EFL COLUMN: JIMMY FLOYD HASSELBAINK ON COURSE TO BE A FAMILIAR SAVIOUR FOR BURTON ALBION
Updated: Mar 23
11 weeks ago, Burton Albion were sat bottom of League One, eight points from safety and seemingly destined to return to League Two after five years spent in the second and third tier.
With the club in a fairly desperate situation, chairman Ben Robinson turned to a familiar face in an attempt to turn their fortunes around.
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink had previously been in charge of the Brewers from November 2014 until December 2015, but underwhelming stints at QPR and Northampton suggested it was simply a case of the chairman finding someone he trusted rather than a manager that could realistically keep the team up.
“I’m delighted to welcome Jimmy back to Burton Albion. It’s an appointment I know will excite our fans after the last time he was here which started the most successful period in the club’s history,” said Robinson following the appointment, clearly hoping nostalgia could spark success.
The former Chelsea and Leeds striker left the Pirelli Stadium for Loftus Road after guiding Burton to promotion from League Two, with Nigel Clough carrying on his work by getting the Brewers into the Championship.
They have a modest budget by League One standards so to survive two seasons in the second tier was no mean feat.
Clough left during the summer of 2020, stepping aside to lessen the strain of Covid-19 on the club’s finances and allowing his assistant and one time Derby centre-back Jake Buxton to take charge.
Buxton oversaw a run of just two wins in 22 at the start of this season, and even though Robinson has typically been patient with managers throughout Burton’s rise from non-league to the Championship, it was clear a change was necessary.
He was relieved of his duties following a 4-3 defeat to fellow relegation-battlers Wigan at the end of December.
Hasselbaink was in the stands at the Pirelli to watch a 5-1 home defeat to Oxford in the first game of the New Year, but since he reacquainted himself with the Burton hotseat there has been a miraculous upturn in fortunes.
A 1-0 win at Gillingham just a week on from that heavy defeat suggested the Staffordshire club might not have accepted their fate just yet, although what has followed has almost defied belief.
Burton have won nine of Hasselbaink’s 13 games since he re-took charge, including victories over promotion-chasers Hull and Peterborough to go from looking doomed to within touching distance of safety.
A key component of Hasselbaink’s impressive work has been the club’s transfer business. Burton have brought in 14 players since the start of the January transfer window, ranging from striker Mike Fondop on a free from Aldershot to the recent arrival of one-time Chelsea defender Michael Mancienne.
Only three players who started in the hammering at the hands of Oxford began the weekend’s game against MK Dons.
Such a turnover in players can often cause disruption or at least take time to form a cohesive unit, yet Burton’s glut of signings has coincided with them becoming one of the best-organised sides in League One.
Another big reason for the on-field turnaround has been an appointment to the coaching team.
Although Hasselbaink is always going to take the headlines thanks to his storied career, Dino Maamria joined as Burton’s assistant manager along with him and deserves a heap of credit for the improved form.
After short stints as a head coach at both Stevenage and Oldham, Maamria appeared set for the EFL manager scrapheap but he has been an ideal foil for Hasselbaink in their short time together so far.
The pair completed their UEFA Pro Licence qualification together, and during games the Tunisian-born former non-league journeyman can regularly be seen on the touchline bellowing instructions and encouragement in the direction of Burton’s collection of new recruits as Hasselbaink takes a step back to allow himself a more analytical perspective on proceedings.
Despite Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to MK Dons, Burton are still seven points clear of the relegation zone and a handful of wins from their remaining 11 games should see them remain in League One for another season.
Even though Hasselbaink commanded transfer fees totalling almost £30m during an illustrious playing career, it has been revealed that neither he nor Maamria has actually signed a contract with Burton or even yet been paid, agreeing with Robinson to discuss it once survival has been secured.
Well on track to pull off an escape that few thought possible and with a manager in place who the chairman knows he can trust, could it even be out of the question that Hasselbaink oversees a promotion to the Championship in the not-too-distant future, six years later than originally planned?