TENDER in managerial years he may be, but new Barnsley boss Lee Johnson has already negotiated a crash course in that most precarious of footballing professions – and passed with flying colours.
Johnson, one of just four current Football League managers born in the 1980s – the others being Adam Murray, former Reds midfielder Alex Neil and Karl Robinson – has handled scenarios that would have tested grandees of the game during his time at Oldham Athletic.
The Oakwell chief – head coach is his official title, but all footballing matters will fall under his remit – has successfully staved off not just a survival battle in his first few months at Boundary Park, but plenty more besides.
Taking Oldham to safety at the back end of 2012-13 – the Latics were in serious relegation danger in League One when he became the youngest manager in the Football League at 31 in March 2013 – is the tip of the iceberg.
Johnson – whose appointment at Oldham, shortly after current Doncaster Rovers manager Paul Dickov left in early 2013, stunned football – learned to grow up pretty quickly.
That said, his education in management started when he was still in short trousers, with Johnson hiding in skips at Cambridge United’s training ground as a 10-year-old to listen to team talks from his father Gary, who has managed a number of the clubs, including the U’s, Yeovil and Bristol City.
Football and more specifically management and coaching has been ingrained in Johnson Jnr’s DNA since then, with the ‘due diligence’ he spoke of undertaking before agreeing to join the Reds no surprise.
Johnson has always done his footballing equivalent of homework, coaching juniors at Bristol City when he was a player there and his father was manager.
He has also visited clubs as diverse as Barcelona and Skonto Riga – Johnson Snr used to manage the Latvian national team – to broaden his managerial database.
No less a footballing icon than Kenny Dalglish who recommended him for the Oldham job in early 2013, when Johnson, who had impressed ‘King Kenny’ during coaching sessions on Merseyside – beat off 120 applicants.
If Oldham’s board needed further winning over, they received it thanks to a meticulous PowerPoint presentation and painstaking research on the club; it’s fair to say they were blown away by the young chap.
Slick presentational skills may be all well and good, but handling the muck-and-bullets of lower-division management is something that no course or degree can prepare you for.
Born to manage some might say, but Johnson has also had to fend for himself and soon learn to swim in a managerial sense – not just in terms of saving a club from relegation with your feet barely under the table.
Add to that one of your players – Cristian Montano – being exposed as a spot-fixer and also having to sell several star players to enable the club to make ends meet.
Then there was the Ched Evans affair with Johnson unwittingly thrown right into the middle of a media storm – through no fault on his own – when Oldham made national headlines following the news that they were contemplating signing the convicted rapist.
Johnson handled the situation with eloquence and dignity and while he may be short on experience in terms of years at the helm, he has already been around the block and showed a fair bit of class in the process.
Speaking at his unveiling yesterday afternoon, Johnson, who has signed a deal at Oakwell until June 2018, said: “I don’t think you ever stop learning in management.
“It’s been so diverse with the scenarios we have had and continue to have. You are dealing with so many emotions, week in, week out.
“Of course, there’s different media elements and there was the Ched Evans stuff and the match-fixing. No coaching badge can teach you how to deal with that.
“You have just got to be true to yourself and your values and go about your business in a professional and humble way really.
“That’s the biggest thing I have learnt.
“If you stick true to your values and work ethic, then you will come out on top.”
Johnson has already come a long way fast and while his task at Oakwell is considerable, you sense he is more than ready for it. A rookie he certainly isn’t.