Mike Jackson, the continuity candidate, named Tranmere Rovers manager
After a short, sharp search for their new manager, Tranmere Rovers have settled on Mike Jackson, longstanding assistant to Micky Mellon, the legendary boss who departed for Dundee United less than two weeks ago. Jackson’s promotion was announced on Saturday, encouraging Rovers fans to look forward with fresh impetus.
The way a football club finds, appoints, treats and discards its managers says a lot about its internal wiring. The chaotic club tends to pluck unheralded wildcards from abroad, gambling that pretentious sophistication can mask strategic incompetence. Tranmere, meanwhile, is much more concerned with stability these days, and the unfussy manner in which Jackson earned the top job speaks to a steady ship that only needed a paint-job as opposed to a full systematic refit. Jackson was the continuity candidate, and Rovers could have chosen far worse alternatives.
Sure, there were flashier candidates for the role. There were more experienced managers out of work, seemingly available and recurring linked to Tranmere. But was there anyone more equipped than Jackson to carry on, from a cultural perspective, the transformative ethos of our cherished revival? I would struggle to identify anybody matching that criteria.
How Mike Jackson will continue the Micky Mellon bloodline at Tranmere Rovers
More than anything, Mellon redefined Tranmere Rovers. The promotions were euphoric, and the cup triumphs were rewarding, but Micky’s legacy is far more nuanced than those headline bullet points. Mellon reawakened Rovers’ potential and revitalised its soul. He studied the club’s essence, excavated its modus operandi and channelled those learnings into a brand of football and a style of decorum closely aligned with the fan’s most passionate values.
Micky embraced the wild, discombobulating otherness of Tranmere and turned it into a differentiating force for good rather than a crippling millstone around the neck. He crystallised what it means to represent Birkenhead, imbuing our local football scene with guts, guile and spades of determination.
In this regard, Mellon’s greatest success was in gifting this club back to its community, and such an outstanding contribution deserves proactive maintenance. Accordingly, by appointing Jackson, the sturdy righthand man, Rovers hope to achieve their primary objective: progressing in a prudent and sustainable fashion that does not betray the core values of a loyal fanbase.
“He is a great coach with a forward-thinking approach to the game and he understands the Tranmere DNA,” said the club’s formal statement of Jackson’s hire this morning. Indeed, promoting from within negates the risk of starting from scratch under someone new, allowing Rovers to pivot their focus to an important offseason of recruitment.
A look at Mike Jackson’s career and credentials
Jackson has served his apprenticeship. He has already played a big role in the Rovers renaissance, influencing from the bench a team that made three consecutive appearances in Wembley playoff finals, winning two.
Mike has been involved in every key decision this club has made since October 2016. From within the managerial nucleus, he has contributed to every game plan and led each training session. He has been involved with recruitment and strategy, sports science and tactical alterations. Aside from Mellon, nobody has a greater understanding of what lies under the Tranmere bonnet. That knowledge will be invaluable in plotting a route through the uncertain waters of coronavirus-era football.
In a former life, Jackson also played for Rovers, appearing in 102 matches between 2002 and 2006. A rugged centre-half, Mike topped 600 appearances in an 18-year playing career with Crewe, Bury, Preston, Blackpool and Shrewsbury. Renowned as a natural leader, Jackson often captained his teams under stellar managers such as Dario Gradi, David Moyes, Craig Brown, Brian Little and Simon Grayson. He brings a wealth of lower league acumen to the Tranmere post, and one would expect his teams to be very difficult to beat.
When a persistent knee injury forced Jackson into retirement in 2010, he made a smooth transition to coaching at Shrewsbury. Mike never really hung up his boots, however, as his hands-on approach to training developed with infectious ease.A valued member of the Salopian backroom staff, Jackson was twice named caretaker manager before earning the gig on a permanent basis in 2014, aged 41.
Jackson could not resurrect a pretty dismal Shrewsbury team, which succumbed to relegation from League One without much of a fight. Mike oversaw 19 games as Shrewsbury manager, mustering just three wins before the club embarked on a summer rebuild.
Mellon arrived in Shropshire to take over the managerial reins, but Jackson’s coaching ability was so respected that the club retained his services, nevertheless. A heavenly duo meshed quickly, like mustard smothering a sirloin steak, and Shrewsbury secured an immediate return to the third tier by winning automatic promotion.
When Mellon leapt at the opportunity to join Tranmere in 2016, dropping two divisions into non-league squalor, Jackson joined him, rolling up his sleeves and digging into the trenches. Never one to shirk a challenge, Jackson helped engineer two successive promotions at Prenton Park, ending a 27-year wait for football glory in Wirral.
Indeed, Jackson has become something of a specialist in lower league promotions, another redeeming feature in his consideration for the hot seat at Prenton Park. As a player, coach or assistant manager, Mike has won five promotions, including three from League Two, the division in which Tranmere find themselves following a pandemic-fuelled demotion. That counts for something. That seems helpful. Few people know their way around a contemporary fourth division dressing room like Mike Jackson, job title be damned, and Rovers will continue to benefit from that insight.
Inside Mike Jackson’s coaching philosophy
“He's everything I’m not,” Mellon said of Jackson to Matt Jones in Riding the Rover Coaster, his book about Tranmere’s revival. “He’s a football fanatic, like me. He’s passionate about improvement, personally and making the players better. He’s meticulous in his preparation, to the inch. He writes everything down. He has to have everything right.
“The training sessions are always meaningful and towards what we need to do as principles. He listens to me and I listen to him. We’ve never fallen out. People will say that’s not healthy, but we’ve never fallen out. We have a good, healthy view on how things should be.
“Jacko and I watch about three or four games a day on our laptops. We speak about football all the time. ‘Did you see this?’ or ‘did you see that?’ Our relationship is very good.
“I can take a step back and view it from a different angle, but Jacko has to be in the middle of it all, and he’s 100 mph. Sometimes, it needs that. We really all get on well. We don’t overplay our parts. I’m not sitting here like Caesar. I’m really not precious about me. I want them to go and express themselves and improve.”
Now, Jackson will get the ultimate chance to express himself while managing a club that has snatched a chunk of his heart. It will be a daunting challenge, no doubt, and managing this club is never easy, but Mike has earned his shot, and we should lend our vociferous support to his long-term project. Together, we can keep alive the illustrious bloodline of recent success, and together we can put this club back where it rightfully belongs.
Initial thoughts on the appointment of Mike Jackson as Tranmere Rovers manager
Some will brand this appointment as the cheap option, ruing the lack of a marquee figurehead. Others will point to Jackson’s lack of managerial experience as a red flag, while his previous foray into the frontline with Shrewsbury does not inspire much confidence. It also remains to be seen how well Jackson can operate in the transfer market, especially with a reduced budget, and building a squad requires entirely different skills to coaching it once formulated.
Still, I endorse this appointment as a positive step in the maturation of Tranmere Rovers as a club of distinct ideology, vision and organic responsibility. Gone are the days of boom or bust speculation, replaced by a reassuring constancy that makes other clubs look idiotic.
Mike Jackson will not be an outstanding media performer. He will answer questions in a straightforward and pragmatic manner. There will be no giddy excitement from this often acerbic character, but inside the club – inside the sanctum that actually matters – he already commands huge respect, admiration and autonomy. Players love Jacko because he makes them better. Now he gets a wonderful opportunity to take that reputation to the next level.