term approach for the club – a welcome move away from the reactive and damaging management approach which has signalled disaster over the past few years. Who knows, maybe Falkirk are finally a club on the up again.