You can tell a lot about a club by its managerial appointments.
The identity of the new man at the helm can show ambition, resignation, the desire for youthful inspiration or the need for an experienced hand. Martin Allen's re-appointment by Barnet this week, almost seven years after his first spell in charge ended, smacks of little more than desperation. They're saying as much themselves: announcing the move on Barnet's own website, their chairman, Tony Kleanthous, described it as "the last throw of the dice" for a club needing "to win five or six of our last eight games".
The League Two table makes grim reading, the Bees stuck in the bottom two – where they have spent the vast majority of the season – having played more games than most of their relegation rivals. Burton Albion, three points and one place above them, have four games in hand. If this is going to work, Barnet's players have to see the inspiration in Mad Dog's insanity. And fast.
"Martin is definitely an outgoing sort of chap," says Harry Redknapp, who happens to know the family quite well. Allen's father, Dennis, was also a player and a manager. When he was at Charlton in the late 1950s he would spend every Thursday afternoon coaching at a local school, where one of his pupils was a young Redknapp, then about 12 years old, who 30 years later would become Martin's manager at West Ham. "He is definitely an off-the-wall character. As his manager at West Ham, I didn't get to hear half the things he got up to. And I'm quite relieved about it."
We can assume that we only hear about a fraction of his antics as a manager, but there's still quite a list. While at Brentford he attempted to inspire his squad by diving into the River Tees before an FA Cup tie. It was January. When they won and were drawn to play at Southampton in the following round, he jumped in the Solent.
At Barnet, lacking the budget to take the first-team squad away for a pre-season tour, he made them all spend the weekend at his house. "I made up a dozen games and the winners got the beds and the losers slept on the floor," he said. "The first two to pull out a double number at dominoes had to sleep in the double bed together. We had play-offs with the winners of that getting sofas. The ultimate loser? Giuliano Grazioli had to sleep on a hammock in the woods."
At Brentford he closed the club canteen and ordered the players to make their own lunch. "Doing this keeps the players humble," he said. "Football's gone a bit crazy over the last few years but I believe this keeps their feet on the ground and in touch with reality. Some of the stuff they have been making is quite impressive." He also hired a hawk to scare away pigeons which had been pooing on the pitch. "Then we can just leave our players to do their depositing on the opposition every week."
Then there was Leicester, where he forced players to clean the toilets – "if they are not prepared to do these jobs, I don't really like them" – and rewarded those who excelled at training with Mars bars. "You might say, 'well crikey, how would that motivate professional footballers that earn good money and have played in front of big crowds?' But when I showed them the Mars bars this morning they were like little kids – they were jumping for joy!" he said. "Then out of the orange plastic bag I pulled out the Man of the Tournament award, which was, for £3.99, a summer barbeque utensils set ... they loved it, thank god, they loved it." Not everybody loved it, though: after three months and three league games, his stay was prematurely curtailed because of "differences between both parties regarding the direction of the club". His only job since then, at Cheltenham, ended in 2009 after an allegation that he racially abused a nightclub bouncer (though the club's own investigation into the incident cleared him of misconduct, and the police took no action).
"My style I'm sure some would say is a little bit different, as it is at times," Allen once said. "But quite often there is what I would call a method in the madness, and at times people may think 'what the hell is he doing that for?' But if you step back and look a little bit closer, there's often a cryptic way of doing things."
Barnet will hope that, however cryptic his methods, the players are quick to decipher them. At least the fans have decent memories of his previous spell there. When he walked out of Underhill to join the Bees of Brentford in 2004, with the club challenging for promotion to the Football League, Allen predicted that one day he would "be walking back into Barnet Football Club with my shoulders back and my head up because I am very proud of what's happened at Barnet". And so it has come to pass. Mrs Allen better get ready, she might be about to get some unexpected houseguests.
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