“I felt for him.” – Gary Owers on Lee Johnson and Bristol City’s future

by James Cox ¦ @jamescoxsj

After the news broke on Saturday evening that Lee Johnson had been dismissed from his Head Coach role at Bristol City Football Club, the timing of such a decision took many people by surprise.

After a narrow, yet drab, 1-0 defeat at home to bitter Severnside rivals Cardiff City, Steve Lansdown and the rest of the Robins Board decided to part ways with Johnson, who had spent four and a half years at the club.

One of those people surprised by this seemingly unexpected dismissal was former-City and Sunderland midfielder Gary Owers, who had been covering the game for BBC Radio Bristol.

“I was at the game. I watched Lee conduct all his post-match interviews and by the time I’d got home, I heard the news that he’d been relieved of his duties.

“He was under pressure, everyone knew that, but I genuinely thought he’d get through to the end of the season.”

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Dean Holden (right) is to take control of the team for the rest of the 2019/20 campaign.

Having worked with Johnson in the past, Owers revealed his disappointment for the 39-year-old.

“He’s definitely stabilised the club. He’s developed young players and sold them on for profit. He’ll have been involved in the planning for the new training ground too, which is a big thing for the club. 

“I felt for him. He’s very much been at the centre [of the club’s planning for the future] and he isn’t going to get a chance to see it through.

“I’ve worked with Lee, I actually coached him for a short spell when he played. Our paths have crossed many times in football, so I’ve had quite a few conversations with him over the years. He’s a genuinely nice guy.

“We’re talking about someone who has lost his job, and we’re in difficult times anyway, but the pressure was there for all to see.”

Despite this, Owers also expressed his faith in Johnson: “He’ll bounce back – no doubt about it.

“For such a young manager, he’s very experienced. He’s from a great football family, and he’s got some great football people round him. They’ll rally round Lee to give him the support he needs. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw him back in football very very soon.”

Suggestions for Johnson’s replacement in BS3 have been floating around social media in the wake of Saturday evening, and Owers believes the club will already be far into the process.

“They’ll have a shortlist. There will be experienced out-of-work managers on that list I’m sure: Chris Hughton, Mick McCarthy, Sam Allardyce even.

“There also might be the younger type of manager; someone like Sol Campbell. He’s worked at the lower level to learn his trade, so he might be ready to step up into the hot seat.

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Sol Campbell is reportedly in the running for the City job.

“I’d wait until the Premier League season finishes, to see what will happen with Eddie Howe at Bournemouth, Dean Smith at Villa and Daniel Farke at Norwich. Their clubs are struggling, and their position might change. You’d then be looking at people of that calibre to fill the vacancy.”

Having worked in the game for decades, Owers knows the ins and outs of football. However, not even someone with his experience and know-how could have predicted what has happened in the past few months – but Owers reckons he has a good idea on what will happen this summer.

“Personally, I think there will be a massive turnaround of players in the summer. I think there’s going to be wholesale change, in terms of the finance of football. That will impact on the size of squads.

“For the players who have a year left on their contract at City, it’s an easy decision for them now if they want to leave, because the manager’s going to change.

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City’s 1-0 defeat at home to Cardiff City was deemed to be the last straw by the Ashton Gate hierarchy.

“Some players were in favour with Lee Johnson, and it could be a difficult time for them. Some players were out of favour with Lee Johnson, so they will be looking forward to having a fresh start under a new manager.”

And, when asked who he’d appoint for Johnson’s replacement, there was no hesitation: “Chris Hughton.

“He’s a fan favourite, and I think [the Board] will listen to supporters. I think that’s important.”

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