Doncaster Rovers suffered an identity crisis after Sean O’Driscoll departed in 2011.
But as he returns to the Keepmoat Stadium in charge of Walsall tonight, it could be argued that is no longer the case under Darren Ferguson.
O’Driscoll turned Rovers into ‘Arsenal of the north’ and left behind a legacy of attractive football that his most immediate successors failed to match. He was different. He empowered his players, questioned the norm, and gave his team a very clear identity based on possession and performance.
The quality of football was so pure at times that following him into the Rovers hot seat almost became a poisoned chalice.
Under Dean Saunders it was all about results, not performances. The revolving-door transfer policy during his reign somewhat undermined the classy reputation that O’Driscoll had built. Rovers suddenly felt like ‘just another club’ again.
Brian Flynn and Rob Jones imposed substance over style. It was successful, but not particularly pretty.
There is a school of thought that Paul Dickov’s job was to then marry the brains of the O’Driscoll era with the brawn of what followed. The Scot attempted to mould a side in his own image - one that would harass the opposition - but his only achievement was to produce a team that was consistently inconsistent.
A little over three months on from Ferguson’s appointment, it is quite clearly still a work in progress. But in that time he has imposed a very clear method of playing which players and fans alike have quickly bought into.
He’s the closest thing yet to O’Driscoll - yet also very different.
O’Driscoll loved a 1-0. Ferguson doesn’t mind a 4-3. Possession was king for O’Driscoll. Ferguson wants his team to be penetrative above all else.
When Walsall attempt to play keep ball tonight, Doncaster’s fans can be forgiven for feeling nostalgic. There’s work to be done at Rovers for sure, but fans can take comfort from the fact that the identity crisis now appears to be over.